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Gloria Gutierrez-Gonzalez v. Michael J. Astrue Commissioner of Social Security

September 19, 2012


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Magistrate Judge Morton Denlow


Claimant Gloria Gutierrez-Gonzalez ("Claimant") brings this action under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), seeking reversal and remand of the decision by Defendant Michael J. Astrue, Commissioner of Social Security ("Defendant" or "Commissioner"), denying Claimant's application for Disability Insurance Benefits ("DIB") and Supplemental Security Income ("SSI"). Claimant argues that the ALJ failed to build a logical bridge between the evidence and the medical improvement condition. For the following reasons, the Court grants Claimant's motion for summary judgment to reverse the decision of the Commissioner, denies the Commissioner's motion to affirm the Commissioner's decision, and remands the case to the Social Security Administration for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.


A. Procedural History

Claimant initially applied for DIB and SSI on November 10, 2008, alleging a disability onset date of December 7, 2007. R. 135-42. The Social Security Administration ("SSA") denied her applications on March 9, 2009. R. 45-46. Claimant then filed a request for reconsideration, which the SSA denied on August 14, 2009 R. 47-48. Thereafter, Claimant requested a hearing before an ALJ. R. 72-73.

On July 13, 2010, Administrative Law Judge Janice M. Bruning ("ALJ") presided over a hearing at which Claimant appeared with her attorney, Augustin Garcia. R. 25-44. Claimant and Aimee Mowery, a vocational expert ("VE"), testified at the hearing. Id. On October 22, 2010, the ALJ issued a decision finding Claimant not disabled under the Social Security Act. R. 11-20. Specifically, the ALJ found that while Claimant was disabled from May 24, 2008 through June 30, 2009, medical improvement occurred on July 1, 2009 and after that date Claimant had the ability to perform sedentary work with the following additional restrictions: she could not perform work involving ladder, rope, or scaffold climbing; she could only occasionally climb ramps and stairs, balance, stoop, crouch, kneel, crawl and use her right lower extremity; she could not work in an environment with concentrated exposure to respiratory irritants; and she must be able to alternate between sitting and standing positions on an hourly basis. R. 17. The ALJ concluded that Claimant is unable to perform her past relevant work but there are a significant number of jobs in the national economy which Claimant can perform. R. 19.

Claimant then filed for review of the ALJ's decision to the Appeals Council, which denied Claimant's request on November 30, 2011. R. 1-3. Therefore, the ALJ's decision became the final decision of the Commissioner. Claimant subsequently filed this action for judicial review pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).The parties have consented to this Court's jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c). Dkt. 9.

B. Hearing Testimony - July 13, 2010

1. Gloria Gutierrez-Gonzalez - Claimant

Claimant testified at the hearing with the assistance of an interpreter. R. 27. At the time of the hearing, Claimant was thirty-eight years old. R. 200. Claimant completed the tenth grade in Mexico. R. 29. She is married and has one minor child. Id. Claimant testified that she was in an accident on December 7, 2007. R. 31. Claimant returned to work three days after her accident and underwent a series of injections and therapy. R. 31. Her last day of work was May 24, 2008. Id.

At the time of the hearing, Claimant was taking pain medication. R. 32. She testified that her insurance does not cover anything besides pain medication so she was not able to have a second procedure performed. Id. She described her middle and lower back pain as a burning sensation, or as though she is being punctured; she rated that pain as a seven on a scale of ten. R. 33. Her right knee also feels numb and causes pain. R. 34. Claimant testified that she previously saw a mental health specialist who gave her medication for depression, but she was not receiving mental health treatment at the time of the hearing. Id.

Claimant can walk for two blocks without pain, can stand for thirty minutes maximum and can sit for an hour maximum. R. 35. She can lift a gallon of milk and a grocery bag but experiences pain in the hip. Id. She has trouble climbing stairs, though does it everyday, and had problems with bending, balance, and reaching over her head. Id. She can reach in front and can use her hands without pain. Id. Claimant has trouble sleeping; her depression medication helps her sleep. R. 36. She has to take a nap two or three times per day, about an hour each time, because her muscles tense up. Id.; R. 40.

Regarding daily activities, Claimant drives her son to school everyday, prepares simple meals, and shops if assisted. R. 37. She does not do dishes and can do the laundry slowly. Id. She does not clean; her doctors have told her to avoid that type of activity. Id. She attends school functions for her children, helps with homework, cares for her minor son in the summer, attends church and sometimes socializes with friends. R. 37-38.

Claimant discovered cysts in her breast in 1996, had surgery, and at the time of the hearing was contemplating breast removal due to new cysts. R. 39. At some point in the hearing, Claimant asked to stand up. R. 39.

2. Aimee Mowery -- Vocational Expert ("VE")

Aimee Mowery testified as a Vocational Expert ("VE"). R. 40. The VE described Claimant's past relevant work as that of a machine operator, which is a semi-skilled occupation with SVP 3 and light exertion level, and a hand packager, which is an unskilled occupation with SVP 2 and light exertion level. R. 41.

The ALJ described a hypothetical individual of Claimant's age, education, and work experience who can: lift and carry ten pounds occasionally and less than ten pounds frequently; stand and/or walk a total of two hours in an eight hour work day; sit six hours in an eight hour work day; never climb ladders, rope or scaffolding; occasionally climb ramps and stairs; occasionally balance, stoop crouch, kneel and crawl; and who should avoid exposure to lung irritants. The hypothetical person was also limited to unskilled, three to four step routine, simple, repetitive tasks. R. 41-42. The VE responded that the hypothetical person could perform the jobs of a sorter of which there are 375 in the region; a hand packager of which there are 1034 in the region; and assembler of which there are 1172 in the region. R. 42. Each of those jobs is an SVP level 2 and exertional level of sedentary. Id. The same jobs were available if the individual was also limited to only occasionally pushing and pulling with the right lower extremity and/or if the hypothetical person needed a sit/stand option that allowed her to stand after sitting for one hour. Id. For a individual who would be off task twenty percent of the time due to pain or a need to nap, no jobs would exist. R. 43. An inability to read would not impact the availability of the listed jobs. Id.

C. Medical Evidence

1. Sydney Hillman Health Center

The record contains medical records collected by the Sydney Hillman Health Center beginning in 2001 and ending in 2008. R. 226-66. Through the end of 2008 she presented at Hillman for back problems and was noted to have some depression. R. 288.

2. Los Quiropracticos, LLC

Notes and records submitted by Los Quiropracticos, LLC (a chiropractic medicine practice) indicate that Claimant was treated primarily by Dr. Jose Castellanos, M.D. ("Dr. Castellanos") between December 2007 and May 2008. R. 313-60. Imaging ordered in March 2008 revealed a potential neurofibroma, a hemangioma, and degenerative disc changes. R. 315. Claimant was referred to a neurosurgeon. R. 322. Treatment notes from Dr. Castellanos in March 2008 indicate that Claimant continued to suffer severe back pain.

R. 326-27. Multiple courses of treatment were attempted, including lumbar epidural steroid injections. R. 335-36. A neurophysiologist to whom Claimant was referred in June 2008 found evidence of nerve root compression. R. 340.

3. Peterson Surgery Center -- Dr. Mohammad Hosseinian, M.D.

On May 21, 2008 Dr. Mohammad Hosseinian, M.D., ("Dr. Hosseinian"), administered lumbar epidural steroid injection for severe neck pain at Peterson Surgery Center. R. 219. In August 2008, Dr. Hosseinian ordered a CT of Claimant's lumbosacral spine which revealed multilevel annular tears and sacroiliac joint sclerosis. R. 347-48. A lumbar provocative discogram was ...

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