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MATTEI v. BARNHART

December 31, 2003.

LINDA MATTEI, Plaintiff; -against- JO ANNE B. BARNHART, Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant


The opinion of the court was delivered by: SANDRA J. FEUERSTEIN, District Judge

OPINION & ORDER

I. Introduction

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 12(c).

  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

  A. Procedural History

  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. (Tr. 4-6).

  B. Facts

  1. Mattei's Testimony

  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).

  2. Medical Evidence

  a. Treating Physicians

  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

  i. Mental Health

  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. (Tr.239).

  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. 221-24).

  ii. Physical Health

  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. ...


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