United States District Court, D. Arizona
JAMES A. TEILBORG, Senior District Judge.
Plaintiff Maria Del Carmen Meza appeals the Acting Commissioner of Social Security's (the "Commissioner") denial of disability benefits. The Court now rules on her appeal. (Doc. 12).
A. Procedural Background
On May 27, 2010, Plaintiff filed a Title II application for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits. (Tr. 14). Plaintiff also filed a Title XVI application for supplemental security income on May 31, 2010. ( Id. ) In both applications, Plaintiff alleged a disability onset date of August 1, 2008. ( Id. ) The Commissioner denied benefits and supplemental security income on September 9, 2010, (Tr. 65-66, 113), and Plaintiff requested reconsideration, (Tr. 117). Plaintiff's reconsideration was denied on April 12, 2011, (Tr. 79-80), and she appealed.
On October 5, 2012, Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") Kathleen Mucerino held a hearing on Plaintiff's claims. (Tr. 41-64). Following the ALJ's unfavorable decision, (Tr. 14-27), Plaintiff appealed to the Appeals Council. After the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review, (Tr. 1), Plaintiff filed an appeal with this Court (Docs. 1, 12). Plaintiff contends that the ALJ wrongly (1) misinterpreted evidence to Plaintiff's detriment; (2) discredited the opinion of treating physician Farhat Khan, M.D.; (3) discredited Plaintiff's subjective complaints of pain; and (4) failed to equate Plaintiff's back problems to impairment Listing 1.04C. (Doc. 12 at 2).
B. Medical Background
The Court will briefly summarize Plaintiff's medical history, which is thoroughly recounted in the administrative record. Plaintiff first sought medical attention for neck, back, shoulder, foot, and leg pain in August 2008 from M.A. Nayer, M.D. (Tr. 595). Dr. Nayer conducted numerous tests on Plaintiff in an attempt to diagnose the source of her pain; however, only one of the tests revealed an abnormality-cervical spondylosis on October 30, 2008. (Tr. 593). Plaintiff continued seeing Dr. Nayer through 2011. (Tr. 561). Plaintiff also periodically saw Ricardo Alfafara, M.D. for chest pains. (Tr. 299-14 320). In August 2008, Dr. Alfafara noted that Plaintiff had a "history of claudication of the lower extremities" and in October 2008, he stated that he suspected Plaintiff had claudication. (Tr. 308-09).
Plaintiff began seeing Dr. Farhat Khan regularly in 2009 for a variety of ailments. In May 2009, Dr. Khan diagnosed Plaintiff with migraine headaches, low back pain, Bence-Jones protenia, and osteoarthritis. (Tr. 374). An x-ray of her spine indicated moderate disc space narrowing. (Tr. 377). In August 2009, Dr. Khan noted that Plaintiff complained of hand pain, (Tr. 382), and in February 2010, he diagnosed her with controlled diabetes mellitus, asthma, and hypercholesterdemia. (Tr. 394, 397). In March 2010, Dr. Khan diagnosed Plaintiff with reflux esophagitis, melena, and fibromyalgia. (Tr. 400). In April 2010 Dr. Khan diagnosed her with essential hypertension. (Tr. 406). In May 2010, he diagnosed her with "knee strain/sprain" and myalgia, ( Id. ), and lastly, in July 2010, Dr. Khan diagnosed Plaintiff with localized osteoarthritis, (Tr. 409). However, at each of Plaintiff's appointments with Dr. Khan, Dr. Khan concluded that Plaintiff's conditions were satisfactory and stable. Plaintiff continued to see Dr. Khan for these conditions through 2012. (Tr. 748-50).
