The opinion of the court was delivered by: SANDRA J. FEUERSTEIN, District Judge
Linda Mattel ("Mattei" or "plaintiff") commenced this action pursuant
to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) seeking judicial review of the Commissioner of
Social Security's ("the Commissioner") decision that plaintiff is not
entitled to Supplemental Security Income ("SSI") as provided in Title XVI
of the Social Security Act ("the Act"). The Commissioner has moved for a
judgment on the pleadings pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure
Plaintiff alleges that she has been unable to work since December 1,
1997 due to a psychological disorder and lower back pain. The issue is
whether plaintiff's alleged disabilities precluded her from performing
any substantial gainful activity between September 1, 1998*fn1 and
August 11, 2000, the date of the Administrative Law Judge's ("ALJ")
decision. II. Background
Plaintiff filed an application for SSI benefits with the Social
Security Administration ("Administration" or "SSA") on September 1, 1998.
(Tr. 173-75, 177). The application was denied on April 17, 1999, (Tr.
50-55), and again upon reconsideration on September 21, 1999. (Tr.
58-61). At plaintiff's request, a hearing was held before an ALJ on May
11, 2000. (Tr. 17-49). At the hearing plaintiff was represented by
counsel and testified. (Tr. 19-42). ALJ Burlison issued a five
page decision on August 11, 2000 denying the claim and finding that
plaintiff was not disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act
(Tr, 9-16). Specifically, the ALJ ruled that Mattei's residual functional
capacity ("RFC") to perform light work was only minimally limited by
certain non exertional factors, and that in light of her age,
education, and RFC, she could perform substantial gainful employment
available in significant quantities in the national economy. (Tr. 14-16).
On August 25, 2000, plaintiff timely requested a review the ALJ's
decision, which was denied by the Appeals Council on February 10, 2001.
Plaintiff was born in Puerto Rico. on December 25, 1962, and was thirty
seven years old on the date of the ALJ's decision. (Tr. 24, 173).
She has lived in the continental United States since approximately 1985,
and reads and speaks Spanish. (Tr. 24-26). While plaintiff has never
worked outside the home nor looked for a job since moving from Puerto
Rico, where she attended school through the ninth grade, (Tr. 24-27), she
has had a work fare assignment serving meals to the elderly. (Tr.
41). Plaintiff testified that anxiety and side effects from medication
render her disabled. (Tr. 177). Mattei also testified that she has
diabetes for which she does not take any medication. (Tr. 28).
She also socializes with a neighbor and visits her mother and sister
every two weeks. (Tr. 22-25, 28, 197, 201). Although she rarely uses
public transportation due to her anxiety, she attends church services,
cleans her apartment, and goes shopping. (Tr. 22-23, 31, 197-98, 201-02).
While she complained of back aches after sitting, bending, and lifting,
she uses the stairs to reach her fifth floor apartment in an elevator
building. (Tr. 24, 29, 33). Her disability report notes that she spends
about two hours per day walking, three hours standing, and eight hours
sitting. (Tr. 182).
Plaintiff was first examined by her treating psychiatrist, Dr. Ofelia
Fule, on April 24, 1998 and diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder,
depressive type. (Tr. 242, 247). On August 13, 1999, plaintiff told the
doctor that her symptoms did not interfere with her daily functions. (Tr.
242). Dr. Fule reported that Mattei was dressed appropriately, well
groomed, and cooperative. (Tr. 248). Mattei's speech was clear,
and she calmly answered the doctor's questions. (Tr. 248).
There were no delusions elicited during the visit, and no presence of
formal thought disorder or suicidal features. (Tr. 242, 249). Moreover,
Mattei's memory, judgment, fund of information, attention, and
concentration were labeled as fair. (Tr. 248). Although her capacity to
maintain concentration and persistence could possibly be restricted in
stressful settings, according to Dr. Fule, as of August 13, 1999, plaintiff had the
ability to do work related mental activities and perform her
daily activities and no limitations with respect to social interaction
and adaptation. (Tr. 249-50).
Subsequent to August 13, 1999, Dr. Fule noted that plaintiff still had
an appropriate affect, no formal thought disorder, and no suicidal or
homicidal ideation. (Tr. 103-107). Of Dr. Fule's eighteen (18) Patient
Progress notes, Mattei complained of minor side effects from her
medication in only four (4), (Tr. 103-07, 111-120).
b. Consultative Examinations
Plaintiff was examined on December 1, 1998 by Dr. Carlo Filiaci. (Tr.
