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Jeffries v. Colvin

United States District Court, Ninth Circuit

December 5, 2013

Paula K. Jeffries, Plaintiff,
v.
Carolyn W. Colvin, Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

ORDER

LESLIE A. BOWMAN, Magistrate Judge.

The plaintiff filed this action for review of the final decision of the Commissioner for Social Security pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). (Doc. 1)

The Magistrate Judge presides over this case pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c) having received the written consent of both parties. See FED.R.CIV.P. 73; (Doc. 19).

The final decision of the Commissioner is not "supported by substantial evidence and free from legal error." Fair v. Bowen, 885 F.2d 597, 601 (9th Cir. 1989). Specifically, the ALJ failed to properly assess the claimant's non-exertional limitations in light of the contradictory medical record. The case will be remanded for further proceedings.

PROCEDURAL HISTORY

On January 11, 1994, Jeffries constructively filed an application for disability insurance benefits. (Tr. 13, 50) She alleged disability beginning on August 17, 1993, due to organic solvent induced immunotoxicity syndrome, toxic encephalopathy, post-traumatic distress disorder, and chemical sensitivity. (Tr. 70) Her claim was denied initially and upon reconsideration. (Tr. 55-58, 61-64)

Jeffries requested review and appeared with counsel at a hearing before Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) Frederick J. Graf on August 17, 1995. (Tr. 36) In his decision, dated February 23, 1996, the ALJ found Jeffries was not disabled. (Tr. 13-19) Jeffries appealed, but the Appeals Council denied review making the decision of the ALJ the final decision of the Commissioner. (Tr. 4-5); See Bass v. Social Sec. Admin., 872 F.2d 832, 833 (9th Cir. 1989).

Jeffries filed an action for review in U.S. District Court, lost, and subsequently appealed to the Ninth Circuit. 2001 WL 312380 (9th Cir. 2001). The Ninth Circuit reversed and remanded the case to the Commissioner for further proceedings. Id.

Jeffries appeared with counsel at a second hearing before ALJ Graf on March 18, 2004. (Tr. 406-458) In his decision, dated May 25, 2004, the ALJ again found Jeffries was not disabled. (Tr. 390-398) Jeffries appealed, but the Appeals Council denied review making the decision of the ALJ the final decision of the Commissioner. (Tr. 374-376)

Jeffries again filed an action for review in U.S. District Court, lost, and subsequently appealed to the Ninth Circuit. 2007 WL 3390932 (9th Cir. 2007). The Ninth Circuit reversed again and remanded the case to the Commissioner for further proceedings. Id.

Jeffries appeared with counsel at a hearing before ALJ Norman R. Buls on January 18, 2011. (Tr. 1475-1500) In his decision, dated March 17, 2011, the ALJ found Jeffries was not disabled. (Tr. 922-933) Jeffries appealed, but the Appeals Council denied review making the decision of the ALJ the final decision of the Commissioner. (Tr. 895-897)

Jeffries subsequently filed the pending action for review of the Commissioner's final decision. (Doc. 1) She argues the ALJ failed to properly account for her non-exertional limitations such as her mental impairments and environmental limitations and failed to properly assess her own credibility. (Doc. 20, pp. 8-14)

Claimant's Work History and Medical History

Jeffries worked for IBM from 1978 to 1989 in a number of different capacities. (Tr. 80) In 1987, she worked as an editorial specialist. (Tr. 1494) Later, she worked as a learning center coordinator. (Tr. 80, 1494)

In March of 1991, Jeffries began work as senior media technician in the University of Arizona Health Sciences Center. (Tr. 70-76, 1478) She was essentially healthy until October of 1991 when she began to develop an intolerance for the chemical solvents in the air. (Tr. 70, 144) She developed fatigue, which was diagnosed as depression. (Tr. 144) Later, she developed headaches, sinus pain and congestion, burning eyes, cough, dyspnea on exertion, chest discomfort, and body aches. (Tr. 144) In April of 1992, her workplace was moved out of the Health Sciences building in an effort to reduce her exposure to irritating fumes. (Tr. 70) She stopped working in August of 1993 due to Multiple Chemical Sensitivity and Toxic Encephalopathy. (Tr. 70)

