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Doohan v. Astrue

September 2, 2010

MONTGOMERY JOHN DOOHAN, PLAINTIFF,
v.
MICHAEL J. ASTRUE, COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: VICTOR B. Kenton United States Magistrate Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER (Social Security Case)

This matter is before the Court for review of the decision by the Commissioner of Social Security denying Plaintiff's application for disability benefits. Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §636(c), the parties have consented that the case may be handled by the Magistrate Judge. The action arises under 42 U.S.C. §405(g), which authorizes the Court to enter judgment upon the pleadings and transcript of the Administrative Record ("AR") before the Commissioner. The parties have filed the Joint Stipulation ("JS"), and the Commissioner has filed the certified AR.

Plaintiff raises the following issues:

1. Whether the Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") properly assessed Plaintiff's credibility (JS at 3); and

2. Whether the ALJ properly assessed Plaintiff's residual functional capacity ("RFC") when she found Plaintiff capable of "between light and sedentary work" (JS at 11);

This Memorandum Opinion will constitute the Court's findings of fact and conclusions of law. After reviewing the matter, the Court concludes that for the reasons set forth, the decision of the Commissioner must be reversed.

I. THE ALJ DID NOT PROPERLY ASSESS PLAINTIFF'S CREDIBILITY

This is a case in which Plaintiff's allegations about the nature and extent of his pain, and functional limitations resulting from that pain, are critical in the determination of disability. In making her determination, the ALJ largely discredited Plaintiff's assertions of pain. Plaintiff testified extensively at the hearing before the ALJ (AR 25-44), indicating that he deals with his pain from his back to his leg every day. (AR 30.) He takes medications for pain. (Id.) The pain occurs three to four or even five times a day; the medication helps him sleep and takes away some of the pain; he has serious trouble sleeping at night based on leg pain; he can take care of some of his hygiene needs, such as showering, but has some problems with dressing; he tries to walk at least a mile a day but on some days he cannot; he can be on his feet about an hour at a time but then has to rest for three to four hours; he can sit for an hour at a time or perhaps an hour and a half; the medication he takes makes him drowsy; he has no health insurance and is not receiving medical treatment through workers' compensation; he spends much of his time during the day sleeping; he does very few social activities. (AR 31-37.)

Plaintiff made similar claims in his Exertional Daily Activities Questionnaire (AR 131-136); and in a Pain Questionnaire (AR 137-139)

In her decision, the ALJ focused on Plaintiff's credibility as to his pain complaints. She first cited applicable regulations (e.g., 20 C.F.R. §404.1529), and Social Security Ruling ("SSR") 96-7p. (AR 21-22.) After noting these credibility assessment factors, the ALJ found that Plaintiff's medically determinable impairment could reasonably be expected to cause some of the alleged symptoms. She continued by stating that, "However, the [Plaintiff's] statements concerning the intensity, persistence and limiting effects of these symptoms are not credible to the extent they are inconsistent with the [determined] residual functional capacity assessment." (AR 22.)

The reasons cited in the decision are the following:

1. Plaintiff's treating orthopedist and consulting physicians felt that he was still capable of performing a significant degree of work-related activities (e.g., that Plaintiff's pain complaints are inconsistent with the objective evidence);

2. Plaintiff is not apparently receiving any current medical treatment other than medication refills;

3. Plaintiff admitted in his testimony that he is able to walk up to one mile a day, and on a Daily Activities Questionnaire, that ...


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