United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania
November 17, 2005.
BRENDA K. STILES, Plaintiff,
JO ANNE B. BARNHART, Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: DONETTA AMBROSE, District Judge
OPINION AND ORDER OF COURT SYNOPSIS
Plaintiff brings this action pursuant to the Social Security
Act (the "Act"), 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). She seeks judicial review of
the final decision that denied her application for disability
insurance benefits under Title II of the Act, and for
supplemental security income benefits under Title XVI of the Act.
Before the Court are the parties' cross-Motions for Summary
Judgment. For the following reasons, Plaintiff's Motion will be
denied, and Defendant's granted.
I. PROCEDURAL HISTORY
Plaintiff initially sought disability insurance benefits and
supplemental security income, under Titles II and XVI of the Act,
on October 11, 2000. She alleged disability since March 24, 1998,
when she was forty-two years of age, resulting from various back conditions, including scoliosis and a broken rod in
her back. Her request was denied initially and on
reconsideration. As a result, on December 6, 2001, Plaintiff
requested and received a hearing before an Administrative Law
Judge ("ALJ"). By decision dated February 27, 2002, the ALJ
determined that Plaintiff was not entitled to the benefits
sought. Plaintiff sought review by the Appeals Council. Her
appeal was rejected, and this action followed.
II. STANDARD OF REVIEW
My review of the Commissioner's findings is limited to whether
those findings are supported by "substantial evidence."
Richardson v. Parales, 402 U.S. 389, 401, 91 S. Ct. 1420,
28 L. Ed. 2d 842 (1971). "Substantial evidence" is more than a
scintilla of evidence, but less than a preponderance; it is such
evidence as a "reasonable mind might accept as adequate to
support a conclusion." Cotter v. Harris, 642 F. 2d 700, 704 (3d
Cir. 1981). This is true, even if this court would have decided
the case differently. Monsour Med. Ctr. v. Heckler,
806 F. 2d 1185, 1190 (3d Cir. .
Plaintiff's Motion alleges that the ALJ erred in the following
respects: 1) in concluding that she does not meet the severity
requirements under the Act; 2) in giving insufficient weight to
her subjective pain complaints; 3) in improperly rejecting her
treating physician's opinion; 4) in determining that her
performance of daily activities indicated that she could perform
gainful employment; 5) in considering the potential jobs
identified by the vocational expert ("VE"); and 6) in finding
that Plaintiff has a residual functional capacity ("RFC") of
light duty. 1. Severity
Plaintiff asserts that she meets the requirements of Section
1.04, musculoskeletal listings. 20 C.F.R. pt. 404, subpt. P.,
App. 1, 1.04. I agree with Defendant, however, that evidence
required by that Section is lacking. Plaintiff asserts a
compromised cauda equina, but the record reflects only the
"potential" for compromise of the cauda equina, at the site of a
fractured rod, in September of 2000. Plaintiff points to no
evidence of nerve root compression, arachnoiditis, inability to
ambulate effectively, as described in Section 1.04. Therefore,
the evidence does not support her argument, and the ALJ did not
2. Subjective Pain Complaints
Next, Plaintiff asserts that the ALJ failed to properly
evaluate her subjective complaints of pain. However, the ALJ
assessed and considered her subjective complaints, and explained
that those complaints of totally disabling pain were not credible
in the entire context of the record, including the medical
functional capacity assessments and the Plaintiff's daily
activities. As stated in another case, "Not only do courts
`ordinarily defer to an ALJ's credibility determination because
he or she has the opportunity at a hearing to assess the
witness's demeanor,' but here, the ALJ specifically lists the
specific criteria under which he evaluated [Plaintiff's]
subjective complaints pursuant to 20 C.F.R. § 416.929 and the
credibility finding must stand." Doerfler v. Barnhart, No.
04-3488, 2005 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 11134, at **8-9 (E.D. Pa. June 7,
2005). "In order for an ALJ to reject a claim of disabling pain, he must consider the subjective pain and specify his reasons for
rejecting these claims and support his conclusion with medical
evidence in the record." Matullo v. Bowan, 926 F.2d 240, 245
(3d Cir. 1990). In this matter, the ALJ did so, and therefore did
3. Treating v. Consulting Physician
Plaintiff argues that the ALJ improperly gave more weight to
the consulting examiner's opinion rather than to that of
Plaintiff's treating physician. In this case, however, the ALJ
expressly gave significant weight to the treating surgeon's
assessment; in contrast, he made little mention of the
non-examining medical consultant. Accordingly, I conclude that
the ALJ did not err.
4. Daily Activities
Next, Plaintiff challenges the ALJ's consideration of her daily
activities, such as preparing meals, grocery shopping, and doing
laundry. The ALJ did not rely solely on those activities,
however; instead, he considered the evidence as part of the
totality of the record. This is an appropriate approach to such
testimony. See 20 C.F.R. § 416.929. The ALJ did not err in that
5. Vocational Evidence
Next, Plaintiff argues that the ALJ erred, essentially, in
failing to include in his hypothetical question to the VE an
employment limitation requiring more than three breaks a day.
Plaintiff does not, however, point to evidence that such an
impairment was supported by the record. Instead, the ALJ modeled
his hypothetical question on record evidence provided by
Plaintiff's treating surgeon. Therefore, the ALJ did not err in either his hypothetical questions or his
consequent reliance on the VE's responses.
6. Light Duty RFC
Finally, Plaintiff contends that the ALJ erred in finding an
RFC of light duty, because she is unable to stand for three to
four hours per day. Hence, she argues, the Dictionary of
Occupational Titles would not permit her to perform light work.
The record does not, however, reflect such a standing limitation.
Moreover, in finding a light duty RFC, the ALJ relied on the
testimony of a vocational expert, as well as medical opinions. He
did not reach his own conclusions regarding the Dictionary of
Occupational Titles. Plaintiff's argument in this regard,
therefore, is unavailing.
In sum, the ALJ's decision is supported by substantial
evidence, and the ALJ did not commit error as alleged by
Plaintiff. Therefore, Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment
will be granted; Plaintiff's will be denied.
An appropriate Order follows. ORDER OF COURT
AND NOW, this 17th day of October, 2005, it is hereby
ORDERED, that Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment (Docket No.
8) is DENIED and Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment (Docket
No. 10) is GRANTED. Judgment is entered in favor of Defendant and
against Plaintiff. This case is marked closed.
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