Physical Impairments

In April of 1992, Jefferey Burgess, M.D., and Richard Dart, M.D., Ph.D., examined Jeffries and assessed "possible low[-] level formaldehyde exposure" and "dyspnea on exertion." (Tr. 145) They advised that her office should be moved away from the Gross Anatomy and Cold Storage rooms. (Tr. 146)

In October of 1992, Jeffries was examined by her treating physician, Robert E. Rogers, M.D., for numbness and tingling down both legs. (Tr. 168) He noted Jeffries had suffered from fatigue since November of 1991, which he ascribed to depression. (Tr. 168) He now began to wonder if it was related to her formaldehyde exposure. (Tr. 168) Her previous complaints of eye and chest irritation had improved when she stopped working in an area of the building that had "some problems with formaldehyde and a questionable tight building syndrome." (Tr. 168) In January of 1993, Jeffries complained of a chronic cough lasting two months. (Tr. 159) Rogers assessed "cough as a manifestation of reactive airway disease." Id.

In January of 1993, James R. Carlson, M.D., an ear, nose, and throat specialist, assessed "laryngitis from three etiologies: reflex esophagitis, postnasal drip, and asthma." (Tr. 151, 153)

In February of 1993, Jeffries was examined by an allergy specialist, Uwe Manthei, M.D., (Tr. 154-55) He assessed her with allergic rhinitis and "possible adverse reaction to nonspecific irritants." (Tr. 155) In March of 1993, Manthei and Jeffries discussed an earlier positive test for IgE antibodies to formaldehyde. (Tr. 150), see (Tr. 174, 185)

In July of 1994, Lyle H. Boyea, M.D., reviewed the medical record for the state disability determination service. (Tr. 113-121) He concluded Jeffries had no exertional limitations but did have environmental limitations. Id. She should avoid concentrated exposure to cold and "avoid even moderate exposure" to "fumes, odors, dusts, gases, poor ventilation, etc." due to possible reactive airway disease. (Tr. 118)

The record contains treatment notes from Michael R. Gray, M.D., M.P.H. (Tr. 180-81, 243-244, 249-50, 258-263, 265-66) In November of 1994, Gray diagnosed 1. Aldehyde induced toxicity; 2. Immune toxicity; 3. Toxic encephalopathy; 4. Sensitivity to multiple chemicals; 5. Esophageal reflux with hyperacidity and associated chronic cough; 6. Occupational asthma; and 7. Acute bronchitis. (Tr. 265) He completed a Residual Physical Functional Capacity Assessment. (Tr. 267-274) He opined Jeffries could lift or carry 20 pounds occasionally and less than 10 pounds frequently. Id. She could stand and/or walk for less than 2 hours in an 8-hour day. Id. He did not indicate how long she can sit, but he did explain that she needs to periodically alternate between sitting and standing due to her myalgias and fibromyositis. (Tr. 268) She should never climb ramps, stairs, ladders, ropes, or scaffolds. Id. She has manipulative limitations due to balance problems and fatigue. (Tr. 270) She has visual limitations due to problems with focusing. (Tr. 270) She should avoid all hazards such as machinery and heights. (Tr. 271) She should avoid all exposure to fumes, odors, dusts, gases, and poor ventilation. (Tr. 271) In January of 1995, Gray opined that "Paula Jeffries is permanently and totally impaired with regard to the ability to pursue gainful employment." (Tr. 260-261)

Gray's diagnosis was questioned by Irving S. Belzier, M.D., who testified before ALJ Graf as a medical expert at the hearing conducted on March 18, 2004. (Tr. 433-441) Belzier stated that Gray's diagnosis "with respect to chemical sensitivities is one of a controversial nature." (Tr. 434) In other ...


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