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Taylor v. Astrue

July 31, 2009

SUSAN B. TAYLOR, PLAINTIFF,
v.
MICHAEL J. ASTRUE, COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, DEFENDANT.



DECISION AND ORDER

INTRODUCTION

Plaintiff Susan B. Taylor commenced this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), on August 23, 2007, seeking review of a final determination by the Commissioner of Social Security (the "Commissioner") disallowing the plaintiff's claim for Supplemental Security Income ("SSI") under the Social Security Act. The plaintiff claims to be disabled as a result of back problems, disc problems, arthritis, asthma, and osteoporosis. The Commissioner moves for judgment on the pleadings on grounds that the administrative law judge's decision was supported by substantial evidence. The plaintiff opposed the defendant's motion, and cross-moves for judgment on the pleadings.

For the reasons stated herein, the Court grants judgment on the pleadings for the plaintiff and remands the matter for calculation of benefits because the Commissioner's decision denying the plaintiff benefits under SSI was not supported by substantial evidence. Furthermore, a rehearing is unnecessary because there is substantial evidence on the record that the plaintiff is disabled.

PROCEDURAL HISTORY

The plaintiff filed an application for Social Security disability insurance benefits on November 26, 2003, alleging disability since June 23, 2000. (Tr. 68-69). A hearing was held before Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") Robert C. Deitch on September 1, 2005, in which the plaintiff and a vocational expert ("VE") appeared. (Tr. 262-292). ALJ Deitch evaluated the plaintiff's claim de novo, and on October 17, 2005 found that she was not disabled. (Tr. 18-27). On July 23, 2007, the Appeals Council denied the plaintiff's request for review and, thus, the ALJ's decision became the final decision of the Commissioner. (Tr. 3-5). The plaintiff then commenced this action.

BACKGROUND

The plaintiff was 48 years old at the time of her alleged onset of disability and 53 at the time of the ALJ's decision. She has an 11th grade education and no significant previous work history. She alleges that her disability began on June 23, 2000 due to an onset of degenerative disc disease, osteoporosis, arthritis in hands, constant pain, and asthma. (Tr. 76).

From August 25, 2003 through June 29, 2005, the plaintiff saw Dr. Michael Calabrese. (Tr. 232-256). Dr. Calabrese treated the plaintiff for pelvic pain, depression with anxiety, low back pain, neck pain, arm and hand pain, and gynecological problems. During that time, he prescribed her various asthma, pain, and anxiety medications such as Advair, Effexor. Lidoderm, and Hydrocodone. (Tr. 127-135). On July 13, 2004, he opined in a Residual Functional Capacity ("RFC") Assessment that the plaintiff could not lift any weight, could only stand up to two hours per day, could not push or pull, and could not be around extreme changes in temperature. (Tr. 203). Dr. Calabrese also referred the plaintiff to Ken-Ton Open MRI Spiral CT & Radiology, where an MRI revealed that the plaintiff had Luschka joint spurs that caused neural foraminal stenosis in her cervical spine. (Tr. 228).

The plaintiff was treated by podiatrist Dr. Diane Fortman on and off for 20 years. (Tr. 275). On August 31, 2005, Dr. Fortman completed a RFC Assessment on the plaintiff. (Tr. 261). Dr. Fortman stated that the plaintiff could occasionally lift and carry five pounds; stand and/or walk less than two hours per day; sit up to eight hours a day; could push/pull with the upper extremities; and could not push/pull with the lower extremities. Id.

On June 2, 2004, the plaintiff was consultatively examined by Dr. Steven Dina. (Tr. 188). Dr. Dina reported that the plaintiff's gait was normal and she had some difficulty walking on her toes. (Tr. 189). The plaintiff's cervical and lumbar spine had full range of motion and her straight leg raising test was negative bilaterally. Id. Dr. Dina opined that the plaintiff should avoid activities that involve repetitive bending, squatting, and lifting of medium weights. (Tr. 191). She should also avoid exposure to triggering factors for her asthma. Id. Of note, Dr. Dina made no determination on how long the plaintiff would be able to sit or stand.

The ALJ applied the five-step analysis in reaching his disability determination. At the first step, the ALJ found that the plaintiff was not engaged in substantial gainful activity during the relevant period. (Tr. 20). At step two, the ALJ found that the plaintiff's cervical and lumbar disc disease, asthma, anxiety disorder, and personality disorder were severe impairments. Id. At step three, the ALJ found that the plaintiff's severe impairments did not meet or equal the criteria contained under the Listing of Impairments found in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. (Tr. 21-25). He then proceeded to the fourth step and found that the plaintiff had no past relevant work. (Tr. 25). Before reaching the fifth step, the ALJ rejected the determinations made by the plaintiff's treating physicians and found that the plaintiff had a RFC for light work. Id. The ALJ rejected the opinions of the plaintiff's treating physicians because of their inconsistencies with MRI results, the consultative examination by Dr. Dina, and the plaintiff's self-reported daily activities. Id. At the fifth step, the ALJ determined that there were other jobs in significant numbers requiring a light level of exertion that the plaintiff could perform. (Tr. 26).

The plaintiff alleges that the ALJ erred by rejecting the determinations of the plaintiff's two treating physicians and finding that the plaintiff could perform light work without first recontacting her treating physicians to clarify alleged inconsistencies.

DISCUSSION

The Court must uphold the Commissioner's decision if it is free of legal error and based on substantial evidence. 42 U.S.C. ยง 405(g). The Supreme Court has defined the term "substantial evidence," in the context of a Social Security case, as "more than a mere scintilla" and as that evidence which "a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Richardson v. ...


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