United States District Court, C.D. California
MICHELLE L. H., Plaintiff,
ANDREW M. SAUL, Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
E. SCOTT, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
Michelle L. H. (“Plaintiff”) applied for Social
Security Disability Insurance Benefits in May 20, 2015,
alleging that she became disabled and unable to work on
February 10, 2014 (about one month after delivering her son),
due to migraine headaches. Administrative Record
(“AR”) 162, 184.
November 8, 2018, an Administrative Law Judge
(“ALJ”) conducted a hearing at which Plaintiff,
who was represented by an attorney, appeared and testified,
as did a vocational expert (“VE”). AR 33-68. On
March 12, 2018, the ALJ issued an unfavorable decision. AR
14-28. The ALJ found that Plaintiff's headaches were a
severe, medically determinable impairment. AR 20. The ALJ
further found that despite her headaches, Plaintiff had a
residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform
light work with some non-exertional limitations, including
“can concentrate for up to 2 hour periods of time, but
limited to unskilled tasks in a non-public setting.” AR
on this RFC and the VE's testimony, the ALJ found that
Plaintiff could not perform her past relevant work as an
accounting clerk or esthetician, but she could perform the
jobs of office helper, mail clerk, and routing clerk. AR
26-17. The ALJ concluded that Plaintiff was not disabled. AR
One: Whether substantial evidence supports the ALJ's
RFC determination. (Dkt. 18, Joint Stipulation
[“JS”] at 3.)
Two: Whether the ALJ erred in evaluating Plaintiff's
subjective symptom testimony. (JS at 4.)
Plaintiff's testimony, if credited, would constitute
evidence that would factor into any RFC determination, the
Court will address Issue Two first.
42 U.S.C. § 405(g), a district court may review the
Commissioner's decision to deny benefits. The ALJ's
findings and decision should be upheld if they are free from
legal error and are supported by substantial evidence based
on the record as a whole. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g);
Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971);
Parra v. Astrue, 481 F.3d 742, 746 (9th Cir. 2007).
Substantial evidence means such relevant evidence as a
reasonable person might accept as adequate to support a
conclusion. Richardson, 402 U.S. at 401;
Lingenfelter v. Astrue, 504 F.3d 1028, 1035 (9th
Cir. 2007). It is more than a scintilla, but less than a
preponderance. Lingenfelter, 504 F.3d at 1035
(citing Robbins v. Soc. Sec. Admin., 466 F.3d 880,
882 (9th Cir. 2006)). To determine whether substantial
evidence supports a finding, the district court “must
review the administrative record as a whole, weighing both
the evidence that supports and the evidence that detracts
from the Commissioner's conclusion.” Reddick v.
Chater, 157 F.3d 715, 720 (9th Cir. 1998). “If the
evidence can reasonably support either affirming or
reversing, ” the reviewing court “may not
substitute its judgment” for that of the Commissioner.
Id at 720-21.
ISSUE TWO: Plaintiffs Subjective Symptom
Summary of Plaintiffs Testimony.
was born in 1972. AR 162. She started experiencing headaches
in her 20s (i.e., approximately the 1990s). AR 40.
Nevertheless, between 2000 and 2013, she worked as an
accounting clerk and an esthetician. AR 37, 185, 230.
stopped working in October 2013 due to her pregnancy. AR 37,
63, 184. Her son was born on January 1, 2014. AR 234. Before
her pregnancy, she had six or seven migraines per month, and
she called in sick to work “a lot.” AR 40-41.
During her pregnancy, she had only one or two migraines. AR
43. After her son was born, she had “an average of 20
to 25” headaches a month. AR 41. The week of her
menstrual cycle, she was “guaranteed to have migraines
every day.” AR 41-42. The other headaches are on
“scattered days throughout” each month. AR 42.
“[A] lot of times” she would have headaches that
lasted for as many as ten days straight, and those were not
associated with her menstrual cycle. AR 42. On a typical day,
she would wake up at 5:00 a.m. headache-free; she would try
to “get as much as possible done” before
something triggered a headache. AR 51. Her headaches
“usually” started around mid-morning. AR 60. In a
typical week, there were only “one or two days where
[she felt] good.” AR 48.
has been a steady pattern for the “the last two or
three years.” AR 41 (meaning approximately 2015 or 2016
through 2017). Her headaches have gotten “worse and
worse” (meaning more frequent by about 3-5 per month)
since she completed a Function Report in June 2015. AR 49-50.
migraine headaches cause her to feel dizzy and vomit. AR 44,
54. They can be triggered by light, sounds, and scents.
Id. Her doctors tried treating her headaches by
putting her on hormones to simulate pregnancy, but that made
her condition “worse.” AR 43. The only treatment
she identified as effective was Botox injections, and that
only provided about a month and half of relief (reducing
headache days to 10-12 per month) when she first tried
it. AR 51-52. Taking Maxalt controlled the
dizziness and vomiting, but she was incapacitated and needed
to lie in bed due to pain. AR 59.
testified that despite her headaches, she was able to be the
primary caregiver for her son (age 3 at the time of the
hearing) and drive him to and from half-day pre-school two
days each week. AR 45. Her teenage stepdaughter arrived home
each weekday at 2:45 p.m.; the stepdaughter or
Plaintiff's husband cared for Plaintiff's son if they
were home and Plaintiff was having a migraine. See AR 45-46.
If she was alone in the house and needed to lie in bed with a
headache, her son would play in his room or lie in bed with
her. Id. On “a lot” of occasions, her
mom would drive over to help with childcare. AR 46. When
asked, however, “Have you had times where you have a
headaches, where you're not able to care for the
child?” she responded, “I mean no. Not
really.” Id. She added that
“several” times, she had asked her husband to
come home from work early or call- in sick. AR 47.
would go grocery shopping once a week. AR 48. On
“several” nights each week, she could not cook
dinner for her family. Id. Her husband and
stepdaughter did a lot of household chores because
“when [she has] a migraine, [she] cannot do
anything.” AR 47.
Headache Questionnaire completed in June 2015, she reported
20 headaches per month that were so severe, she needed to
stay in bed in a dark room with no light or sound. AR 191.
Function Report also from June 2015, Plaintiff reported no
problems with personal care. AR 193. She could do laundry and
light cleaning, but only for a few hours each week. AR 194.
When experiencing a migraine, she was dizzy and vomiting; she
could only walk a few steps; and she was unable to drive. AR
192, 197. She had a driver's license, however, and she
drove her son to and from pre-school, to medical
appointments, and for weekly grocery shopping. AR 56-57,
The ALJ's Treatment of ...