Laurie L. Wellington, Plaintiff-Appellant,
Nancy A. Berryhill, Acting Commissioner Social Security, Defendant-Appellee.
and Submitted September 14, 2017 San Francisco, California
from the United States District Court for the Eastern
District of California D.C. No. 1:14-cv-01207-SMS Sandra M.
Snyder, Magistrate Judge, Presiding
Lawrence D. Rohlfing (argued), Santa Fe Springs, California,
Elizabeth Firer (argued) and Marcelo Illarmo, Special
Assistant United States Attorney; Deborah Lee Stachel,
Regional Chief Counsel, Region IX; Phillip A. Talbert, Acting
United States Attorney; Social Security Administration, San
Francisco, California; for Defendant-Appellee.
Before: Ronald M. Gould and Paul J. Watford, Circuit Judges,
and W. Louis Sands, [*] District Judge.
panel affirmed the district court's order affirming the
Social Security Administration Commissioner's denial of a
claimant's application for Social Security Disability
Insurance benefits and partial denial of the claimant's
application for Supplemental Security Income benefits.
panel rejected claimant's contention that Social Security
Ruling ("SSR") 82-30 required the administrative
law judge ("ALJ") to call a medical advisor at the
hearing to help determine claimant's disability onset
date. The panel held that under ordinary circumstances, an
ALJ was equipped to determine a claimant's disability
onset date without calling on a medical advisor. The panel
held that because the record was adequate even before
claimant saw a mental health specialist and no reasonable
medical expert could have inferred that her disability began
before May 2010, SSR 83-20 did not require the ALJ to consult
a medical advisor before determining claimant's
disability onset date.
Watford dissented. Because the evidence was ambiguous as to
when claimant's impairments became disabling, Judge
Watford would hold that the ALJ erred in determining that the
record conclusively supported May 26, 2010 as the date
claimant's impairments became severe enough to prevent
her from engaging in substantial gainful activity; and he
would remand for the ALJ to appoint a medical advisor in the
Wellington appeals from the district court's order
affirming the Social Security Administration
Commissioner's denial of her application for Social
Security Disability Insurance benefits and partial denial of
her application for Supplemental Security Income benefits.
The Administrative Law Judge concluded that Wellington was
not disabled until May 26, 2010, after both the period in
which she was insured for SSDI benefits and the date on which
she applied for SSI benefits. On appeal, Wellington contends
that the ALJ erred by not calling a medical advisor at the
hearing to help determine the onset date of her disabilities.
We reject this contention and we affirm.
experienced psychological trauma throughout her life. As a
child, she suffered chronic sexual abuse and shielded her
younger siblings from domestic violence at home. As an adult,
she was regularly beaten by an ex-boyfriend over the course
of eight years, was emotionally abused by her ex-husband
during their twelve-year relationship, and was stalked by
this ex-husband after their divorce. Wellington has been
diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and an
unspecified anxiety disorder.
has several physical ailments as well. She primarily suffers
from chronic muscle pain, and she was diagnosed with
fibromyalgia in 2009. She also has a history of back pain and
chest pain, and some less serious conditions.
her psychological and physical impairments, Wellington was
able to lead a productive life for many years. She dropped
out of high school and apparently did not work in her 20s,
but she obtained her GED at age 32. She then completed a
nine-month college program in medical assisting and worked as
a certified nursing assistant for three years until she hurt
her back. The extent of this injury is not clear from the
record, but Wellington stayed out of the work force for six
years. In 2005, she returned to work as a cashier at a
convenience store, where she worked for two and a half years.
Wellington kept this job until she was required to work
50-hour weeks, which aggravated her back pain. She then
worked part-time at a department store for eight months.
December 2008, however, Wellington repeatedly took medical
leave and was fired from her department store job when she
did not return to work. In the month before she was fired,
Wellington went to the emergency room eight times, and on one
occasion admitted herself for a three-day inpatient stay. She
appeared anxious or complained of anxiety-related symptoms in
half of these visits, while the other visits involved
treatment for vertigo, migraine headaches, or abdominal pain.
month after losing her job, Wellington went back to the
emergency room four times, again exhibiting or complaining of
anxiety in half of these visits while seeking unrelated
treatment-for vertigo, ringing in her ears, and arm
numbness-in the rest. An emergency doctor gave Wellington a
prescription for Xanax to manage her anxiety, and she did not
return to the ER for a month afterward. In the next visit she
said her anxiety was "better now" and she was
treated for acute vomiting. Wellington returned a week later
requesting more Xanax and appearing anxious. She ran out of
medication three weeks later and again went back to the
emergency room, where she was prescribed a different drug.
March 16, 2009, Wellington went to a health center for the
first time on record and was given a two-month Klonopin
prescription. Subsequent medical records show routine
treatment of her anxiety disorder. Wellington received a
one-month refill of Klonopin in May, but the prescription was
not renewed at her appointment the following month.
Wellington requested and received another one-month refill in
July. But the prescription again was not renewed the
following month. Wellington complained of increased life
stressors and anxiety in September, so she received a
stronger prescription that was increased once more in
October. The prescription was decreased in December when
Wellington had no complaints of anxiety, and it was not
renewed in January 2010, the last record from ...