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Williams v. Astrue

United States District Court, Third Circuit

May 9, 2013

FLORA DENISE WILLIAMS, Plaintiff
v.
MICHAEL J. ASTRUE[1], Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant

REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

LINDA K. CARACAPPA, Magistrate Judge.

This action was brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) seeking judicial review of the final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration ("Commissioner"), who denied the application of Flora Denise Williams for Disability Insurance Benefits ("DIB") under Title II of the Social Security Act ("Act"). Presently before this court are the plaintiff's request for review and the defendant's response to request for review. For the reasons set forth below, this court recommends that plaintiff's request for review be GRANTED in part and DENIED in part.

I. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

Plaintiff is a fifty one (51) year old woman born on August 30, 1961. (Tr. 137). Plaintiff is a high school graduate. (Tr. 161). Plaintiff worked in the past as a customer service representative. (Tr. 47).

On March 17, 2009, plaintiff filed an application for DIB. (Tr. 134). Plaintiff claimed disability since August 16, 2008. (Tr. 134). This application was denied at the state level. (Tr. 61). Plaintiff then requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ). (

A hearing before ALJ Jennifer M. Lash took place on May 19, 2010. (Tr. 24-52). Plaintiff, represented by counsel, testified, along with a vocational expert. (Tr. 24-52). The ALJ found that plaintiff's severe impairments were: obesity disorder; status post distal tarsal tunnel release disorder; plantar fascial release disorder; right ankle sprain disorder; affective disorder; and anxiety disorder. (Tr. 12). The ALJ further determined that plaintiff has the residual functional capacity to perform less than the full range of light level exertional work. More specifically, plaintiff can lift and/or carry twenty pounds occasionally and ten pounds frequently; can stand and/or walk four hours in an eight-hour day; can sit six hours in an eight-hour day; can do no more than occasional pushing or pulling with the right lower extremity; can occasionally climb ramps, stairs and ladders, but never climb ropes or scaffolds; can occasionally kneel, crouch and crawl; can frequently balance and stoop; has a need to alternate standing and sitting positions at will; and is limited to unskilled work with routine and repetitive tasks with only occasional judgment required on the job, no interaction with the public, and only occasional interaction with co-workers. (Tr. 14). The ALJ determined that plaintiff is unable to perform any past relevant work. (Tr. 18). However, the ALJ found that there are jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy that plaintiff can perform. (Tr. 19).

Plaintiff requested review before the Appeals Council. The Appeals Council upheld the ALJ's decision on April 7, 2012, permitting the ALJ's decision to stand as the final decision of the Commissioner. (Tr. 1-4). Plaintiff subsequently appealed that denial to this court.

II. LEGAL STANDARDS

The role of this court, on judicial review, is to determine whether the Commissioner's decision is supported by substantial evidence. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g); Pierce v. Underwood , 587 U.S. 552 (1988). "Substantial evidence" is not "a large or significant amount of evidence but rather such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept to support a conclusion." Id. at 664-65. Substantial evidence is relevant evidence viewed objectively as adequate to support a decision. Richardson v. Perales , 402 U.S. 401 (1971); Kangas v. Bowen , 823 F.2d 775 (3d Cir. 1987); Dobrowolsky v. Califano , 606 F.2d 403 (3d Cir. 1979). Moreover, apart from the substantial evidence inquiry, a reviewing court must also ensure that the ALJ applied the proper legal standards. Coria v. Heckler , 750 F.2d 245 (3d Cir. 1984). "The Court is bound by the ALJ's findings of fact if they are supported by substantial evidence in the record." Plummer v. Apfel , 186 F.3d 422, 427 (3d Cir. 1999).

To establish a disability under the Social Security Act, a claimant must demonstrate that there is some "medically determinable basis for an impairment that prevents him from engaging in any substantial gainful activity' for a statutory twelve-month period." Stunkard v. Secretary of Health and Human Services , 841 F.2d 57 (3d Cir. 1988), quoting Kangas v. Bowen , 823 F.2d 775, 777 (3d Cir. 1987); 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1) (1982). The claimant satisfies his burden by showing an inability to return to his past relevant work. Doak v. Heckler , 790 F.2d at 28; Rossi v. Califano , 602 F.2d 55, 57 (3d Cir. 1979) (citing Baker v. Gardner , 362 F.2d 864 (3d Cir. 1966)). Once this showing is made, the burden of proof shifts to the Commissioner to show that the claimant, given his age, education, and work experience, has the ability to perform specific jobs that exist in the economy. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520. See Rossi v. Califano , 602 F.2d at 57.

