United States District Court, E.D. California
TRACY D. THOMPSON, Plaintiff,
ANDREW M. SAUL,  Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.
ORDER REGARDING PLAINTIFF'S SOCIAL SECURITY
BARBARA A. MCAULIFFE, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
Tracy D. Thompson (“Plaintiff”) seeks judicial
review of a final decision of the Commissioner of Social
Security (“Commissioner”) denying her
applications for disability insurance benefits under Title II
of the Social Security Act and supplemental security income
under Title XVI of the Social Security Act. The matter is
currently before the Court on the parties' briefs, which
were submitted, without oral argument, to Magistrate Judge
Barbara A. McAuliffe.
considered the briefing and record in this matter, the Court
finds the decision of the Administrative Law Judge
(“ALJ”) to be supported by substantial evidence
in the record as a whole and based upon proper legal
standards. Accordingly, this Court affirms the agency's
determination to deny benefits.
AND PRIOR PROCEEDINGS
filed applications for supplemental security income and
disability insurance benefits on November 7, 2013. AR 194-98,
202-07. Plaintiff alleged that she became disabled
on July 29, 2011, due to post-laminectomy, sciatica, major
depressive disorder, back pain, herniation, and
hypothyroidism. AR 132, 221, 225. Plaintiff's
applications were denied initially and on reconsideration. AR
132-36, 140-44. Subsequently, Plaintiff requested a hearing
before an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”). ALJ
Judith A. Kopec held a hearing on June 10, 2016, and issued
an order denying benefits on September 6, 2016. AR 18-31,
37-76. Plaintiff sought review of the ALJ's decision,
which the Appeals Council denied, making the ALJ's
decision the Commissioner's final decision. AR 1-6. This
ALJ held a hearing on June 10, 2016, in Stockton, California.
Plaintiff appeared with her attorney, Nicole Franco.
Impartial Vocational Expert (“VE”) Mary Jesko
also appeared. AR 39-40.
response to questioning by the ALJ, Plaintiff testified that
she lives with her husband and stepson. She drives half of
the time, when she is alone, because her husband thinks her
perception is not good. She drove to the hearing. AR 43-44.
She attended some years of college after high school, and she
is comfortable reading and writing English for her daily
activities. She had vocational training in medical coding. AR
asked about her work history, Plaintiff confirmed that she
had two major types of jobs- one as a medical coder and one
in car sales. AR 45-46. Her work at the car dealerships was
primarily the same. She last worked on July 29, 2011, when
she was laid off after her surgery. When she returned to
work, she was given less to do and then laid off. She could
not say that her lay off was connected to her medical
conditions. AR 47. Prior to being laid off, and after
surgery, she was no longer able to do filing and carrying.
After she was laid off, she spent two years searching for
work. AR 48. She was never offered any positions. AR 49.
asked about her pain, Plaintiff testified that she was
currently in pain, with pressure in her tailbone down to her
leg. The pain periodically goes down both legs. Plaintiff
reported that she had fibromyalgia, which was discovered
because she had aching pain in her leg and thigh. An
orthopedic surgeon diagnosed her within the year prior to the
hearing. AR 49-51. She rated her current pain as a seven out
of ten. On good days, her pain is a four and on bad days an
eight. In an average month, she probably has eight to ten bad
days. Plaintiff reported that she improved after her first
back surgery, but then began having bad pain again after a
year, when another bulge was discovered. She had surgery and
it improved, but she was starting to hurt again. She takes
stronger narcotic medication now. AR 52-54.
response to questions from her attorney, Plaintiff testified
that she sleeps a lot. She has sleep apnea and uses a CPAP
machine, which helps. She sleeps during the day, taking two
to four-hour naps. She does not do any household chores, such
as cooking, cleaning or laundry. Her medications make her
sleepy, she also has headaches, a little vision disturbance
and forgetfulness. She has headaches at least once a week.
They will usually last until the next day or sometimes will
be three days in a row. On a bad day, she will wake up, try
to eat and then go back to bed. Her pain comes and goes, but
depends on how much she does, like going to the grocery
store, to dinner, or to church. AR 54-56.
asked about her surgeries, Plaintiff reported that she had
some relief from her symptoms after the surgeries, but she
started hurting again. She returned to the surgeons at
Stanford, but they told her that unless she could not walk,
then she was to see her regular physician. AR 56.
asked about her fibromyalgia, Plaintiff reported that she has
not tried any specific treatments for it. She takes
Wellbutrin. She also reported that she is being treated for
depression and anxiety. When asked how those conditions
affected her ability to return to the workforce, Plaintiff
testified that she is forgetful and feels like people are
talking about her because of her conditions. She feels
ashamed. She has difficulty concentrating. She could probably
do an activity for 10 to 15 minutes before being distracted.
Plaintiff also reported that she avoids people because she
feels unattractive and embarrassed of her condition, even
with her neighbors who have seen her go out in an ambulance.
She no longer has friends that she does activities with. AR
also testified that she has a condition under her foot, which
makes it painful to walk. She can walk about fifteen minutes
at one time before she has to stop due to pain or fatigue.
She can stand for about 15 minutes before she gets pain in
her back. Her most comfortable position is in a rocker or in
her bed. Between 9:00 a.m. and 6:00 p.m., she spends about
six hours either reclined or in bed. AR 58-59.
asked about her weight, Plaintiff testified that her weight
of about 230 has made it worse in terms of her symptoms and
getting around. If she's heavier, it hurts her back more
when she stands. However, even if she lost all her weight,
she would still have sleep apnea. AR 59-60.
asked about her day, Plaintiff testified that she watches a
lot of TV. She watches the news, but dozes off while
watching. She does not read because she cannot focus. She
dropped out of Bible study because she could not remember
what she was reading. She no longer receives any ongoing
mental health treatment like counseling. Her doctor continues
to prescribe her medication. She still has some anxiety. AR
Plaintiff's testimony, the ALJ elicited testimony from VE
Mary Jesko. The VE reported that she did not have any changes
to the case analysis that she submitted as an exhibit. She
confirmed that in her case analysis, transferable skills for
medical coder included clerical, billing, and invoices. The
reasoning, math and language level were listed as 3. Under
care sales, the VE listed ...