On July 13, 2010, Plaintiff had a medial parapatellar resection of the plica on left knee. (Tr. 448). Several days after the surgery, Plaintiff's physician stated that her knee "could not look any better" and that she should return to her normal activities. ( Id. ) On September 30, 2010, Plaintiff underwent a left shoulder arthroscopy/open subacromial decompression to remedy a rotator cuff tear. (Tr. 421). Again, Plaintiff's doctor believed the surgery was successful and instructed Plaintiff to return to her normal activities. (Tr. 446). After these procedures, in October 2010, Dr. Khan completed a medical assessment of Plaintiff's ability to do work related activities. (Tr. 438). In the questionnaire, Dr. Khan opined that Plaintiff could sit for 2 hours in an 8-hour workday and stand or walk for 2 hours in an 8-hour workday. (Tr. 438). He also opined that Plaintiff could occasionally lift and carry up to five pounds and could never lift or carry any weight above five pounds. ( Id. ) Plaintiff could never stoop, squat, crawl, climb, or reach, but could occasionally grasp, finely manipulate, and could frequently pull and push controls. (Tr. 439). Plaintiff could not use her feet for repetitive movements and was fully restricted from unprotected heights, being around moving machinery, driving automobile equipment, exposure to dust, fumes, and gases, and exposure to marked changes in temperature or humidity. ( Id. ) Dr. Khan concluded that Plaintiff's impairments were moderately severe and that Plaintiff was limited by her moderate to moderately severe pain and fatigue. (Tr. 440).
In January 2011, Plaintiff attended a consultative psychiatric examination with Doris Javine, Ph.D. (Tr. 457). During the examination Plaintiff stated her daily activities included the following: taking care of her two daughters, ages 10 and 8; brushing her teeth and hair; washing her face; washing the dishes; putting things away; doing the laundry; picking her daughters up from school; cooking; making the beds; changing the sheets; and attending church twice a week. (Tr. 457). Plaintiff also stated that she occasionally takes her daughters to the park, visits friends, and plays cards. (Tr. 458). Dr. Javine opined that Plaintiff suffered from adjustment disorder with mood disturbance and bereavement. (Tr. 460). However, Dr. Javine noted that Plaintiff's condition would not cause any limitations. (Tr. 462).
In April 2011, Plaintiff underwent a third surgery-arthroscopic subacromial decompression-on her left shoulder. (Tr. 552). She continued to experience shoulder pain for several months after the surgery and ultimately underwent another surgery, a manipulation under anesthesia of adhesive capsulitis, on her left shoulder on July 5, 2011. (Tr. 549). After her fourth surgery, Plaintiff's doctor noted that her shoulder had almost 100% flexion and had "done remarkably well." ( Id. ) Plaintiff had a fifth surgery-an L5-S1 fusion and redo laminectomy-on August 22, 2011. (Tr. 528).
Dr. Khan continued to see Plaintiff during 2011 and 2012. From October 2011 to December 2011, Dr. Khan's physical examinations of Plaintiff did not reveal any abnormalities. (Tr. 688-702). However, during that time, Dr. Khan diagnosed Plaintiff with adjustment disorder with depressed mood, mixed hyperlipidemia, neck sprain and strain, pain in shoulder joint, and sprain and strain in knee and leg. (Tr. 701). During 2012 Dr. Khan diagnosed Plaintiff with lumbar sprain and strain, but his physical examinations of Plaintiff did not indicate any abnormalities. (Tr. 688-99).
On July 25, 2012, Dr. Khan completed a second medical assessment of ability to do work related activities questionnaire. (Tr. 748-50). Dr. Khan opined that Plaintiff could sit less than 1 hour in an 8-hour workday and could stand or walk less than 1 hour in an 8-hour workday. (Tr. 748). He further opined that she could never lift or carry five pounds or more and could never squat, crawl, or reach. (Tr. 748-49). Plaintiff could occasionally use her right hand for grasping and could frequently do so with her left hand. (Tr. 479). She could occasionally use both hands for pushing or pulling controls. ( Id. ) Plaintiff could never use her right hand for fine manipulation but could occasionally do so with her left hand. ( Id. ) Dr. Khan stated that Plaintiff could not use her feet for repetitive movements and was totally restricted in activities involving unprotected heights, being around moving machinery, driving automobile equipment, exposure to dust, fumes, and gases, and exposure to marked changes in temperature or humidity. (Tr. 749).
A. Definition of Disability
To qualify for disability benefits under the Social Security Act, a claimant must show, among other things, that she is "under a disability." 42 U.S.C. § 423(a)(1)(E). The Act defines "disability" as the "inability to engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment which can be expected to result in death or which has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than 12 months." 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A). A person is:
under a disability only if his physical or mental impairment or impairments are of such severity that he is not only unable to do his previous work but cannot, considering his age, education, and work experience, engage in any other kind of substantial gainful work which exists in the national economy.
42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(2)(A).
B. Five-Step ...