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Karen Ann Marini v. Michael J. Astrue

December 28, 2010


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Baylson, J.


Plaintiff Karen Ann Marini ("Marini") requests judicial review of the final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration ("Commissioner") denying her application for a period of disability insurance benefits ("DIB") pursuant to Title II of the Social Security Act (the "Act"), 42 U.S.C. §§ 401-433. (ECF No. 1.) Pending before the Court are Marini's Complaint (ECF No. 1) and her Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 7) and the Commissioner's response thereto (ECF No. 8). After careful and independent consideration of the matter, and for the following reasons, the Court will deny Marini's request for review.

I. Factual and Procedural Background

Marini filed for DIB on June 23, 2006. (A.R. 86-91.) She claimed a disability onset date of September 1, 2002, at which time she was thirty-one years old. (A.R. 86.) She is now thirty-nine years old. Marini has relevant work experience as a bill collector, a customer service representative, and a data entry worker. (A.R. 40-41.) She earned her G.E.D. in 1994. (A.R.255.) Marini claims disability due to chronic lower back pain and major depressive disorder. (A.R. 13, 272.)

On October 18, 2006, the Social Security Administration ("SSA") denied Marini's application for benefits.*fn1 (A.R. 47-51.) Marini then timely requested a hearing before an ALJ, which was held on April 9, 2008 in Elkins Park, Pennsylvania. (A.R. 17, 54.) At the hearing, Marini claimed she suffered from constant back pain radiating to her legs, predominantly her left leg. (A.R. 26-27, 31-32.) She testified she has undergone two surgeries and more than thirty injections, all of which only temporarily relieved her pain. (A.R. 27.) She stated the pain "is absolutely getting worse" (A.R. 28), and that she is "depressed all the time due to the fact that I feel like I'm 88 and not 36" (A.R. 32-33). She takes anti-depressants, which make her "really sleepy all day" and she "can't complete one task and [her] concentration isn't fully there." (A.R.33.) She claimed to "take three to four naps a day because [she has] to lay down because sitting . . . and standing . . . is just too irritating." (A.R. 33.)

With regard to family life, Marini testified that her daughter is in daycare five days a week "[b]ecause of the fact that I was falling asleep throughout the day with her at home." (A.R.33.) A neighbor also takes her son to the bus stop in the morning and returns him home. (A.R.34.) She also stated that her husband does the shopping, she occasionally cooks light dinners such as spaghetti or grilled cheese, and her husband and nephew help her with laundry. (A.R. 24-25.) In September 2006, she explained her daily routine to a consultative examiner as follows:

I get my son off to the bus stop in the morning. Come home -- do the dishes. At that time, I might have to sit down and relax. I'll read a book (to her daughter) and watch TV with her. Then, fold some clothes. I pick up my son at 12:00. Then, I'll go to the store. (A.R.256.)

The vocational expert ("VE") then testified and identified Marini's past relevant work as bill collection, customer service, and data entry. (A.R. 40-41.) Collection work is skilled, light work; customer service is skilled, sedentary work; and data entry is semi-skilled, sedentary work. (A.R. 40-41.) The ALJ then posed a hypothetical limited to "sedentary work that is confined to routine one to two step tasks, providing no more than limited interaction with the public and co-workers, and minimal supervision. The work should involve few work changes and afford the opportunity to alternate between sitting and standing in 20 to 30 minute intervals." (A.R. 41.)

The VE testified Marini would not be able to perform her past relevant work, but that there are several positions she could perform in the national or regional economy, including bench assembler; report order clerk or clerical sorter; and inspector, examiner, or checker. (A.R.42.) Notably, the VE then testified that, assuming Marini would have to rest for periods of time throughout the day, there would be no available jobs. (A.R. 43.)

On April 22, 2008, the ALJ issued an opinion denying Marini's claim for benefits. (A.R. 7-16.) The ALJ found that Marini has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since the alleged onset date of September 1, 2002. (A.R. 12.) She also found that Marini suffers from several severe impairments, including degenerative disc disease involving the lumbar and cervical spine and major depressive disorder, but that these impairments do not meet or medically equal the listed impairments. (A.R. 12.) Nevertheless, the ALJ determined that Marini does have some work limitations. (A.R. 13.) The ALJ concluded Marini's impairments restrict[] her to sedentary work*fn2 subject to the following limitations: [she] is restricted to work which allows the opportunity to alternate periods of sitting and standing in 20-30 minute intervals; and [she] is further restricted to routine one to two step job tasks in occupations involving no more than minimal supervision, relatively few changes in the work routine, and no more than limited contact with co-workers and the general public. (A.R. 13.) Although the ALJ conceded Marini could not perform her past relevant work with these limitations (A.R. 15), the ALJ concluded that "considering [Marini's] age, education, work experience, and residual functional capacity, [Marini] has been capable of making a successful adjustment to other work that exists in significant numbers in the national economy" (A.R. 16). "A finding of 'not disabled' [was] therefore appropriate." (A.R.16.)

In her decision, the ALJ noted that she "considered all symptoms described by [Marini] in her testimony and the extent to which these symptoms can reasonably be accepted as consistent with the objective medical evidence and other evidence of record." (A.R. 13.) In addition, the ALJ considered opinion evidence, including a report from Marini's treating physician, Dr. Louis Pearlstein. (A.R. 15; see also A.R. 323-26.) The ALJ found Marini's testimony "not fully consistent with her activities of daily living which suggest a broader range of functioning." (A.R.14.) Further, the ALJ found Dr. Pearlstein's opinion was "not consistent with the medical evidence of record and with [Marini's] activities of daily living which do not support such extreme functional limitations." (A.R. 15.)

On June 26, 2008, Marini appealed the ALJ's decision to the Appeals Council. (A.R. 6.) The Appeals Council denied Marini's request for review, rendering the ALJ's decision the Commissioner's final determination. (A.R. 1-3.) Marini then filed a complaint in this Court seeking review of the Commissioner's final determination. (ECF No. 1.)

II. Jurisdiction and Standard of Review

A. Jurisdiction

This Court has jurisdiction to review the Commissioner's final decision pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). See 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) ("Any individual, after any final decision of the Commissioner . . . made after a hearing to which [s]he was a party . . . may obtain review of such decision by a civil action commenced within sixty days after the mailing to h[er] of notice of such decision . . . ."); (see also A.R. 1). Venue is proper in this Court pursuant to § 405(g).

B. Standard of Review

District courts may affirm, modify, or reverse the decision of the Commissioner, with or without remanding the matter for rehearing. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). This Court's role in reviewing the ALJ's decision is to determine whether there is substantial evidence to support the Commissioner's decision. Jones v. Barnhart, 364 F.3d 501, 503 (3d Cir. 2004); see 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) ("The findings of the Commissioner . . . as to any fact, if supported by substantial evidence, shall be conclusive . . . .").

Substantial evidence means such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind would accept as adequate to support a conclusion. Rutherford v. Barnhart, 399 F.3d 546, 552 (3d Cir. 2005); see also Jones, 364 F.3d at 503 (stating that substantial evidence is less than a preponderance of the evidence but more than a scintilla). To determine whether substantial evidence exists, the Court reviews the record as a whole. Schaudeck v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec. Admin., 181 F.3d 429, 431 (3d Cir. 1999). Nevertheless, the ...

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