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Vargas v. Berryhill

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

March 13, 2018

NANCY BERRYHILL, [1]Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          Mariani, J.


          JOSEPH F. SAPORITO, JR. U.S. Magistrate Judge

         This is an action brought under 42 U.S.C. §405(g), seeking judicial review of the Commissioner of Social Security's final decision denying Renee Kathleen Vargas's claims for disability insurance benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act. This matter has been referred to the undersigned Magistrate Judge for the preparation of the report and recommended disposition pursuant to the provisions of 28 U.S.C. §636(b) and Rule 72(b) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.

         For the reasons stated herein, we respectfully recommend that the decision of the Commissioner be AFFIRMED.

         I. Background and Procedural History

         Vargas is an adult individual born August 7, 1975. She was thirty-seven years old at the time of the alleged onset of disability-March 1, 2013. (Tr. 82).

         Vargas's age at the onset date places her in a category of a “younger person” under the Commissioner's regulations whose age generally does not affect her ability to adjust to other work.

         On March 11, 2013, Vargas protectively filed an application for benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act alleging disability as of December 1, 2012.[2] In her application, Vargas alleged that the following impairments prevent her from engaging in any work: atrial fibrillation, arthritis in back and knee, ulcers, and depression. (Tr. 82).

         Vargas's claim was initially denied on September 12, 2013. Thereafter, on October 16, 2013, Vargas filed a timely request for an administrative hearing. Her request was granted. Vargas appeared and testified before Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) Richard Zack on February 26, 2015. Vargas was represented by counsel, John D. Michelin, throughout the proceeding. In addition, impartial vocational expert (“VE”) Nadine Henzes also appeared and testified during the administrative hearing.

         On March 23, 2015, the ALJ denied Vargas's application for benefits in a written decision. On May 26, 2015, Vargas sought further review of her claims by the Appeals Council, but her request was denied on August 23, 2016. This makes the ALJ's March 23, 2015, decision the final decision subject to judicial review by this Court.

         Vargas filed a timely complaint in this Court on September 30, 2016. (Doc. 1). In her complaint, Vargas alleges that the final decision of the Commissioner is not supported by substantial evidence, contains errors of law, and should be reversed and/or remanded for a new hearing.

         On December 16, 2016, the Commissioner filed her answer, in which she maintains that the ALJ's decision was made in accordance with the law and is supported by substantial evidence. (Doc. 8).

         This matter has been fully briefed by the parties and is ripe for decision. (Docs. 11, 12, and 13).

         II. Statement of Facts

         At the time of the administrative hearing, Vargas was thirty nine years old and resided with her husband and three children ages, 17, 16, and 10, in Long Pond, Pennsylvania, which is in the Middle District of Pennsylvania. (Tr. 40). Vargas's past work includes: janitor and security guard. (Tr. 153).

         Vargas stated that she wakes up around 6:30 a.m., takes her children to the bus, depending on her day, and then she takes her medication and goes back to sleep. (Tr. 42).

         Vargas stated that because of the pain in her knees, her daughter helps her with the chores around the house. Vargas seldom goes up and down the steps. (Tr. 42). She stated that she does laundry one to two times a week and dusts once a month with the help of her husband and children. (Tr. 147).

         Vargas stated at the hearing that she does not prepare meals, and as a consequence her children eat mostly tv-dinners. (Tr. 42). She stated that she takes her two older children to the grocery store with her, and if she has pain while there, she gives them the list and they call her when they are ready to go to register to pay. (Tr. 43).

         Vargas is able to care for her personal needs. (Tr. 146).

         At the hearing, Vargas stated that she has no hobbies. (Tr. 43).

         She stated she does not do her hair with the flat iron any longer because her arms hurt, and become numb, tingly, and cramped. (Tr. 45).

         Vargas stated that she thought she was getting worse even with the treatment she was receiving at the time of the hearing. (Tr. 43).

         Vargas stated that the pain in her lower back feels like cramping, tingling, sharp pains, and stiffness. (Tr. 43).

         She stated that she could probably walk 5 to 10 minutes before experiencing pain, pinching, tingling, and numbness in her neck, in which event, she has to lean on something or sit down. (Tr. 43-44). She stated then she would have to lay down. (Tr. 44).

         Vargas stated she does not bend over to pick things up, and really does not climb stairs often because of the pain in ...

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