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Kennedy v. Saul

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

December 16, 2019

CHRISTINA FAITH KENNEDY
v.
ANDREW SAUL[1], Commissioner of Social Security

          OPINION

          JACOB P. HART UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         Christina Faith Kennedy brought this action under 42 USC §405(g) to obtain review of the decision of the Commissioner of Social Security denying her claim for Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”). She has filed a Request for Review to which the Commissioner has responded. As set forth below, Kennedy's Request for Review will be denied, and judgment granted in favor of the Commissioner.

         I. Factual and Procedural Background

         Kennedy was born on March 21, 1976. Record at 142. She obtained a college degree. Record at 177. She worked in the past as an administrator in several personal care homes for the elderly. Record at 178.

         On March 2, 2015, Kennedy filed her application. Record at 142. In it, she asserted disability as of November 10, 2014, as a result of benign hypermobility joint syndrome, fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue and pain, restless leg syndrome, sleep disturbance, depression, anxiety, and cognitive impairment. Record at 142, 176. At her hearing, Kennedy amended her onset date to May 1, 2015, and withdrew her claims of mental illness. Record at 33.

         Kennedy's application for benefits was denied on May 13, 2015. Record at 71. She then sought de novo review by an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”). Record at 80. A hearing took place in this matter on August 29, 2017. Record at 29. On September 19, 2017, however, the ALJ issued a written decision denying benefits. Record at 12. The Appeals Council denied Kennedy's request for review, permitting the ALJ's decision to stand as the final decision of the Commissioner. Record at 3. Kennedy then filed this action.

         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); Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389 (1971); Doak v. Heckler, 790 F.2d 26, 28 (3d Cir. 1986); Newhouse v. Heckler, 753 F.2d 283, 285 (3d Cir. 1985). Substantial evidence is relevant evidence viewed objectively as adequate to support a decision. Richardson v. Perales, supra at 401; 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).

         To prove disability, 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." 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1). 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 C.F.R. § 404.1520 (references to other regulations omitted).

         III. The ALJ's Decision and Kennedy's Request for Review

         The ALJ determined that Kennedy suffered from the severe impairments of mild sleep apnea, periodic limb movement disorder, benign hypermobility syndrome and possible Ehlers-Danlos syndrome. Record at 18. He found that no impairment, and no combination of impairments, met or medically equaled a listed impairment. Record at 19.

         The ALJ found that Kennedy retained the following residual functional capacity (“RFC”):

Light work … except the claimant is limited to frequently reaching overhead bilaterally; and all other reaching is limited to frequent bilaterally. The claimant's ability to handle is limited to frequent bilaterally; the claimant's ability to finger is limited to frequent bilaterally; and the claimant's ability to feel is limited to frequent bilaterally. The claimant can climb ramps and stairs occasionally; can climb ladders, ropes and scaffolds occasionally; and can balance, stoop, kneel, crouch and crawl occasionally. The claimant can work at unprotected heights occasionally; move mechanical parts occasionally; and can operate a motor vehicle occasionally. The claimant can work in extreme cold occasionally. The claimant requires a sit-stand option; and will be off-task ten percent of the day in addition to normal breaks.

Record at 19-20.

         Relying upon the testimony of a vocational expert who appeared at the hearing, the ALJ determined that Kennedy could work as a small products assembler, light product inspector, or packer. Record at 23. He concluded, therefore, that she was not disabled. Id.

         In her Request for Review, Kennedy raises these arguments: (1) the ALJ wrongly failed to consider certain evidence of impairment; (2) the ALJ wrongly failed to credit the opinions offered by treating care providers; (3) the ALJ erred in failing to identify fibromyalgia as a severe impairment; (4) the ALJ erred in failing to identify the intervals at which Kennedy must alternate sitting and standing; (5) the ALJ wrongly relied on the “sit and squirm test”; and (6) the ALJ failed to consider Kennedy's excellent work history.

         IV. Discussion

         A. The ALJ's Treatment of the Evidence

         In ten pages of her brief, Kennedy identifies over fifteen individual treatment notes which she claims were either ignored or misinterpreted by the ALJ. Brief at 11-21. She also complains that the ALJ failed to evaluate the Disability Report she filed in connection ...


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