216-18). Dr. Filiaci observed that plaintiff arrived at the appointment
via mass transportation, was appropriately dressed, and had a pleasant
yet evasive attitude. (Tr. 216)* Mattei made some mistakes on a "draw the
clock" test, but none of her errors were consistent with constructional
apraxia.*fn2 According to Dr. Filiaci, plaintiff has normal psychomotor
activity, a euthymic (normal) mood, an appropriate affect, normal memory
and orientation, and no formal thought disorder. (Tr.217).
When Dr. Filiaci conducted a serial seven test, in which the
patient is asked to start with the number 100 and count down by 7s,
plaintiff answered "95" and refused to continue. (Tr. 217). Notably, Dr.
Filiaci stated in his report that he thought Mattei was intentionally
trying to impress him with her confusion. (Tr. 217). On other digit
based tests, plaintiff performed fairly well (Tr. 217).
Dr. Filiaci concluded that plaintiff can provide for her own daily
needs, read and write, follow simple instructions, perform leisure
activities, and relate to family and friends. (Tr. 217). The doctor also
found Mattei's intellect is adequate, her judgment fair, and her
sensorium clear. (Tr. 217). He observed that plaintiff could comprehend
and carry out simple to moderately complex instructions, is able to
respond to supervisors, cooperate with co. workers, and bear
pressures normally found in a work setting. (Tr. 217). Dr. Filiaci
diagnosed plaintiff with mild depression, but found no personality
disorder. (Tr. 217).
A second consultative mental examination was conducted on August 11,
1999 by psychiatrist Dr. Harvey Barash. (Tr. 237-40). Mattei told Dr.
Barash that she can take care of her personal needs and hygiene without
assistance, performs the majority of household chores including shopping,
cooking, and cleaning, gets along with people fairly well, and socializes
with a few neighbors and family members. (Tr. 237). Plaintiff informed
the doctor that she takes buses and trains by herself. (Tr. 238).
According to Dr. Barash, plaintiff was pleasant and cooperative, and
interviewed in English without trouble. (Tr. 238), Dr. Barash reported
that plaintiff has a full and appropriate affect, a mood without
significant depressive themes or trends, and a coherent thought process.
(Tr. 238). The doctor found that the plaintiff's memory was fair, her
concentration adequate, and no pathological or clinically delusional
basis for Mattei's reports of hallucinations, which he labeled as
"illusionary." (Tr. 238-39). There were no homicidal or suicidal
ideations elicited during the evaluation. (Tr. 239).
Although Dr. Barash found that Mattei was not significantly limited
with respect to her memory, comprehension, concentration, persistency, and pace, he
also found that plaintiff had a reduced tolerance for stress, and
diagnosed her with a personality disorder with histrionic features.
Consultative psychiatrist Dr. A. Stockton conducted a mental RFC
assessment dated April 12, 1999 based upon the findings of the
consultative examinations. (Tr. 221-24), With the exception of moderate
limitations in her ability to react appropriately to changes in the work
environment and to set realistic goals or make plans independently of
others, Dr. Stockton opined that plaintiff has no significant limitations
in her ability to conduct mental work related activities. (Tr.
On December 1, 1998, consultative internist Dr. Lee Mescon examined
plaintiff. (Tr. 218-20). Mattei told Dr. Mescon that she can walk ten
blocks, sit for four hours, stand for an hour, shop, cook, clean, and
travel alone on public transportation. (Tr. 218). Upon examination, Dr.
Mescon observed that plaintiff walked with a normal gait and could flex
the lumbosacral spine 90 degrees and both knees 150 degrees, (Tr. 219).
Mattei climbed on and off the examining table, undressed and dressed, and
ambulated without assistance. (Tr. 219). Dr. Mescon also reported full
range of motion in plaintiff's extremities, and no sign of muscle
atrophy. (Tr. 219).
There was no evidence of sensory deficits, tremors, or abnormal
movements. (Tr. 219). Dr. Mescon found Mattei able to sit, stand, climb,
pull, push, and carry heavy objects. (Tr. 220). According to Dr. Mescon,
plaintiffs reported back pain could be treated with over the
counter medication. (Tr. 220). A second consultative physical examination was conducted by Dr. Thomas
Silverberg on April 11, 1999. (Tr, 234-36). Dr. Silverberg's findings
were consistent with those of Dr. Mescon, and concluded that Mattei's
activities did not demand any physical limitations. (Tr. ...