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Roach v. Commissioner of Social Security

United States District Court, E.D. California

July 10, 2019





         Valerie Roach (“Plaintiff”) seeks judicial review of a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security (“Commissioner” or “Defendant”) denying her application for disability benefits pursuant to the Social Security Act. The matter is currently before the Court on the parties' briefs, which were submitted, without oral argument, to Magistrate Judge Stanley A. Boone.[1]

         Plaintiff suffers from obesity, multinodular goiter, hypertension, degenerative disc disease with spondylosis, left knee and right shoulder dysfunction, and asthma. For the reasons set forth below, Plaintiff's Social Security appeal shall be granted.



         Plaintiff protectively filed an application for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits and a Title XVI application for supplemental security income on April 24, 2014. (AR 209, 210.) Plaintiff's applications were initially denied on September 10, 2014, and denied upon reconsideration on March 16, 2015. (AR 245-249, 256-260.) Plaintiff requested and received a hearing before Administrative Law Judge Scot Septer (“the ALJ”). Plaintiff appeared for a hearing on April 25, 2017. (AR 50-82.) On July 19, 2017, the ALJ found that Plaintiff was not disabled. (AR 28-42.) The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review on July 23, 2018. (AR 1-4.)

         A. Hearing Testimony

         Plaintiff testified at a hearing on April 25, 2017, with the assistance of counsel. (AR 56-74.) At the hearing, Plaintiff amended her alleged onset date to February 1, 2016. (AR 55.)

         Plaintiff is 5 foot 4 inches tall and weighs 183 pounds. (AR 57.) Plaintiff has been gaining weight and it is hard for her to lose weight since her thyroid was removed. (AR 57.) It is difficult for her to exercise. (AR 58.) Plaintiff is right-handed. (AR 58.) She attended school through the twelfth grade and some college. (AR 74.)

         Plaintiff has three children and lives with her sixteen year-old daughter. (AR 56, 57.) Her twenty-one year old son comes over every other weekend to help Plaintiff out. (AR 56.) He will take out the trash and do what needs to be done in the yard. (AR 56.) Plaintiff's daughter washes the dishes and cooks small things for Plaintiff. (AR 56.) She will also help Plaintiff if she needs help dressing, such as with her shoes or shirt. (AR 57.) Plaintiff's daughter will help with laundry and grocery shopping. (AR 57.)

         Plaintiff receives temporary Social Security income and child support. (AR 66.) She has a savings account that she is able to manage. (AR 66.) Plaintiff had a worker's compensation claim that was settled but medical is still open for her right shoulder. (AR 66.)

         Plaintiff worked in housekeeping for the past fifteen years. (AR 58-59.) She worked for various hotels and Baker's Ballroom downtown. (AR 59.) Plaintiff would carry linen up the stairs on occasion. (AR 59.) They would not give her a cart and she had to carry items up the stairs rather than using an elevator. (AR 59.) She was given more rooms to clean that the other girls which made her job harder to complete. (AR 59.) She had to push and pull a cart and make beds. (AR 60.) She would have someone else move the mattresses because she was already having problems with her back. (AR 60.) Plaintiff would be on her feet for the entire time she was working other than a thirty minute lunch break. (AR 60.) She worked seven hours a day until they reduced her time to three hours. (AR 60.) Plaintiff started flashing the other employees and was getting an attitude. (AR 60.) Plaintiff was terminated because they told her she was unable to complete the work because of her injuries. (AR 60.) Plaintiff worked at the job for two years. (AR 60.) When Plaintiff first started working it was easier, but then they started giving her more work and more stuff to carry. (AR 61.) She had to take the stairs because the elevator took too long. (AR 61.) It was difficult taking the stairs but she did it. (AR 61.) The heaviest weight Plaintiff would regularly carry would be five bottles, about five pounds. (AR 61-62.)

         Plaintiff is unable to do any chores because her body hurts too bad. (AR 63.) The most cooking that Plaintiff can do is put a hot dog in boiling water and sit down while it cooks. (AR 63.) She mostly heats things in the microwave or does fast food. (AR 63.) The last time Plaintiff cooked was last Thanksgiving. (AR 63.) She used one of the pots that cooks itself in six-hours. (AR 63.)

         Plaintiff's daughter cooks three times a week. (AR 63.) She will prepare simple meals like baked chicken. (AR 63.) Plaintiff is on a strict diet and eats baked chicken and boiled vegetables. (AR 63.) Plaintiff's daughter puts the dishes in the dishwasher because Plaintiff cannot stand that long. (AR 63.) Plaintiff's daughter does the laundry. (AR 64.) Plaintiff has not done laundry since 2014. (AR 64.) Plaintiff does the grocery shopping. (AR 64.) They try to get everything they need in a single trip. (AR 64.) Plaintiff will drive to the grocery store which is right across the street. (AR 65.) Plaintiff drives to doctor's appointments but otherwise does not go anywhere. (AR 65.)

