United States District Court, E.D. California
FINDINGS AND RECOMMENDATIONS RECOMMENDING ENTRY OF
JUDGMENT IN FAVOR OF CARLOS HERNANDEZ AND AGAINST NANCY A.
S. Austin UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
Carlos Hernandez (“Plaintiff”), representing
himself pro se, seeks judicial review of a final
decision by the Commissioner of Social Security
(“Commissioner” or “Defendant”)
denying his applications for disability insurance benefits
(“DIB”) and supplemental security income
(“SSI”) pursuant to Titles II and XVI of the
Social Security Act. The matter is currently before the Court
on the parties' briefs, which were submitted without oral
argument to the Honorable Gary S. Austin, United States
Magistrate Judge. A review of the briefs and the
administrative record reveals that the ALJ's decision is
not supported by substantial evidence. Therefore, it is
recommended that Plaintiff's appeal be GRANTED IN PART.
BACKGROUND AND PRIOR PROCEEDINGS 
filed an application for DIB and SSI in September 2011,
alleging disability beginning April 10, 2011, due to knee
pain and injuries, hypertension and a weak back. AR 34;
150-156; 157-161; 195. His applications were denied initially
and on reconsideration. AR 34; 96-106. Plaintiff requested a
hearing before an administrative law judge
(“ALJ”). AR 111-112. ALJ Timothy Snelling
(“ALJ”) conducted a hearing on April 11, 2013. AR
50-75. Plaintiff testified and was represented by Terri
Issac, Esq. The ALJ published an unfavorable decision on June
14, 2013. AR 34-42. Plaintiff filed two appeals and the
Appeals Council denied both appeals, rendering the ALJ's
order the final decision of the Commissioner. AR 1-3; 14-20. 42
U.S.C. §§ 405(g), 1383(c)(3). AR 20-31.
filing a complaint in this Court, Plaintiff filed a letter
outlining his arguments noting there were additional
documents relevant to his case. (Doc. 37). In response, the Court
issued an order giving Plaintiff the standard for filing this
additional evidence, as well as guidelines he should consider
when filing his brief. (Doc. 38). Plaintiff filed eight pages
of supplemental briefing and over 303 pages of additional
medical documents. (Doc. 41). The Commissioner filed her
opposition. (Doc. 43). Plaintiff filed a response. (Doc. 44).
The Court has reviewed all of these documents.
argues that he is disabled because he was exposed to toxic
ink while working as a silk screen printer in 2004. He
contends that he suffers from neuropathy including chronic
tingling and pain in his head and extremities, persistent
heart palpitations, high blood pressure, anxiety, chest
pains, and panic attacks. (Doc. 37, pgs. 2-3; Doc. 41, pgs.
1-4). He alleges the ALJ erred when finding that he was not
disabled because the ALJ misinterpreted the medical evidence
and improperly found that he was not credible during his
hearing. (Docs. 41, pgs. 4-8; Doc. 44, pgs. 1-4). It appears
he is asking that the Court award him disability
benefits. The Commissioner argues that the ALJ's
assessment of the medical evidence and his credibility
determination were proper and are supported by substantial
evidence. Accordingly, the ALJ's disability determination
should not be disturbed. (Doc. 43, pgs. 7-18).
PLAINTIFF'S HEARING TESTIMONY
was fifty-two years old at the time of the hearing. He
graduated high school and completed about a year and a half
of college. AR 51; 53. He has worked all of his life. Most
recently (from 1983 until 2009), he was employed as a screen
printer installing graphics on cars. AR 51-54. Plaintiff
testified that in 2004, the chemicals he was using at work
changed the way his nervous system was functioning. Plaintiff
stopped working in 2009 when he was laid off after
experiencing problems with high blood pressure which caused
him to miss work. AR 56-57. He continues to suffer from high
blood pressure which he has not been able to get under
control even with medication. AR 56-58. He has not looked for
work after being laid off because he feels “horrible
every day” and he suffers from anxiety, which has
gotten worse over the years. AR 65.
Plaintiff was laid off, he supported himself with
unemployment benefits for over a year. AR 58. After those
benefits stopped, he moved in with his nephew but is still
responsible for buying his own food. He also receives food
stamps but was never able to work due to his health issues,
which includes anxiety, gastrointestinal problems, and a past
history of alcohol abuse. AR 60-61. When he experiences
anxiety, his chest feels tight and he is unable to breathe.
AR 60-61. He can't take anxiety medications because the
drugs his doctor prescribed made him dizzy. AR 61-62. Some
days he is unable to get out of bed because his anxiety has
gotten too severe. He also suffers from knee pain which
prevents him from standing or walking for more than a half
hour. AR 67. Plaintiff is also unable to sit for more than
approximately thirty to forty minutes because of his back. AR
68. He has not lifted anything recently but thinks he could
lift between ten and twenty pounds. AR 68.
the day, Plaintiff is able to get out of bed and eat
breakfast if he does not suffer from an anxiety attack. AR
68. Sometimes after getting out of bed, he suffers from an
anxiety attack which is the main reason he is unable to work.
