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Rudenco v. Astrue

September 21, 2010

OXANA RUDENCO, PLAINTIFF,
v.
MICHAEL J. ASTRUE, COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Kendall J. Newman United States Magistrate Judge

ORDER

Plaintiff, who is represented by counsel, seeks judicial review of a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner") denying her application for Supplemental Security Income ("SSI") benefits under Title XVI of the Social Security Act ("Act").*fn1 In her motion for summary judgment, plaintiff contends that the administrative law judge in this case, Administrative Law Judge Theodore T.N. Slocum ("ALJ"), erred by:

(1) improperly rejecting the medical opinion of one of her treating physicians, Anna Mirzoyan, M.D. ("Dr. Mirzoyan"); (2) discounting plaintiff's testimony, in part, as not credible; and (3) not finding that certain alleged conditions were severe at step two of the applicable five-step sequential analysis. (See Pl.'s Mot. for Summ. J. at 4, Dkt. No. 19.) The Commissioner filed an opposition to plaintiff's motion and a cross-motion for summary judgment. (Dkt. No. 22.) Plaintiff filed a reply brief. (Dkt. No. 23.)

For the reasons stated below, the court denies plaintiff's motion for summary judgment and grants the Commissioner's cross-motion for summary judgment.

I. BACKGROUND*fn2

Plaintiff, who immigrated to the United States from the Republic of Moldova in September 2003, was 31 years old at the time she filed her application for SSI benefits. (Administrative Transcript ("AT") 18, 24, 73.) She completed a high school education, can speak some English, and took some community college classes. (AT 19, 24, 26, 161-62.) Plaintiff has little work history, but worked as a cafeteria employee at the community college for approximately two years. (AT 26, 31, 93.) She claims to have ceased working and going to school, in part, because of her obesity problems and headaches. (AT 30, 31.)

A. Procedural Background

On February 20, 2007, plaintiff filed an application for SSI benefits, alleging a disability onset date of May 24, 2006. (AT 73-81, 92.) The Social Security Administration denied plaintiff's application initially and upon reconsideration. (AT 50-51, 54-58, 60-64.) Plaintiff filed a timely request for a hearing, and the ALJ conducted a hearing regarding plaintiff's claims. (AT 20-49, 66.) Plaintiff, who was represented by counsel at the hearing, was the only person to testify at the hearing.*fn3

In a decision dated January 29, 2009, the ALJ denied plaintiff's application, finding that plaintiff could perform jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy.*fn4 (AT 12-19.) The ALJ's decision became the final decision of the Commissioner when the Appeals Council denied plaintiff's request for review. (AT 1-3.) Plaintiff subsequently filed this action.

B. Summary of the ALJ's Findings

The ALJ conducted the required five-step evaluation and concluded that plaintiff was not disabled within the meaning of the Act. At step one, the ALJ found that plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful employment since February 20, 2007, the date she filed her application for benefits. (AT 14.) At step two, the ALJ concluded that plaintiff had the following "severe" impairments: morbid obesity, chronic leg pain, and headaches. (AT 14.) Relevant to plaintiff's motion for summary judgment, the ALJ found that the following claimed impairments were not "severe" within the meaning of the Act: hypertension, diabetes, sleep apnea, shortness of breath, and an adjustment disorder with depressed mood. (Pl.'s Mot. for Summ. J. at 8-9; AT 14-15.) At step three, the ALJ determined that plaintiff's impairments, whether alone or in combination, did not meet or medically equal any impairment listed in the applicable regulations. (AT 15.)

The ALJ further determined that plaintiff had the residual functional capacity ("RFC") "to perform the full range of sedentary work as defined in 20 CFR 416.967(a)."*fn5 (AT 15.) In assessing plaintiff's RFC, the ALJ found that plaintiff's statements concerning the intensity, persistence, and limiting effects of her symptoms were not credible to the extent that they conflicted with the assessed RFC. (AT 15-17.)

Having assessed plaintiff's RFC, the ALJ found at step four that plaintiff "has no past relevant work." (AT 18.) At step five, the ALJ concluded that, considering plaintiff's age, education, work experience, and RFC, the Medical-Vocational Guidelines directed a finding that plaintiff was not disabled. Specifically, he determined that as a result of plaintiff's ability to perform the full range of sedentary work, Medical-Vocational Rule (also referred to as a Medical-Vocational Guideline) 201.27*fn6 directed a finding that plaintiff was not "disabled" within the meaning of the Act. (AT 18-19.)

II. ISSUES PRESENTED

Plaintiff presents three issues for review. First, she argues that the ALJ failed to give controlling weight to the opinion of plaintiff's treating physician, Dr. Mirzoyan, regarding plaintiff's inability to perform sedentary work. Second, plaintiff argues that the ALJ's finding that plaintiff's testimony was not entirely credible is not supported by substantial evidence in the record. Finally, plaintiff argues that the ALJ erred by finding that her alleged impairments of hypertension, ...


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