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Pamela S. Plumb v. Michael J. Astrue

March 24, 2011

PAMELA S. PLUMB, PLAINTIFF,
v.
MICHAEL J. ASTRUE, COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Hon. Jay C. Gandhi United States Magistrate Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

I. INTRODUCTION AND SUMMARY

On October 2, 2009, plaintiff Pamela S. Plumb ("Plaintiff") filed a complaint against defendant Michael J. Astrue ("Defendant"), the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, seeking review of a denial of disability insurance benefits ("DIB"). [Docket No. 1.]

On May 25, 2010, Defendant filed his answer, along with a certified copy of the administrative record. [Docket Nos. 23, 24, 25.]

In sum, having carefully studied, inter alia, the parties' joint stipulation and the administrative record, the Court concludes that, as detailed below, the Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") improperly evaluated the opinion of Plaintiff's treating physician. The Court thus remands this matter to the Commissioner in accordance with the principles and instructions enunciated in this Memorandum Opinion and Order.

II. PERTINENT FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

Plaintiff, who was 57 years old on the date of her administrative hearing, has completed high school and some college. (See Administrative Record ("AR") at 52, 57, 124, 127.)

On June 17, 2005, Plaintiff filed for DIB, alleging that she has been disabled since October 1, 2003 due to neck, back, rib and multiple joint pain and mental health problems. (See AR at 76, 77, 78, 85, 127.)

On April 3, 2007, Plaintiff, represented by counsel, appeared and testified at a hearing before an ALJ. (See AR at 52-75.) The ALJ also heard testimony from Susan Allison, a vocational expert ("VE"). (Id.)

On May 25, 2007, the ALJ denied Plaintiff's request for benefits. (AR at 31-39.) Applying the well-known five-step sequential evaluation process, the ALJ found, at step one, that Plaintiff has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since her alleged onset date. (Id. at 33.)

At step two, the ALJ found that Plaintiff suffers from severe impairments consisting of "back pain and osteoarthritis and allied disorders." (AR at 33 (emphasis omitted).)

At step three, the ALJ determined that the evidence did not demonstrate that Plaintiff's impairment, either individually or in combination, met or medically equaled the severity of any listing set forth in the Social Security regulations.*fn1 (AR at 33.)

The ALJ then assessed Plaintiff's residual functional capacity*fn2 ("RFC") and determined that she can perform light exertion work. (AR at 33.) Specifically, the ALJ found that Plaintiff can: occasionally lift and carry twenty pounds and frequently lift and carry ten pounds[;] sit, stand and walk for a total of six hours in an eight-hour workday[;] occasionally use the left upper extremities for pushing and pulling[;] occasionally climb stairs, bend, balance, stoop, kneel, crouch, and crawl, but never climb ladders or scaffolds[;] occasionally use the left upper extremities for gross manipulations[; and] never use the left upper extremities for reaching over head. (Id. (emphasis omitted).)

The ALJ found, at step four, that Plaintiff retained the ability to perform her past relevant work as an administrative assistant and administrative clerk. (AR at 38.) Thus, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff was not suffering from a disability as defined by the Act. (Id. at 31, 39.)

Plaintiff filed a timely request for review of the ALJ's decision, which was denied by the Appeals Council. (AR at 3-6, 26.) The ALJ's decision stands as ...


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