United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania
MALACHY E. MANNION, District Judge.
Plaintiff Kenya Hayes has filed this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §405(g) seeking review of a decision of the Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner") denying Hayes' claim for social security disability insurance benefits and supplemental security income benefits.
Disability insurance benefits are paid to an individual if that individual is disabled and "insured." Hayes met the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act through December 31, 2012. Tr. 13. Therefore, to be entitled to disability insurance benefits, Hayes must establish that she suffered from a disability on or before that date. 42 U.S.C. §423(a)(1)(A).
Hayes protectively filed her applications for social security disability insurance benefits and supplemental security income benefits on November 5, 2010, claiming that she became disabled on August 1, 2008 and November 22, 2008, respectively. Tr. 85, 89. Hayes has been diagnosed with obesity, carpal tunnel syndrome, fibromyalgia, and Raynaud's phenomenon. Tr. 14. On March 30, 2011, Hayes' applications were denied by the Bureau of Disability Determination. Tr. 61, 66.
On May 2, 2011, Hayes requested a hearing before an administrative law judge ("ALJ"). Tr. 71. The ALJ conducted a hearing on March 28, 2012, where Hayes was represented by an attorney. Tr. 27-51. On May 25, 2012, the ALJ issued a decision denying Hayes' applications. Tr. 11-21. On July 1, 2013, the Appeals Council declined to grant review. Tr. 1. Hayes subsequently filed a complaint before this Court on September 4, 2013, and this case became ripe for disposition on February 14, 2014, when Hayes declined to file a reply brief.
Hayes appeals the ALJ's decision on the sole ground that the ALJ's residual functional capacity determination was unsupported by substantial evidence. For the reasons set forth below, the decision of the Commission is affirmed.
Statement of Relevant Facts
Hayes was thirty years of age at the time of the ALJ's decision. She has a high school education, and is able to read, write, speak, and understand the English language. Tr. 31, 115. Hayes' past relevant work includes work as a grocery store cashier/clerk, which is classified as light, semi-skilled work, as a cashier, which is light, unskilled work, and as a teaching assistant, which is classified as light, semi-skilled work. Tr. 47.
A. Hayes' Physical Impairments
On December 28, 2009, Hayes presented to Manju Chanana, M.D. complaining of numbness in her hands. Tr. 149. Hayes denied fatigue, heat intolerance, cold intolerance, muscle pain, joint pain, stiffness, or swelling. Tr. 150. A physical examination revealed no cervical or paralumbar tenderness, though Hayes was obese. Id . Dr. Chanana referred Hayes to a neurologist for evaluation of her hand numbness. Tr. 151.
On February 9, 2010, Hayes presented for a neurological evaluation with Ralf Van Der Sluis, M.D. and Nathan Carr, PA-C. Tr. 263-66. Hayes complained of numbness in her hands that had been present for two to three years and had grown progressively worse. Tr. 263. Hayes had full strength throughout her body except that her grip strength was 5-/5. Tr. 265. She had normal muscle tone with no atrophy, intact sensation, nearly full reflexes, and no gait disturbance. Id . Dr. Van Der Sluis noted that Tinel and Phalen tests were positive bilaterally, indicating carpal tunnel syndrome. Id . Hayes was diagnosed with C5-6 radiculopathy and "carpal tunnel syndrome versus Raynaud's phenomenon." Tr. 266.
Hayes returned to Dr. Van Der Sluis and Mr. Carr on February 18, 2010 and March 24, 2010 with unchanged symptomology and similar physical examination findings. Tr. 241-42, 261-62. Dr. Van Der Sluis noted that a February 17, 2010 EMG test of the upper extremities revealed "bilateral carpal tunnel syndrome[.]" Tr. 241. A blood test was positive for the presence of ANA and revealed increased sedimentation rates, both of which were indicative of lupus or mixed connective tissue disorder. Tr. 229. Based on these test results, Dr. Van Der Sluis referred Hayes to a rheumatologist. Tr. 241.
On July 27, 2010, Hayes presented to Mr. Carr with continued complaints of widespread pain and discomfort. Tr. 257. A physical examination was unchanged from previous visits. Id . On October 26, 2010, Mr. Carr noted that Hayes had full strength in her extremities with brisk and hyperactive reflexes. Tr. 255. A slump test was negative, though Hayes did have swelling in the DIP and PIP hand joints bilaterally. Id . Mr. Carr noted that Hayes was using wrist splints for her carpal ...