         When she drives her back will get stiff and her legs get tired. (AR 65.) The longest Plaintiff has driven in the last six months was to the pain specialist the prior day. (AR 65.) It was a ten minute drive. (AR 65.) After driving, she is very stiff with pain and achiness. (AR 65.) Plaintiff took the bus to the hearing. (AR 65.) She finds the little bit of walking when taking the bus to be frustrating. (AR 65.) Plaintiff can walk from where she is sitting to the door without pain. (AR 65.) When she walks, she gets pain in her lower back and neck area and knee and her legs get stiff and achy. (AR 66.) Her whole body will ache. (AR 66.)

         Plaintiff can stand for a minute or two. (AR 64.) Some days are better than others. (AR 64.) On a good day, her pain will be a six, and on a bad day it will be 10. (AR 64.) Plaintiff has twenty bad days a month. (AR 74.) On these days she stays in bed all day. (AR 74.) She experiences the most pain in her lower back, neck, shoulders and left knee, although her right knee is starting to hurt. (AR 64.)

         On an average day, Plaintiff gets up around 10:00 to take her pills and go to the restroom. (AR 66.) She will sleep all day and wake up every hour. (AR 66.) She cannot stay asleep at night or during the day due to the pain. (AR 66-67.) Plaintiff will be in a lot of pain when she wakes up and moving around makes it worse. (AR 67.) The pain pills help some, but they do not last eight hours like they should. (AR 67.) They only last about three to four hours and Plaintiff is still uncomfortable. (AR 67.)

         Sometimes Plaintiff will skip a meal. (AR 67.) During the day, Plaintiff listens to music. (AR 67.) She just stays home because it is too difficult to do anything. (AR 67.)

         Plaintiff went to physical therapy but it did not help. (AR 67-68.) Plaintiff cannot lift her right shoulder up too high. (AR 68.) It is stiff and painful. (AR 68.) She can lift her arm to shoulder level and anything above that would cause a lot of pain. (AR 68.) Plaintiff does not use her right arm during the day. (AR 68.) Plaintiff was given exercises to do for her shoulder but it only made things worse. (AR 68.) Her doctor told her to stop doing the exercises because it could injure her more. (AR 68.) The doctor told her they wanted to drain the cyst and give her cortisone injections. (AR 69.) She has not had any of the recommended treatment. (AR 69.)

         Plaintiff has been using a cane for about two years. (AR 69.) It was prescribed by her doctor. (AR 69.) Plaintiff uses the cane all the time. (AR 69.) Plaintiff has a brace for her left knee that she also wears all the time except at night. (AR 69.) Plaintiff only takes Norco and it does not work for the pain. (AR 70.) Her doctor just increased her dosage the prior day. (AR 70.) When she takes the medication it might reduce the pain for an hour or two and sometimes it will last four hours. (AR 70.) Plaintiff took her medication at about 6:00 that morning. (AR 70.) She usually takes it at 7:00, 3:00 and 11:00. (AR 70.) When she takes her medication she gets forgetful and has brain fog. (AR 70.) This has been happening for two years. (AR 70.) Plaintiff goes to bed between 7:00 and 10:00 and she sleeps all throughout the day. (AR 70-71, 73.) She was doing that even when she was working. (AR 71.) At the end of her job, she was working 2 to 3 hours a day. (AR 71.) She was full-time when she started but they cut her hours because she did not complete the work. (AR 71.)

         It is hard for Plaintiff to function and sit and she cannot stand or walk for too long without being in pain. (AR 71.) She has problems talking and communicating with people. (AR 71.) This has been going on for a while. (AR 71.)

         Plaintiff also cannot hold things with her right arm. (AR 72.) She is able to make a fist, but mostly uses her left arm, even to feed herself, because her right arm is weak. (AR 72.) She uses both her hands to drink. (AR 72.) If Plaintiff uses her hand she gets a shocking sensation that runs through it and it will get weak. (AR 72.) She uses her left hand to open doors. (AR 72.) Plaintiff is able to write if she takes her time and she can text and use her phone. (AR 72-73.) She does not do much with her left hand. (AR 73.) Plaintiff can lift less than five pounds using both hands. (AR 73.)

         Jose Chaparro, a vocational expert, also testified at the hearing. (AR 75-79.)

         B. ALJ Findings

         The ALJ made the following findings of fact and conclusions of law.

• Plaintiff meets the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act through September 30, 2017.
• Plaintiff has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since the alleged onset date of June 1, 2012.
• Plaintiff has the following severe impairments: hypertension, degenerative disc disease with spondylosis, left knee and right shoulder dysfunction, and asthma.
• Plaintiff does not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals the severity of one of the listed impairments.
• Plaintiff has the residual functional capacity to perform light work as defined in 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1567(b) and 416.967(b). Specifically, Plaintiff can lift and/or carry ten pounds frequently and twenty pounds occasionally. She can stand and/or walk for four hours out of an eight-hour workday with the assistance of a cane. She can sit for six hours out of an eight-hour workday. Plaintiff can never climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds. She can occasionally climb ramps and stairs, balance, kneel, crouch, crawl, and reach over head with the right upper extremity. She can frequently reach in all other directions with the right upper extremity. She is to avoid all ...

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