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Tracey L. Goga v. Michael J. Astrue

July 27, 2011


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Nora Barry Fischer



Tracey L. Goga ("Plaintiff") brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), seeking review of the final determination of the Commissioner of Social Security ("Defendant" or "Commissioner") denying her application for supplemental security income ("SSI") under Title XVI of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 1381 - 1383f ("Act"). This matter comes before the court on cross motions for summary judgment. (ECF Nos. 8, 10). The record has been developed at the administrative level. For the following reasons, Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment is DENIED, and Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment is GRANTED.


Plaintiff filed for SSI with the Social Security Administration on October 24, 2007, claiming an inability to work due to disability as of August 24, 2005. (R. at 54)*fn1 . Plaintiff was initially denied benefits on March 31, 2008. (R. at 54). A hearing was scheduled for November 20, 2008, and Plaintiff appeared to testify represented by counsel. (R. at 54). A vocational expert also testified. (R. at 54). The Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") issued a decision denying benefits to Plaintiff on March 17, 2009. (R. at 54 - 62). Plaintiff filed a request for review of the ALJ's decision by the Appeals Council, which request was denied on December 2, 2010, thereby making the decision of the ALJ the final decision of the Commissioner. (R. at 1 -- 5).

Plaintiff filed her Complaint in this court on December 28, 2010. (ECF No. 3). Defendant filed his Answer on March 4, 2011. (ECF No. 5). Cross motions for summary judgment followed. (ECF Nos. 8, 10).


The facts relevant to the present case are limited to those records that were available to the ALJ when rendering his decision. (R. at 4 -- 5). All other records newly submitted*fn2 to the Appeals Council or this court will not be considered, here, and will not inform the decision of this court. See Matthews v. Apfel, 239 F.3d 589, 592, 594 -- 95 (3d Cir. 2001).*fn3

A.Plaintiff's Personal Background

Plaintiff was born on September 22, 1969. (R. at 119). Plaintiff was divorced and she had three children, but did not have custody.*fn4 (R. at 14). In her own opinion, Plaintiff could not properly care for her children. (R. at 40). Her primary source of income was her family, and public assistance which provided her with $195.00, monthly. (R. at 15, 121). Plaintiff also received food stamps. (R. at 121). Plaintiff quit high school in tenth grade due to her pregnancy, but she subsequently earned her GED in 1991. (R. at 141, 198). Plaintiff lived in an apartment with her boyfriend who helped her clean and do laundry. (R. at 145). Plaintiff stated that she was limited in lifting, squatting, bending, standing, reaching, walking, kneeling, and stair climbing as a result of a motorcycle accident in 2005. (R. at 148).

B.Plaintiff's Medical Background

On May 1, 2003, Plaintiff was treated and released from Sharon Regional Health System, in Sharon, Pennsylvania after she attempted to commit suicide by starting her car while parked in the garage with the garage door closed. (R. at 196). In addition to being treated for carbon monoxide poisoning, Plaintiff was treated for depression, anxiety and domestic violence. (R. at 209). At the time of treatment, Plaintiff denied that she was suffering from depression, but she admitted to increased anxiety which she attributed to a fear of increased responsibility and an inability to handle matters on her own. Id. Plaintiff reported a history of both verbal and physical abuse from her husband as well as past sexual abuse which she experienced as a teenager. (R. at 196). Plaintiff denied recreational drug use and all tests for same returned negative. (R. at 192, 98). However, Plaintiff had consumed four or five beers prior to her attempted suicide and she had consumed beer regularly a "couple times a week." (R. at 196-97).

Dr. James Shaer at St. Elizabeth Health Center in Youngstown, Ohio performed surgery on Plaintiff on August 23, 2005 for a right 3A open tibia and fibula fracture as a result of a motorcycle accident. (R. at 278). At the time of the crash Plaintiff was intoxicated. (R. at 273,

78). On December 13, 2005, Dr. Shaer removed a protruding surgical screw from Plaintiff's right ankle. (R. at 258). Dr. Shaer noted that Plaintiff's fibula fracture had healed and that there was no indication of additional hardware loosening. Id. Plaintiff did not complain of pain at that time. (R. at 252).

Dr. Shaer removed plates from Plaintiff's right fibula on February 3, 2006. (R. at 250). Following Plaintiff's surgery on December 13, 2005, she began to develop pain in the area surrounding her right fibula. ( 252). Upon utilization of a WBC-tagged*fn5 bone scan, Dr. Shaer discovered signal uptake around the right fibula and elected to remove two additional surgical screws from her right fibula. Id. Dr. Shaer then prescribed vancomycin and doxycycline to treat a newfound MRSA*fn6 infection. (R. at 251-54). Plaintiff was to keep her leg elevated as much as possible while healing, but could bear weight, as tolerated. (R. at 253).

Plaintiff would return to Dr. Shaer, complaining of leg pain over one year after her right tibia fracture and related symptomology had been "resolved." (R. at 239). On June 19, 2007, Dr. Shaer removed additional plates from Plaintiff's right tibia. (R. at 239). Plaintiff complained of pain throughout her entire right leg. Id. Dr. Shaer conducted another WBC-tagged bone scan, which revealed no sign of infection. Id. However, Dr. Shaer elected to remove the remaining screws in Plaintiff's tibia. Id. Dr. Shaer completed the surgery and instructed Plaintiff to bear weight, as tolerated, on the right leg. (R. at 240). Following surgery, Plaintiff reported that she no longer experienced pain. (R. at 294). Dr. Shaer recommended that Plaintiff continue with her daily activities. Id. In a January 11, 2008 Medical Source Statement of Claimant's Ability to Perform Work-Related Physical ...

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