United States District Court, N.D. California
ORDER DENYING PLAINTIFF'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY
JUDGMENT AND GRANTING THE DEFENDANT'S CROSS-MOTION FOR
NATHANAEL M. COUSINS UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
K.C. seeks judicial review of the Commissioner of Social
Security Andrew M. Saul's denial of his application for
disability benefits under the Social Security Act. Dkt. No.
37. Plaintiff argues that the Administrative Law Judge
(“ALJ”) erred in failing to find that K.C.'s
mental impairments were severe; improperly rejected medical
evidence; improperly rejected K.C.'s testimony; and
improperly rejected lay witness testimony. The Court FINDS
that the ALJ did not err in any of these ways. Accordingly,
the Court DENIES K.C.'s motion for summary judgment and
GRANTS the Commissioner's cross-motion for summary
judgment. The Court AFFIRMS the decision of the ALJ.
was born in 1959 in Burma. AR 24. He has a high school
education and formerly worked as an auto mechanic. AR 54,
195. He stopped working as an auto mechanic because he was
too fatigued for the pace of the job, had difficulty getting
along with supervisors, and felt pressured to work more
quickly than he was able to. AR 55, 57, 66. He sometimes had
difficulty sleeping due to thinking about Burma and feeling
afraid. AR 67. He alleged disability beginning in February
2014 based on a combination of impairments including
depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder,
cirrhosis of the liver, hepatitis B, and right lateral
epicondylitis (tennis elbow). AR 193-200. K.C. is on the
waiting list for a liver transplant. AR 288.
filed a social security disability claim on October 27, 2014,
alleging disability beginning February 28, 2014. AR 171. The
Social Security Administration denied his claim initially and
again upon reconsideration. Id. An ALJ hearing was
held in February 2016. AR 44. The ALJ denied K.C.'s claim
for disability benefits. AR 27. The Social Security
Administration Appeals Council denied review of the ALJ's
decision. AR 2-6. K.C. now seeks judicial review of the
ALJ's decision. See 42 U.S.C. §§
405(g) and 1383(c). Both parties consented to the
jurisdiction of a magistrate judge pursuant to 28 U.S.C.
§ 636(c). See Dkt. Nos. 10, 24, 28.
Undisputed Medical Evidence
David Dahl evaluated K.C.'s mental health in December
2014. AR 358. He diagnosed K.C. with major depressive
disorder and posttraumatic stress disorder. AR 393. He noted
K.C.'s nightmares, conflicts with his grown children,
difficulty making decisions, and low average intelligence. AR
391. Dr. Dahl indicated that K.C. could usually take care of
personal hygiene and that K.C. had not received any inpatient
or outpatient psychiatric treatment. AR 398-390. Dr. Dahl
reported significant psychomotor retardation and some
paranoia, dysphoric mood, and flat affect. AR 391. Dr. Dahl
opined that K.C. could not handle his own funds. AR 394.
State agency consultant Dr. H. Bilik, Psy.D. reviewed the
record and noted that K.C. had no history of mental health
treatment. AR 80.
has a history of tennis elbow. AR 309-310. Dr. Jay Ladenheim
examined K.C. June 2012 and noted his history of hepatitis B
and cirrhosis which were relatively stable with medication.
AR 314. He opined that K.C. should avoid heavy exertion and
lifting more than 20 pounds due to his persistent fatigue. AR
316. Dr. Burton Weaver also noted K.C.'s chronic fatigue,
headaches, and memory issues in June 2012. AR 322-23. In May
2013, Dr. Landenheim opined that K.C. should not lift over 25
pounds. AR 355. In November 2014, Dr. Landenheim found that
K.C.'s fatigue and headaches could be a result of
depression or of his liver disease. AR 362. In March 2015,
K.C. was treated for chronic headache and low blood pressure.
AR 440. In December 2015, Dr. Landenheim reported that K.C.
continued to have fatigue, headaches, and a loss of interest
in activities. AR 483, 516. Dr. Landenheim opined that K.C.
could lift up to 20 pounds occasionally. AR 517. State agency
consultant Dr. Dann reviewed K.C.'s medical records and
noted that K.C. was on the liver transplant list but that his
good residual liver function would not place him high on the
list. AR 83.
The ALJ Hearing
hearing, K.C. was represented by counsel Sonya Arrelano and
was assisted by a Cantonese interpreter. AR 44. Harlan Stock,
a vocational expert, also testified. AR 44.
testified that he came to the United States from Burma in
1979. AR 52. His last job was as an auto mechanic, but he
stopped working in 2014. AR 54. He stopped working because he
had trouble getting along with his supervisors, he felt
pressured to do more work more quickly, his supervisor was
very critical, and he was too fatigued to keep up with the
pace of work. AR 55-57. He could not work as quickly as his
coworkers. AR 66. He needed breaks to rest every 15 to 30
minutes. AR 57. He frequently got headaches. AR 58. He used
to fish and play golf often, but he has only fished once
since filing for disability and only played golf four or five
times, the last time playing only three holes. AR 59, 62. He
had difficulty with focus and memory. AR 66. He had
difficulty sleeping because he would think about his past in
Burma and feel scared. AR 67. He was reluctant to discuss
these experiences with a therapist. AR 67-68.
vocational expert also testified at the hearing. The VE
testified that a person limited to medium exertional work
could perform K.C.'s past work as an auto mechanic, but
that a person limited to light work could not. AR 71-72. The
VE testified that K.C. had skills from past work that would
transfer to the light exertional work level. AR 72.
wife, W.L., provided testimony via a questionnaire. TR 202.
She stated that K.C. is often fatigued, has headaches, has
difficulty sleeping and wakes up from nightmares, and has
trouble concentrating. TR 202-205. She also stated that K.C.
no longer socializes and has a short temper. TR 205-206. She
checked the boxes for “lifting, ” “walking,
” “stair climbing, ” and “following
instructions” as abilities affected by his impairments.
TR 207. She stated that he is depressed and talks about death
a lot. TR 208.