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Roxanne Allen v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec

September 12, 2012

ROXANNE ALLEN, PLAINTIFF,
v.
COMM'R OF SOC. SEC., 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 Social Security action filed by Roxanne Allen ("Plaintiff") against the Commissioner of Social Security ("Defendant") pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), are the parties' cross-motions for judgment on the pleadings. (Dkt. Nos. 11, 15.) For the reasons set forth below, Defendant's motion is granted in part and denied in part, and Plaintiff's motion is granted in part and denied in part.

I. RELEVANT BACKGROUND

A. Factual Background

Plaintiff was born on August 25, 1960. She did not graduate high school; however, in 1992, she earned her External Diploma Program high-school equivalency degree. During her life, Plaintiff has worked as a cashier, food service worker, bartender, gas station attendant, and office receptionist. Generally, her alleged disability consists of osteoarthritis of the left knee, polyarthritis in the cervical and lumbar spines, and amblyopia of the right eye (as well as fibromyalgia, carpal tunnel syndrome, depression and generalized anxiety disorder). Her disability onset date was December 26, 2003. Her date last insured was March 31, 2008.

B. Procedural History

On July 19, 2007, Plaintiff applied for Social Security Disability Insurance ("disability insurance") alleging a disability onset date of December 26, 2003. (Dkt. No. 9, Attach. 5 at 2-5.) In November 2007, Plaintiff's application for disability insurance was initially denied. (Dkt. No. 9, Attach. 3 at 2.) Plaintiff filed a written request for a hearing; and on October 14, 2009, Plaintiff testified before Marie Greener, an Administrative Law Judge ("the ALJ"). Following the hearing, the ALJ issued a written decision denying Plaintiff's application for disability insurance, on February 26, 2010. (Dkt. No. 1, Attach. 2.) On September 9, 2010, the Social Security Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review of the ALJ's Decision. (Dkt. No. 9, Attach. 2 at 2.) On September 27, 2010, Plaintiff filed the present action with the Court to review the ALJ's Decision. (Dkt. No. 1.)

C. The ALJ's Decision

In her Decision, the ALJ made the following five findings of fact and conclusions of law. (See generally Dkt. No. 1, Attach. 2.) First, the ALJ found that Plaintiff suffers from three severe impairments, specifically knee osteoarthritis of the left knee (evidenced by "swelling, tenderness to palpation, a slight limp, decreased range of motion, and clicking with passive flexion and extensions"), poly-arthritis (evidenced by "positive straight-leg raising tests, tenderness to palpation, . . . reduced range of motion in [Plaintiff's] cervical and lumbar spines[, . . .] C5-6 osteophytes and disc space narrowing" and narrowing in the lumbar spine), and amblyopia of the right eye. (Dkt. No. 1, Attach. 2 at 6-7.) The ALJ found that Plaintiff's fibromyalgia and carpal tunnel syndrome diagnoses are not medically determinable impairments, and Plaintiff's depression and generalized anxiety disorder are not severe impairments. (Id. at 7.)

Second, the ALJ found that Plaintiff's impairments did not meet or medically equal one of the listed impairments located in 20 C.F.R. Pt. 404, Sbpt. P, App. 1. (Id. at 8.) The ALJ considered listings 1.02 and 14.09. (Id.)

Third, after considering "all symptoms and the extent to which these symptoms can reasonably be accepted as consistent with the objective medical evidence, [including] . . . opinion evidence," the ALJ found that Plaintiff retained the residual functional capacity ("RFC") "to lift and/or carry 10 pounds, stand and/or walk two hours in an eight-hour day, sit six hours in an eight-hour day, [] push and/or pull 10 pounds[,] . . . occasionally stoop, balance, crouch, and climb stairs and ramps[, but] could not kneel, crawl, or climb ladders or scaffolds[, and] . . . had no limitations in her ability to reach, handle, finger, and feel, but cannot perform tasks requiring good binocular vision." (Id.) In making this determination, the ALJ assigned "considerable . . . [but] not . . . controlling weight" to the opinions of Plaintiff's treating medical provider, Family Nurse Practitioner Andrew LaFrance ("FNP LaFrance"). (Id. at 10.) In addition, the ALJ assigned "considerable weight" to the opinion of Dr. Justine Magurno, who conducted a consultative examination of Plaintiff in December 2009. (Id. at 10-11.) The ALJ did not consider the opinions of Dr. Brij Nandan Sinha because his medical license was surrendered. (Id. at 11.) The ALJ found that, although Plaintiff's "medically determinable impairments could reasonably be expected to cause [her] alleged symptoms, . . . [Plaintiff's] statements concerning the intensity, persistence, and limiting effects of her symptoms were not entirely credible . . . ." (Id.)

Fourth, the ALJ found that Plaintiff "was unable to perform her past relevant work." (Id.)

Fifth, and finally, the ALJ found that, "considering the [Plaintiff's] age, education, work experience, and residual functional capacity, there [are] jobs that exist[] in significant numbers in the national economy that the [Plaintiff] could . . . perform[]." (Id. [citation omitted.])

II. THE PARTIES' BRIEFINGS ON PLAINTIFF'S MOTION

A. Plaintiff's Arguments

Plaintiff makes five separate arguments in support of her motion for judgment on the pleadings. First, Plaintiff argues that the ALJ erred in failing to identify Plaintiff's neck and lower back disorder and Plaintiff's carpal tunnel syndrome as severe impairments. (Dkt. No. 11 at 13.)

Second, Plaintiff argues that the ALJ erred in neglecting to "specify [the] weight she [assigned] to the various medical providers of record." (Id. at 16.)

Third, Plaintiff argues that the ALJ was required (but failed) to "outline her analysis with sufficient specificity" when she determined that Plaintiff's complaints "are not supported by objective evidence or the opinions of record." (Id. at 18, 19.)

Fourth, Plaintiff argues that the ALJ erred in failing to take into consideration the following items when making her RFC assessment: (1) FNP LaFrance's assessment of Plaintiff's "limitations showing that[,] in addition to the limitations acknowledged by the ALJ," Plaintiff cannot crouch or stoop; (2) Dr. Magurno's assessment from December 2009, showing that Plaintiff has "'marked limitations' for walking, standing, lifting, carrying, pushing, pulling, and squatting, and moderate limitations for reaching and bending"; and (3) Plaintiff's neck and lower back disorder and her carpal tunnel syndrome. (Id. at 20-21.)

Fifth, and finally, Plaintiff argues that the ALJ did not properly evaluate whether there is work in the national economy that Plaintiff can perform because the ALJ improperly relied the Medical-Vocational Guidelines contained in 20 C.F.R. Pt. 404, Sbpt. P, App. 2 ("the grids") and the ALJ did not seek the testimony of a vocational expert. (Id. at 23, 25.)

B. Defendant's Arguments

In response, Defendant makes five arguments. First, Defendant argues that the ALJ did, in fact, evaluate Plaintiff's neck and back disorder as severe impairments because the ALJ incorporated the disorder into her finding that Plaintiff's "polyarthritis" impairment is severe. (Dkt. No. 15 at 7.) In addition, Defendant argues that the ALJ properly found that Plaintiff's carpal tunnel syndrome was not a medically determinable impairment ...


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