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C.G. v. Saul

United States District Court, N.D. California

July 10, 2019

C.G., Plaintiff,
ANDREW M. SAUL, Defendant.



         Plaintiff seeks judicial review of the defendant Commissioner of Social Security Andrew M. Saul's[1] denial of her application for supplemental security income under Title XVI of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 1381 et seq. See Dkt. Nos. 26, 29. Plaintiff argues that the Administrative Law Judge failed to properly evaluate the medical record and her subjective complaints. The Court finds that the Administrative Law Judge articulated sufficient reasons for his findings and properly evaluated the medical record. Accordingly, the Court DENIES Plaintiff's motion for summary judgment and GRANTS the Commissioner's cross-motion for summary judgment.

         I. Background

         A. Procedural History

         Plaintiff applied for Title II disability insurance benefits and protectively filed a Title XVI application for supplemental security income on November 16, 2015. See Dkt. No. 18 (“AR”) at 204-19. She indicated on her application that she had submitted a prior application with the Social Security Administration. AR at 204. An Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) held a hearing on Plaintiff's application on September 19, 2017. Id. at 29- 71. The ALJ found that Plaintiff was not disabled and denied her application. Id. 12-28. The Social Security Administration Appeals Council denied review. Id. at 1-6. Plaintiff seeks judicial review of the ALJ's now-final decision pursuant to 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, 13.

         B. Undisputed Facts

         1. Non-Medical Evidence

         Plaintiff is a homeless 53-year-old woman with a high school education and work experience as a caregiver. Id. at 33, 40, 67. She alleges disability beginning March 20, 2016, based on neuropathy, memory loss, diabetes, and arthritis. Id. at 33, 253. Plaintiff has not worked since her alleged onset date. Id. at 17.

         In her functional report dated January 27, 2016, she noted that burning and stiffness in her hands and numbness in her legs limited her ability to work. Id. at 260. She also listed problems with sleeping and has difficulty with daily tasks such as dressing, bathing, caring for her hair, shaving, feeding herself, and using the toilet. Id. at 261. Plaintiff indicated that she did not prepare her own meals, but also that she spent one hour daily on preparing meals. Id. at 262. Plaintiff wrote that she performs “very light” household chores for two hours daily. Id. She added that she goes outside daily[2] and travels by walking and using public transportation with the help of a cane. Id. Plaintiff also indicated that she shopped for oral hygiene products and groceries for two hours twice a month. Id. at 262, 264. She stated that she spent time with friends twice a week listening to music, talking, and eating together. Id. at 264.

         Plaintiff's friend, A. Wiley, completed a third-party report describing her perception of Plaintiff's abilities and habits. Id. at 270-77. Wiley's report is substantially identical to Plaintiffs' own report. Id.

         2. Medical Evidence

         Plaintiff was diagnosed with right shoulder strain and peripheral neuropathy in 2014. See AR 389. Although Plaintiff also complained of leg pain that same year, her doctors found no abnormalities with her leg. Id. at 409. A year later, Plaintiff reported improvement in her hand and foot pain. Id. at 338. By the end of 2015, x-rays showed swelling consistent with osteomyelitis in her finger. Id. at 373. Plaintiff was “well known” to the emergency room department for “similar trivial symptoms.” Id. at 377.

         On January 13, 2016, Dr. Sheila Nouchian noted decreased sensation in Plaintiff's hands and feet, and diminished reflexes in her knees. Id. at 412. Plaintiff was discharged from physical therapy shortly after for her failure to comply with the attendance policy. Id. at 330.

         On February 11, 2016, state agency physician Dr. A. Khong assessed the following manipulative limitations based on Plaintiff's record: “Frequent handling and fingering using [right] and occasional handling and fingering using the [left]. May feel frequently bilaterally.” Id. at 81. Dr. Khong further noted that x-rays of Plaintiff's left hand did not reveal any arthritis, and “[d]espite her presumed diagnosis of neuropathy due to subjective complaints of pain, records do not indicate any significant functions limitations in the [right] hand.” Id. at 78. Dr. Khong concluded that Plaintiff could: lift or carry 10 pounds frequently and 20 pounds occasionally; stand or walk for more than six hours in an eight-hour workday; and sit for more than six hours in an eight-hour workday. Id. at 80.

         On March 26, 2016, Plaintiff sought treatment at the emergency room for hip pain. Id. at 479. She also complained of unsteady gait, and stated that she had “a facial droop and [affected] speech a few months prior to her visit. Id. at 480. The physician's assistant processing Plaintiff noted abnormal gait. Id. at 479. But, later the same day, Dr. Avinash Patil noted normal, intact gait, normal range of motion and coordination, and 5/5 strength in all four extremities. Id. at 481. However, Dr. Patil also noted a positive Romberg sign, indicating neurological dysfunction. Id. at 481. Doctors drained a fluid collection on Plaintiff's right thigh. Id. at 491. Her discharging physician noted that Plaintiff's CT scan showed evidence of a prior stroke, likely the reason for her neurological deficit. Id. at 491. He noted that on discharge Plaintiff “ambulate[d] well and steadily, ” though “wide based.” Id. at 491, 494. Additionally, Plaintiff displayed good strength in all extremities after having her hip wound incised and drained. Id. at 494.

         Dr. Nouchian saw Plaintiff again on April 27, 2016. Id. at 496. Dr. Nouchian assessed a “[r]ecent silent left sided lacunar infact[ion].” Id. at 498. She also diagnosed Plaintiff with “uncontrolled peripheral neuropathy” with “[w]eakness, unstable gait, numbness and tingling.” Id. at 496, 498. Dr. Nouchian referred Plaintiff to neurology for her lacunar infarction and neuropathy. Id. at 498-99.

         On June 22, 2016, Plaintiff saw Dr. Jai-Hyon Rho. Plaintiff complained of “burning, pins and needles, painful neuropathy in [her] hands and feet.” Id. at 533. Plaintiff's neurological exam showed intact motor and sensory function, as well as “intact casual gait.” Id. at 534. Dr. Rho encouraged “exercise and weight loss, ” and recommended Plaintiff be “less sedentary or less vigilant as to her symptoms.” Id. at 534.

         On August 8, 2016, Dr. Nouchian wrote that Plaintiff “reports the condition is getting worse.” Id. at 538. A few months later, Dr. Nouchian noted “[n]umbness and tingling of hands and feet, ” but also opined that Plaintiff's “pain is manageable.” Id. at 551-52.

         3. ALJ Hearing

         On September 19, 2017, the ALJ conducted a hearing to review Plaintiff's disability application. Id. at 29. Plaintiff was present and represented by counsel. Id. Plaintiff, Dr. Joseph R. Gaeta, a medical expert, and Darlene T. ...

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