As explained in the following agency regulation, each case is evaluated by the Commissioner according to a five-step process:

(i) At the first step, we consider your work activity if any. If you are doing substantial gainful activity, we will find that you are not disabled. (ii) At the second step, we consider the medical severity of your impairment(s). If you do not have a severe medically determinable physical or mental impairment that meets the duration requirement in § 404.1509, or a combination of impairments that is severe and meets the duration requirement, we will find that you are not disabled. (iii) At the third step, we also consider the medical severity of your impairment(s). If you have an impairment(s) that meets or equals one of our listings in appendix 1 of this subpart and meets the duration requirement, we will find that you are disabled. (iv). At the fourth step, we consider our assessment of your residual functional capacity and your past relevant work. If you can still do your past relevant work, we will find that you are not disabled. (v). At the fifth and last step, we consider our assessment of your residual functional capacity and your age, education and work experience to see if you can make an adjustment to other work. If you can make an adjustment to other work, we will find that you are not disabled. If you cannot make an adjustment to other work, we will find that you are disabled.

20.F.R. § 404.1520 (references to other regulations omitted).

II. ADMINISTRATIVE LAW JUDGE'S DECISION

Using the above mentioned sequential evaluation process, the ALJ determined plaintiff has not been under a "disability, " as defined in the Social Security Act, since August 16, 2008, the date the plaintiff's alleged onset of disability, through the date of the ALJ's decision. (Tr. 20).

At step one, the ALJ found that plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful work activity since plaintiff's application date. (Tr. 12). At step two, the ALJ found that plaintiff's obesity disorder, status post distal tarsal tunnel release disorder, plantar fascial release disorder, right ankle sprain disorder, affective disorder, and anxiety disorder were "severe" impairments within the meaning of the Regulation. (Tr. 12). In making this determination the ALJ relied upon plaintiff's following summarized medical records:

Treatment records from Rothman Institute indicate that plaintiff was being treated by Nicholas Taweel, D.P.M., D.P.T., a foot and ankle specialist. (Tr. 204-217). On February 29, 2008, plaintiff was seen for right plantar heel pain, after wearing a CAM boot for four weeks. The treatment note indicates that plaintiff had an MRI, which showed a partial tear of the plantar fascia and it was recommended that plaintiff wear a walking fiberglass cast for four weeks. (Tr. 213). Plaintiff was seen for a follow up visit, on March 28, 2008. The walking fiberglass cast was removed and plaintiff was told to wear a CAM boot for an additional four weeks. The assessment was healing partial tear right plantar fascia. (Tr. 205).

On April 4, 2008, plaintiff was seen for a follow up visit and it was noted that plaintiff's pain had increased and was very significant. Dr. Tawell recommended that plaintiff be evaluated by a surgeon for consideration of a plantar fascial and nerve release. (Tr. 204).

On April 8, 2008, plaintiff underwent a right distal tarsal tunnel release and first branch lateral plantar nerve decompression, and a left partial plantar facial release, performed by Steven M. Raikin, M.D. (Tr. 200-204). The postoperative diagnoses were right recalcitrant plantar fasciitis, and right lateral planar nerve impingement syndrome. (Tr. 200).

Physical therapy records from NovaCare Rehabilitation indicate that plaintiff attended physical therapy on June 5, 2008. It was recommended that plaintiff attend therapy three times per week for four weeks. (Tr. 233-235). Plaintiff next attended therapy on July 21, 24, and 29, 2008 and August 5, 2008. Treatment records indicate that plaintiff tolerated the treatment without complaints of pain or difficulty. (Tr. 224-235). The next physical therapy record is from August 22, 2008, and indicates that plaintiff was discharged from therapy for noncompliance. At discharge, plaintiff's prognosis was fair. (Tr. 219-220)

Plaintiff was again seen by Dr. Tawell on December 30, 2008, after plaintiff fell and experienced pain in her right ankle. The assessment was right medial ankle sprain. Plaintiff was placed in a CAM boot. (Tr. 217).

On January 20, 2009, plaintiff was seen for continued care of her right ankle sprain. Plaintiff reported no improvement after wearing the CAM boot for three weeks. Plaintiff's neurovascular status was intact throughout the lower extremity and there were no clinical signs of a sympathetically mediated pain syndrome. Plaintiff had a limp on the right side when ambulating ...


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