AR 68-69. He suffers from these every day, sometimes more
than once a day and they can last up to four hours. AR 69.
Sometimes, the attacks never go away. When they occur, he is
unable to breathe and has pressure in his chest. AR 69. He is
unable to drive because he had an accident and now has a
phobia about driving. AR 69. He gets around either by using
public transportation, or by getting rides from his
girlfriend. AR 69. He also suffers from memory loss, so his
nephew and girlfriend have to remind him when to take his
medications. AR 70.
THE MEDICAL RECORD AT THE TIME OF THE ADMINSTRATIVE
was seen at Kaiser Permanente in July 2009 for a physical
examination complaining of tightness in his throat and
dizziness. AR 274-285. His blood pressure was slightly
elevated but he reported it was under control. AR 277. In
addition to hypertension, it was noted he suffered from
prediabetes, high cholesterol, and insomnia. AR 277; 281.
Blood reports also revealed Plaintiff had low potassium
levels. AR 40; 282.
was treated at Golden Valley Health Center from January 2010
through April 2011. AR 40; 292-306. He began treatment there
after losing his health insurance and complained of fatigue
and chest pain on exertion. He was diagnosed with chronic
hypertension and benign prostatic hypertrophy (enlargement of
the prostate). AR 299. By May 2010, he had no further fatigue
and experienced only occasional periods of tachycardia (rapid
heart rate). AR 297. In April 2011, he was seen for a refill
of his blood pressure medication and for blood work. AR
292-306. He denied chest pain, shortness of breath,
palpitations, depression, anhedonia, disturbance of appetite,
but acknowledged that he had some trouble sleeping and
experienced some fatigue. AR 40; 295. He presented with
euthymic mood and appropriate affect. AR 40; 295.
December 12, 2011, state agency consultative examiner Roger
Wagner, M.D., examined Plaintiff. AR 40-41, 322-26. At the
time of the examination, Plaintiff complained of knee pain,
with more pain in his left knee than his right; low back
pain; and high blood pressure. Dr. Wagner observed that
Plaintiff was able to easily move about the exam room and
appeared “quite limber” in performing such
activities as bringing his ankles to the knees bilaterally.
AR 40; 323. The doctor noted normal gait at a brisk pace and
no complaints of pain on walking or sitting. AR 40; 323. He
reported negative straight leg raising tests bilaterally,
which led him to describe Plaintiff's low back pain as
“benign[, ]” and 5/5 motor strength in the upper
and lower extremities. AR 40; 325. Dr. Wagner also described
Plaintiff's knee condition as “relatively
benign” given the lack of any “signs of any
severe problems.” AR 40; 325. Finally, with respect to
Plaintiff's hypertension, Dr. Wagner opined that it was
“well controlled. . . with no obvious end organ
damage.” AR 40; 325. Dr. Wagner opined Plaintiff could
stand and walk up to six hours; could lift and carry fifty
pounds occasionally and twenty-five pounds frequently; could
occasionally climb stairs; and could rarely climb and balance
on ladders or scaffolds. AR 325-326.
March 2012, x-rays of Plaintiff's bilateral knees showed
no abnormalities. AR 41; 368-369. On June 23, 2012, Plaintiff
went to the emergency room complaining of numbness and
tingling across his chest for the last few weeks, but denied
symptoms at the time of the exam. AR 41; 355. After an
unremarkable exam, including a negative chest x-ray and
normal EKG (AR 348; 356-357), Plaintiff was diagnosed
with hypokalemia (low potassium), discharged from the
hospital, and prescribed potassium chloride. AR 40; 347;
5, 2012, Plaintiff followed up with his treatment providers
and reported that he felt better but complained of tightness
in the upper back, shoulder and neck. He attributed these
symptoms to nerve damage. AR 41; 370. At that time, Plaintiff
exhibited no psychiatric deficits. AR 41; 371.
18, 2012, Plaintiff returned to the emergency room
complaining of palpitations and dizziness after taking two
different diuretics, drinking too much caffeine, and not
taking enough potassium. AR 41; 343-345. Plaintiff was
discharged after a few hours. He was diagnosed with
palpitations after his condition had improved. AR 345. On
July 20, 2012, Plaintiff initiated treatment at the county
Health Services Agency with Dr. Thomas Wenstrup, M.D., and
complained of the effects of past chemical exposure. AR 41;
471. Blood work taken in August and September 2012 revealed
low potassium levels. AR 446-447; 451.
returned to the Health Services Agency on September 26, 2012,
Plaintiff again described “nerve damage” due to
chemical exposure. He complained of “attacks” of
tingling all over but the symptoms centered mainly around his
chest. Later in the appointment, he denied anxiety. AR 41;
September 29, 2012, Plaintiff returned to the emergency room
seeking treatment for intermittent chest pain over the last
two weeks with shortness of breath, sweating, nausea,
palpitations, left arm numbness, and anxiety. AR 41; 382;
431. An ECG and chest x-ray were all normal. AR 384; 387-390.
Plaintiff was discharged the next day, diagnosed with chest
pain -likely secondary to anxiety, hypokalemia and
hyperlipidemia (an ...