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Kernia Maria Espino v. Michael Astrue

March 8, 2011


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


I. Procedural History

On November 2, 2005, Kernia Maria Espino (hereinafter "Plaintiff") filed an application for Social Security Disability Insurance Benefits (hereinafter "DIB"), which was denied by the Social Security Administration upon initial review. Plaintiff requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (hereinafter "ALJ"), resulting in a denial of benefits via an Unfavorable Decision, which was issued on August 9, 2007. Plaintiff then sought review by the Appeal Council and said request was denied by Order dated May 21, 2009. Accordingly, the Commissioner's decision to deny benefits to Plaintiff became final, prompting the within action.

On June 9, 2009, Plaintiff filed a Complaint (Doc. No. 1) challenging the decision below. An Answer was filed (Doc. No. 4), subsequent to which, Plaintiff submitted her Brief and Statement of Issues in Support of Request for Review (Doc. No. 5) and Defendant filed an Answer thereto (Doc. No. 8). The matter was referred to United States Magistrate Judge Henry S. Perkin for a Report and Recommendation (hereinafter "R&R"). Upon review of the record, Judge Perkin denied Plaintiff's request for relief and affirmed the decision of the ALJ (Doc. No. 10). Plaintiff filed Objections to Judge Perkin's R&R (Doc. No. 11) and Defendant responded (Doc. No. 12). For the reasons which follow, this Court will deny Plaintiff's Objections and adopt the R&R of the Honorable Perkin.

II. Standard of Review

In a Social Security matter such as this, "[j]udicial review of the Commissioner's final decision is limited." Przegon v. Barnhart, 2006 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 8924, at **3-4 (E.D. Pa. 2006)(citations omitted). Moreover, once a United States District Court Magistrate Judge has issued an R&R on Plaintiff's appeal of the Commissioner's decision . .

. . . [A] party may file timely and specific objections thereto. The district court judge will then make a de novo determination of those portions of the report and recommendation to which objection is made. The district court judge may accept, reject, modify, in whole or in part, the findings or recommendations made by the magistrate judge, receive further evidence, or recommit the matter to the magistrate judge with instructions. In reviewing the Commissioner's decision, the district court is bound by the ALJ's findings of fact if they are supported by substantial evidence in the record. Substantial evidence is "such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate."

Watson v. Barnhart, 2008 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 36286, at *3 (E.D. Pa. May 2, 2008)(citations omitted).

In this matter, Plaintiff raises four Objections to the R&R. For the reasons which follow, this Court deems each of Plaintiff's Objections to be without merit.

III. Discussion

A. First Objection Regarding Consideration of All Relevant Evidence Pertaining to Plaintiff's Application for Disability Benefits On or Before Her "Date Last Insured" of March 31, 2000 Plaintiff first objects to the Magistrate's conclusion that the ALJ properly considered all relevant evidence in the record and provided an adequate explanation for disregarding Plaintiff's contrary evidence. (Doc. No. 11 at 1.) It is well established that there is "no requirement for [the] ALJ to discuss or refer to every piece of relevant evidence in the record, so long as the reviewing court can discern the basis of decision." Tisoit v. Barnhart, 127 Fed. Appx. 572, 575 (3d Cir. 2005), citing Fargnoli v. Massanari, 247 F.3d 34, 42 (3d Cir. 2001). Plaintiff asserts that her disability commenced on January 10, 2000 - - before her date last insured (hereinafter "DLI") of March 31, 2000. However, both the Magistrate and the ALJ noted "there was a limited period at issue and Plaintiff's only impairments during this time involved her left wrist and elbow." (R&R at 10; Adm. R. at 26-27.) There is substantial support in the record for this conclusion, including notes from February, 2000 by Plaintiff's own physician, Doctor John Williams, and notes from other physicians to whom Plaintiff was referred by Dr. Williams. All of these notes clearly demonstrate a focus on Plaintiff's "left upper extremity," specifically the left elbow, wrist, and fingers. (Adm. R. at 89-91, 270-283.)*fn1

Plaintiff further complains that the ALJ improperly characterized her injury "as simply 'bone bruising' with no explanation as to why the vast majority of these objective findings were either rejected or ignored." (Doc. No. 11 at 3.)*fn2 However, it is clear that despite Plaintiff's assertion to the contrary, the ALJ considered her injuries to be far more than "simply [ ] bone bruising." In fact, the ALJ recognized "severe impairments" which included a "left wrist injury and cubital tunnel syndrome of the left elbow" during the relevant time period. (Adm. R. at 26.) The Magistrate not only considered the ALJ's conclusions but similarly recognized considerable injury by noting, "the impairments in Plaintiff's left arm may have been severe. . ." (Doc. No. 10 at 13). However, the Magistrate ultimately concluded that these impairments "did not preclude her from performing all work activity." Id. Upon review of the record in toto, this Court agrees.

Additionally, Plaintiff takes issue with the characterization of her treatment prior to her DLI as "conservative treatment." (Doc. No. 11 at 2.) Review of the record reveals that actions taken prior to Plaintiff's DLI in fact appeared to be for the purpose of either diagnosis or treatment of pain, including "prescriptions for Vicodin, cortisone injections, and a long-arm splint" for Plaintiff's left arm. (R&R at 11; Adm. R. at 277, 279-82.) The record supports the conclusion of the Magistrate and the ALJ that treatment appeared to be conservative and focused primarily on managing Plaintiff's pain.

Similarly, Dr. Talsania's notes support the finding of both the ALJ and the Magistrate regarding the extent of Plaintiff's injury shortly before her DLI.*fn3

Finally, Plaintiff's maintains that the Magistrate and ALJ failed to consider her claim that she was "at her wits end" with pain in her left wrist and elbow, and that they failed to consider other objective medical evidence. However, as noted hereinabove, treatment notes from March 27, 2000 - just a few days before Plaintiff's DLI - indicate as follows:

She has now been in a long arm splint and notes significant improvement in her pain. She states that the pain that was in her hand is gone and the dorsal ulnar wrist pain is gone. She only has a little bit of pain and she points volarly to the more probative than that obtained afterwards. Dr. ...

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