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Ruth Knaus v. Michael J. Astrue

October 9, 2012


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Cathy Bissoon



Plaintiff Ruth Knaus ("Plaintiff" or "Claimant"), has filed this social security appeal pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) for judicial review of the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security ("Defendant") denying her application for disability insurance benefits ("DIB") under Title II of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. Sections 401-403. (Doc. No. 3).

The parties have filed cross motions for summary judgment. (Doc. Nos. 9, 11). Plaintiff argues that the administrative decision is not supported by substantial evidence in the record and, therefore, must be remanded. More specifically, Plaintiff argues that ALJ William E. Kenworthy ("ALJ Kenworthy" or the "ALJ") erred in failing to evaluate her alleged mental impairment of conversion disorder at Step Two of his Five Step analysis. Plaintiff also argues that such failure resulted in a Residual Functional Capacity ("RFC") finding at levels above Plaintiff's proven ability. (Doc. No. 10). Defendant argues that substantial evidence exists to support the ALJ's findings and no definitive diagnosis for conversion disorder exists in the record. Therefore, there is no need to evaluate the impairment under Step Two (or any subsequent step). (Doc. No. 12) Background

Plaintiff applied for DIB on September 29, 2009.*fn1 In her application, Plaintiff claimed an initial onset date of May 16, 2009, and disability due to right side weakness and numbness and lower back pain (all of which resulted in a gait dysfunction). (R. at 210). Plaintiff was found not disabled and her application initially denied on February 4, 2010. (R. at 132). Thereafter, Plaintiff filed a written request for hearing before an ALJ, which took place on March 1, 2011.

(R. at 152).

By decision dated March 3, 2011, the ALJ denied Plaintiff's claim for DIB, finding that she was not disabled from May 16, 2009, through March 13, 2011 (the date of her hearing) as defined in the Social Security Act. (R. at 22). At the time of her hearing, Plaintiff was a forty-one year old woman who graduated from high school through an assisted learning program.

(R. 106-07). As determined by the ALJ, Plaintiff lives independently with her husband and two small children and provides for the daily needs of her children as well as her own personal needs.

(R. at 18). Her past work experience included employment as a certified nursing assistant for seven years. Plaintiff stopped working following the birth of her first child in August 2005. At that time, Plaintiff began to see a series of doctors regarding complaints of right side weakness and numbness in her legs, lower back pain, as well as difficulty walking. (R. at 16).

The ALJ found that Plaintiff has not engaged in any substantial gainful activity since May 16, 2009, and that she suffered from the following severe impairments: gait dysfunction, chronic back pain and a learning disorder. Id. The ALJ assessed Plaintiff's physical and mental conditions against the criteria in Appendix 1 of the regulations to determine whether she suffered from an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals those criteria. (Id. at 18). In doing so, he reviewed Plaintiff's allegations, along with all of Plaintiff's medical records, including records from Dr. Paul Fox, Dr. Barbara Swan, Dr. Hassouri, Dr. Robert Baraff and Dr. Haranath Parepally.*fn2 (Id.). Based on his review of the record evidence and the testimony at the hearing, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff's impairments did not meet or medically equal the criteria of any impairment listed in Appendix 1. (Id. at 17).

The ALJ went on to find that the claimant's impairments have not resulted in major disorganization of motor function, and that she retains the ability for effective ambulation. (R. at 18). The ALJ further determined that in the current record, the claimant failed to produce any additional evidence relating to her allegation of mental impairment and that her activities of daily living are no more than mildly restricted. Id. With regard to concentration, persistence or pace, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff has only moderate difficulties, and Plaintiff successfully completed the test for her Certified Nursing Assistant certificate and typically spends one to two hours on the computer engaging in social activities such as Facebook. Id.

Based on the above-outlined evaluation, the ALJ determined that although Plaintiff suffers from the severe impairments of gait dysfunction, chronic back pain and a learning disability, these impairments, whether singularly or in combination, do not meet or equal an impairment listed is 20 C.F.R. Par 404, Subpart P. and that Plaintiff is unable to perform any past relevant work. (R. at 18). The ALJ found that the Plaintiff retains the Residual Functional Capacity (RFC) to:

Perform sedentary work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(a) except with the sit/stand option at intervals of about 30 minutes. The Claimant can perform simple repetitive tasks that would not involve exposure to heights or hazardous operations. She should not be required to perform tasks that would be dangerous of a person with balance impairment. ...

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