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Lisa Proper v. Michael J. Astrue

March 30, 2012

LISA PROPER, PLAINTIFF,
v.
MICHAEL J. ASTRUE, COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Glenn T. Suddaby, United States District Judge

MEMORANDUM-DECISION and ORDER

Currently before the Court, in this action for Social Security disability insurance benefits, filed by Lisa Proper ("Plaintiff") against Social Security Commissioner Michael J. Astrue ("Defendant") pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), are the following: (1) Plaintiff's motion for judgment on the pleadings (Dkt. No. 11); (2) Defendant's motion for judgment on the pleadings (Dkt. No. 15); (3) the Report-Recommendation of United States Magistrate Judge David E. Peebles, issued pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(A) and (B) and Local Rule 72.3(c) of the Local Rules of Practice for this Court recommending that Plaintiff's motion be denied, Defendant's motion be granted, Defendant's determination be confirmed, and Plaintiff's Complaint be dismissed in its entirety (Dkt. No. 20); and (4) Plaintiff's Objections to the Report-Recommendation (Dkt. No. 22). For the reasons set forth below, Magistrate Judge Peebles' Report-Recommendations is accepted and adopted in its entirety.

I. RELEVANT BACKGROUND

A. Procedural History

Because the parties have demonstrated in their briefs an adequate understanding of this action's procedural history, and neither party has specifically objected to Magistrate Judge Peebles' accurate recitation of that procedural history, the Court adopts that recitation, in this Decision and Order, which is intended primarily for the review of the parties. (See generally Dkt. No. 17, at 7-11 [Report-Rec].)

The Court would add only two points. First, generally, Plaintiff's underlying application for disability insurance benefits ("DIB") was based on her having an alleged disability consisting of "[d]eteriorating discs in back, neck pain, [and] bone spurs in neck," which began on June 20, 2005. (See Administrative Transcript ["Admin. Tr."] at 12-21, 167.) Second, generally, in his decision determining that Plaintiff was not disabled as defined under the Social Security Act, the ALJ found that she did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meet or medically equal any of the listed, presumptively disabling impairments set forth 20 C.F.R. § 404(P)(1), and she retained the residual functional capacity ("RFC") to perform light work, with certain exceptions. (Admin. Tr. at 10-21.)

B. Parties' Briefing on Their Motions

Generally, in her brief in support of her Complaint, Plaintiff asserts the following seven arguments: (1) the ALJ failed to combine the effects of Plaintiff's impairments including pain, her inability to fully flex forward, turn her head, and her obesity, and he failed to evaluate her obesity in the manner prescribed by pertinent legal authority; (2) the ALJ erred in evaluating the medical evidence, particularly the opinions of Plaintiff's treating physician and her physical therapist; (3) the ALJ failed to explain why Plaintiff's impairments did not meet or equal the Listing of Impairments, particularly Listing 1.04; (4) the ALJ improperly evaluated Plaintiff's credibility, particularly regarding her pain limitations; (5) the ALJ erred in determining Plaintiff's RFC by failing to provide a function-by-function analysis of her impairments; (6) the ALJ erred in relying upon the inconsistent testimony of the vocational expert; and (7) Plaintiff's case should be remanded to Defendant to calculate benefits or alternatively, this case should be heard within a specified time. (See generally Dkt. No. 11.)

Generally, in his brief in response to Plaintiff's brief, Defendant disagrees with each of the seven above-described arguments, and argues that the Commissioner's decision should be affirmed. (See generally Dkt. No. 15.)

Generally, in a reply brief, Plaintiff asserts the following six arguments: (1) the Court should reject Defendant's argument regarding the issue about the ALJ's failure to combine the effects of her impairments; (2) the Court should reject Defendant's argument regarding the weight to be given to the opinion Plaintiff's treating physician and other sources; (3) the Court should reject Defendant's argument regarding the Listing of Impairments; (4) the Court should reject defense counsel's arguments about Plaintiff's credibility; (5) the Court should reject Defendant's arguments regarding the vocational testimony; and (6) the Court should reject the Defendant's argument against using the remedy in Butts v. Barnhart, 388 F.3d 377, 388 (2d Cir. 2004). (See generally Dkt. No. 17.)

C. Magistrate Judge Peebles' Report-Recommendation

In his Report-Recommendation, Magistrate Judge Peebles recommends that Plaintiff's motion be denied, Defendant's motion be granted, Defendant's determination be confirmed, and Plaintiff's Complaint be dismissed in its entirety. (Dkt. No. 20, at 39.) More specifically, Magistrate Judge Peebles renders the following findings and conclusions: (1) the ALJ's determination that the cumulative effects of Plaintiff's impairments do not impair her ability to perform work at the light and sedentary levels, with exceptions noted, was supported by substantial evidence; (2) the ALJ correctly reviewed the medical evidence, including the treating physician's report, and did not improperly reject as controlling any treating source entitled to special deference and inconsistent with his RFC findings; (3) an ALJ correctly considered the combined effects of Plaintiff's impairments, and Plaintiff has failed to show how the combined total effects of her symptoms medically equal the Listing of Impairments under Listing 1.04; (4) the ALJ correctly determined that Plaintiff's claims of debilitating pain are inconsistent with objective evidence in the record; (5) the ALJ properly determined Plaintiff's RFC based on substantial record evidence; and (6) the ALJ properly relied on the testimony of the vocational expert, and performed the proper step analysis to determine whether Plaintiff was capable of performing past relevant work.(Id. at 16-39.)

D. Plaintiff's Objections to the Report-Recommendation

Generally, in her Objections, Plaintiff asserts the following seven arguments: (1) the Magistrate Judge incorrectly analyzed the issue regarding the ALJ's failure to combine the effects of all of Plaintiff's limitations, including her post-surgery symptoms; (2) the Magistrate Judge's finding that the treating physician's opinion was not well supported was outside the scope of review; (3) the Magistrate Judge erred in upholding the ALJ's determination that Plaintiff did not meet or medically equal the Listing of Impairments; (4) the Magistrate Judge erred in upholding the ALJ's credibility assessment; (5) the Magistrate Judge incorrectly analyzed Plaintiff's RFC determination; (6) the Magistrate Judge erred in upholding the ALJ's failure to perform the fourth and fifth steps of the sequential evaluation as to the vocational ...


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