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Narvaiz v. Saul

United States District Court, E.D. California

January 8, 2020

ANDREW SAUL, Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.



         I. Introduction

         Plaintiff Maria Diana Narvaiz (“Plaintiff”) seeks judicial review of the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security (“Commissioner” or “Defendant”) denying her application for supplemental security income pursuant to 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 the Honorable Gary S. Austin, United States Magistrate Judge.[1] See Docs. 15, 20 and 21. Having reviewed the record as a whole, the Court finds that the ALJ's decision is supported by substantial evidence and applicable law. Accordingly, Plaintiff's appeal is denied.

         II. Procedural Background

         On December 30, 2013, Plaintiff filed an application for supplemental security income alleging disability beginning February 3, 2013. AR 32. The Commissioner denied the application initially on April 9, 2014, and following reconsideration on October 9, 2014. AR 32.

         On November 6, 2014, Plaintiff filed a request for a hearing. AR 32. Administrative Law Judge Sharon L. Madsen presided over an administrative hearing on August 11, 2016. AR 46-71. Plaintiff appeared and was represented by an attorney. AR 46. On November 9, 2016, the ALJ denied Plaintiff's application. AR 32-41.

         The Appeals Council denied review on February 1, 2018. AR 7-9. On November 19, 2018, Plaintiff filed a complaint in this Court. Doc. 1.

         III. Factual Background

         A. Plaintiff's Allegations

         1. Hearing Testimony

         Plaintiff (born June 1, 1967) lived with her son and his family. AR 50. She was able to perform her own personal care, shop, help out with cleaning, cook and do dishes. AR 52. She assisted in the care of her 19-month-old twin grandchildren. AR 52. Plaintiff did not drive and relied on family members for rides. AR 51.

         Plaintiff had a GED and completed some college courses. AR 51. Her prior work included basic care of disabled patients, including bathing, feeding and laundry; basic housekeeping and breakfast service at a local inn; and, part-time work in a minimart. AR 53-54.

         Plaintiff described constant cramping and aching in her neck with pain radiating to her left arm. AR 55. Her symptoms were worsening with age. AR 64. Her left arm was completely numb. AR 55. Sitting was uncomfortable. AR 56. She was most comfortable reclining with support under her neck and her feet elevated. AR 56. Plaintiff had developed arthritis in her shoulder, which she described as feeling like burns and shocks. AR 57. Walking caused back pain. AR 58. Although her doctor had recommended stretching, Plaintiff did not think she could do that. AR 58. She depended on Baclofen (a muscle relaxer), Norco (pain reliever) and Meloxicam (for arthritis) as well as nonprescription aspercreme. AR 58-59. Her blood pressure was stable with medication. AR 59.

         Plaintiff could sit for twenty to thirty minutes. AR 60. She could walk to a store that was about a half block away. AR 60. She could carry a gallon of milk with her right arm but not with her left. AR 59. Raising her left arm over her head was painful. AR 61. Plaintiff had difficulty bending over. AR 60.

         Since the 2015 murder of her youngest son, Plaintiff experienced depression and anxiety. AR 62. However, she had recently found it easier to sleep and did not need medication as much. AR 63.

         2. Pain Questionnaire

         In March 2014, Plaintiff completed a pain questionnaire. AR 221-24. Plaintiff reported that she had experienced pain in her neck, shoulders, upper back and upper extremities since April 1986. AR 221. Rest usually relieved the pain in 30 to 45 minutes. AR 221. Plaintiff used two prescription drugs, Meloxicam and Tramadol, which relieved her pain in 40 to 60 minutes. AR 221. Side effects included drowsiness, dry mouth, diarrhea and sweating. AR 223. Warm packs were also helpful. AR 223.

         Plaintiff was able to run errands without assistance. AR 224. She could walk four to five blocks, stand one and half to two hours, and sit for one hour at a time. AR 224.

         B. Medical Records

         From July 2013 to July 2016, Plaintiff received regular medical care from Debra Martin, FNP, at Family Healthcare Network.[2] AR 245-67, 269-71, 282-293, 307-12, 335-43, 349-83, 387-92, 396-403, 408-13, 417-37, 443-72. As of July 2016, Plaintiff's diagnoses included cervicalgia; dorsalgia; insomnia; essential (primary) hypertension; major depressive disorder, single episode, severe without psychotic features; other intervertebral disc degeneration, lumbosacral region; anxiety disorder, unspecified; cervical disc disorder with myelopathy, unspecified cervical region; pain in unspecified shoulder; and, pain in left knee. AR 350. Medications included Meloxicam (dorsalgia), Ambien (insomnia), Losartan Potassium (hypertension), Paroxetine HCl (depression), Norco (cervical disc disorder) and Baclofen (muscle spasm). AR 350-51.

         Imaging studies were conducted on April 21, 2014, to address Plaintiff's backaches. AR 269-71. Lumbar spine x-rays revealed no fracture or malalignment and mild spondylosis at ¶ 3-4 and L4-5 with mild endplate osteophytosis, but no significant intervertebral disc height loss. AR 269. X-rays of Plaintiff's right shoulder revealed mild acromioclavicular degenerative changes but a normal glenohumeral joint and no fracture or dislocation. AR 270. Thoracic spine x-rays were normal except for mild multilevel bony upper trophic spurring at the intervertebral disc margins, consistent with mild chronic osteoarthritis. AR 271.

         Daniel Brubaker, D.O., of Muscular Skeletal Medical Associates, issued a “Physician Statement and Recommendation” for medical marijuana on May 27, 2014. AR 276.

         Plaintiff was evaluated for physical therapy at Sierra View District Hospital in May 2015. AR 323-27. Adriene Aono, PT, DPT, described Plaintiff as a “tough case: s/p fusion with lots of referred pain still and adaptive shortening of soft tissue around upper quadrants on both sides. Reflexes diminished but not absent on the left. Prognosis is fair. Reasonable candidate for desensitization and strengthening if she can tolerate it.” AR 327. Plaintiff did not participate in physical therapy after the evaluation. AR 439.

         Magnetic resonance imaging of Plaintiff's cervical spine in August 2015 revealed (1) surgical changes of C4-6 bony fusion with diskectomies; (2) a focal lesion at ¶ 5-6 consistent with myelomalacia, likely related to Plaintiff's upper extremity radiculopathy and possibly chronic; and, (3) mild/moderate degenerative disk changes, central ...

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