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Sahayda v. Astrue

August 5, 2009

JOSEPH SAHAYDA, JR., PLAINTIFF,
v.
MICHAEL J. ASTRUE, ELECTRONIC FILING COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: David Stewart Cercone United States District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION

I. INTRODUCTION

Plaintiff, Joseph Sahayda Jr., commenced the instant action on July 7, 2008 pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and 1383(c)(3), seeking judicial review of the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security denying his claims for Supplemental Security Income ("SSI") and Disability Insurance Benefits ("DIB") under Title II and XVI of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §401 et seq, §1381 et seq. Plaintiff filed an application for SSI and DIB on April 12, 2006, alleging that he was disabled since January 1, 1998 due to depression, low back pain, and pain in his legs, knees and feet (AR. 47-61, 288-92). His application was initially denied, and Plaintiff requested a hearing before an administrative law judge ("ALJ"). A hearing was held on May 10, 2007, and following this hearing, the ALJ found that Plaintiff was not disabled at any time through the date of the decision, and therefore was not eligible for SSI or DIB benefits. (AR.13-27). Plaintiff made a request for review by the Appeals Council which was denied. (AR. 6-8), thus rendering the Commissioner's decision final under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). The instant action challenges the ALJ's decision. Presently pending before the Court are cross-motions for summary judgment. Upon analysis and consideration of each submission, and as set forth herein, the Commissioner's Motion for Summary Judgment is granted, Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment is denied and the decision of the Administrative Law Judge is affirmed.

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

When reviewing a decision denying DIB and SSI, the district court's role is limited to determining whether substantial evidence exists in the record to support the ALJ's findings of fact. Burns v. Barnhart,312 F.3d 113, 118 (3d Cir. 2002). Substantial evidence is defined as "more than a mere scintilla. It means such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate." Ventura v. Shalala, 55 F.3d 900, 901 (3d Cir. 1995)(quoting Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971)). Additionally, if the ALJ's findings of fact are supported by substantial evidence, they are conclusive. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g); Richardson, 402 U.S. at 390. In reviewing the record for substantial evidence, the district court does not weigh the evidence or substitute its own conclusions for those of the fact finder. Rutherford v. Barnhart, 399 F.3d 546, 552 (3d Cir.2005). To determine whether a finding is supported by substantial evidence, however, the district court must review the record as a whole. See 5 U.S.C. §706.

To be eligible for social security benefits under the Act, a claimant must demonstrate that he cannot engage in substantial gainful activity because of a medically determinable physical or mental impairment which can be expected to result in death or which has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of at least 12 months. 42 U.S.C. §423(d)(1)(A); Brewster v. Heckler, 786 F.2d 581, 583 (3d Cir. 1986).

The ALJ must utilize a five-step sequential analysis when evaluating the disability status of each claimant. 20 C.F.R. §404.1520. The ALJ must determine: (1) whether the claimant is currently engaged in substantial gainful activity; (2) if not, whether the claimant has a severe impairment or a combination of impairments that is severe; (3) whether the medical evidence of the claimant's impairment or combination of impairments meets or equals the criteria listed in 20 C.F.R., pt. 404 subpt. P., appx. 1; (4) whether the claimant's impairments prevent him from performing his past relevant work; and (5) if the claimant is incapable of performing his past relevant work, whether he can perform any other work which exists in the national economy. 20 C.F.R. §404.1520(a)(4).

If the claimant is determined to be unable to resume previous employment, the burden shifts to the Commissioner (Step 5) to prove that, given plaintiffs's mental or physical limitations, age, education, and work experience, he or she is able to perform substantial gainful activity in jobs available in the national economy. Doak v. Heckler, 790 F.2d 26, 28 (3d Cir. 1986).

III. FACTUAL HISTORY

Plaintiff was born on March 15, 1955, and was 52 years old on the date of the ALJ's decision. (AR. 25). He graduated high school and has past relevant work history as a door-to-door salesman and a telemarketer. (AR. 25, 70).

Plaintiff filled out a daily living questionnaire as a part of his application (AR. 92-100). In the questionnaire, Plaintiff states that occasionally he cannot get himself out of bed due to back pain. (AR. 92). He states that the pain limits his ability to shower, vacuum, perform house work, laundry, and take out the trash. (AR. 93-94). Plaintiff stated that the pain in his back and feet limit the number of steps he can climb and he requires frequent rests when shopping or walking. (AR. 94). He states that his back pain and weight make it difficult for him to make his bed and that he has to do all activities slowly due to the pain. (AR. 95). Plaintiff complained of feeling depressed, that his attention span was very short and that he has developed a fear of going into the public. (AR. 96). Plaintiff described his pain as being in his lower back and hips, that he has arthritis in his legs and knees and gout in his ankles and feet. (AR. 98). He stated that he is in pain when performing any activity and that the pain is constant. (AR. 98-99). Plaintiff states that he regularly has sleep problems. (AR. 99). He states that he uses a cane for when he is in pain from gout or his back although he doesn't like to use it in public. (AR. 100).

On May 6, 2005, Plaintiff was examined by Dr. Roberta Miller. (AR. 147-48). Dr. Miller reported that Plaintiff had not seen a doctor in over twenty years and had complaints about depression and gout. (AR. 147). Plaintiff stated that he was very depressed and that his mind was not right and that he was afraid to go into supermarkets. (Id.). He also had complaints of severe pain in his feet that lasted months at a time. Dr. Miller found Plaintiff to have elevated blood pressure, but no evidence of swelling or inflamation. (Id.). Dr. Miller also discussed that gout is not an indication for Vicodin and that she will not be prescribing him pain medication. (AR. 148).

On July 19, 2005 Dr. Dana Brown examined Plaintiff and reported that he had daily gout pain in his feet with periodic severe flares. (AR. 142). Dr. Brown gave Plaintiff Cochicine and Allopurinol for his gout as well as Vicodin and prescribed Lexapro for Plaintiff's symptoms of depression. (AR. 143). On January 24, 2006, Dr. Brown reported that Plaintiff was in a bad mood and further stated Plaintiff was upset all the time, could not sleep and felt like a drug addict. (AR. 130). Dr. Brown reported that Plaintiff's gout flares up periodically. (AR. 125). In the report dated May 5, 2006, Dr. Brown questioned whether Plaintiff was abusing OxyContin. (Id.). Plaintiff was seen for a follow up visit by Dr. Brown on May 31, 2006. (AR. 124). Dr. Brown reported that Plaintiff had good days and bad days and complained of low back pain. Dr. Brown recorded Plaintiff's weight to be 305 pounds and a BMI of 42.5. (Id.). Dr. Brown found no wheezing or labored respiration nor did he find any muscle atrophy, weakness or abnormal gait. (Id.). Dr. Brown refilled Plaintiff's prescription of OxyContin for his low back pain. (Id.).

On October 19, 2005, Plaintiff was referred to the Sleep Disorders Center for fatigue. (AR 136). Plaintiff had an Epworth Sleepiness Scale score of 8. Dr. Roberta Miller determined Plaintiff had severe obstructive sleep apnea, however, he had a favorable response to continuous positive airway pressure ...


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