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Ortiz v. Saul

United States District Court, E.D. California

September 10, 2019

ANDREW M. SAUL,[1] Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.




         Plaintiff Alexis Alfredo Ortiz (“Plaintiff”) seeks judicial review of a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security (“Commissioner”) denying his application for disability insurance benefits (“DBI”) under Title II of the Social Security Act and for supplemental security income (“SSI”) 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.[2]

         Having 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, the Court affirms the agency's determination to deny benefits.


         On March 20, 2014, Plaintiff filed an application for a period of disability and DBI. AR 196-199.[3] Plaintiff also filed an application for SSI on March 21, 2014. AR 200-206. In both applications, Plaintiff alleged disability beginning January 1, 2012. AR 196, 200. Plaintiff's applications were denied initially and on reconsideration and Plaintiff subsequently requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”). AR 73-121, 124-153. ALJ Sharon Madsen held a hearing on July 7, 2016, and issued an order denying benefits on September 1, 2016. AR 23-72. Plaintiff sought review of the ALJ's decision, which the Appeals Council denied, making the ALJ's decision the Commissioner's final decision. AR 1-3. This appeal followed.

         Relevant Hearing Testimony

         The ALJ held a hearing on July 7, 2016, in Fresno, California. Plaintiff was incarcerated at the time of the hearing and appeared telephonically. Plaintiff was represented by his attorney, Jonathan Pena. Impartial Vocational Expert Jose Chaparro also appeared. AR 26, 40, 42, 45.

         In response to questioning by the ALJ, Plaintiff testified that his birthdate is January 7, 1990, and he is married but has no children. Plaintiff testified that prior to his incarceration he was “kind of homeless” and “bouncing around a lot.” He had his driver's license and sometimes drove. Plaintiff has a high school education and completed some college units but did not obtain a degree or certificate. AR 45-47.

         When asked about his typical daily activities, Plaintiff testified that he did not shower very often because he did not like to do so. Plaintiff's household chores included feeding his dog. He did not cook but was able to use the microwave. Plaintiff did not like to go grocery shopping and typically did so late at night when there were fewer people present. He sometimes attended church with his mother but did not like to go because he would get nervous while around other people. AR 48-50.

         Plaintiff testified that his typical day prior to incarceration included getting up, feeding his dog, and, if he felt like eating and food was available, eating whatever his wife was eating. Plaintiff's wife would brush and style his hair and Plaintiff would get dressed, drink coffee, and attend medical or parole appointments. Plaintiff testified that he did not watch television but enjoyed listening to music and reading, although he did not read for long periods of time because he got headaches, needed glasses, and had difficulty concentrating unless he found the material to be very interesting. When asked about his prior work history, Plaintiff testified that he worked for McDonald's for more than a year on a full-time basis. During that time, Plaintiff did not cashier and mostly worked in the back. He did not like helping the customers because he found them to be rude and mean. AR 50-53.

         With respect to his mental impairments, Plaintiff testified that he does not like people and gets overwhelmingly nervous and paranoid around them. Plaintiff's mind races and he sometimes feels like he wants to fight and that others are looking at him strangely, thinking about him, or following him. He additionally testified that he hears voices, experiences suicidal thoughts on an ongoing basis, and sometimes cuts himself. Plaintiff has a history of drug abuse and previously used methamphetamine. Plaintiff was not receiving treatment or medication while incarcerated. Plaintiff was drinking alcohol and smoking marijuana prior to his incarceration but testified that he does not drink or do drugs while he is on medication. Additionally, Plaintiff is a former gang member although he testified that he is no longer affiliated with any gang. AR 53-59.

         In response to questioning by his attorney, Plaintiff testified that he has been receiving treatment since he was a child and experiences manic and depressive episodes. Plaintiff described periods of extreme excitement followed by periods of extreme depression during which he was unable to get out of bed for days. According to Plaintiff, he will sometimes go without sleeping for days and then will sleep for weeks. He further described his depressive periods as lasting for more than a month at a time. Plaintiff also testified that he needs reminders to shower and sometimes will go long periods without brushing his teeth or shaving. He additionally needs assistance brushing his hair. AR 60-61, 64.

         Plaintiff testified that he was attending and doing well in school prior to his incarceration. Plaintiff's teachers and his wife, who was taking the same classes as him, would help him to attend school and feel comfortable around other students. Plaintiff would sometimes have trouble in school and would need to sit near the back of the class or close to the door. He would occasionally experience difficulty getting out of bed and attending his classes. When Plaintiff was unable to get up and attend his classes, his wife would alert his teachers and get his homework so that he could do it at home. Plaintiff would sometimes be unable to do his work and reported sitting in bed and crying all day and being unable to eat. During this time period, Plaintiff was taking his medications off and on. Plaintiff testified that the dosage of his medications was constantly changing and while his medication helped control his symptoms he still experienced episodes of depression while on medication. Additionally, he frequently got in fights with others and had trouble sitting through a full class period unless he had used marijuana. However, Plaintiff testified that he did not have disciplinary issues and would leave class as soon as instruction ended or he began feeling bad. AR 61-65.

         Following Plaintiff's testimony, the ALJ elicited testimony from the Vocational Expert (“VE”) Jose L. Chaparro. The VE testified that Plaintiff's work history included sandwich maker. The ALJ also asked the VE hypothetical questions. For the first hypothetical, the ALJ asked the VE to assume a person of the same age, education, and work background as Plaintiff. This person had no exertional limitations but was restricted to simple, routine tasks and occasional public contact. The VE testified that Plaintiff's past work as performed would be available, although there are sandwich maker jobs with extensive public contact. Additionally, there were other ...

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