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Debra Stewart v. Michael J. Astrue

March 24, 2011


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Sheila K. Oberto United States Magistrate Judge


(Doc. 1)


Plaintiff seeks judicial review of a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security (the "Commissioner" or "Defendant") denying her application for Supplemental Security Income ("SSI") pursuant to Title XVI of the Social Security Act. 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g), 1383(c)(3). The matter is currently before the Court on the parties' briefs, which were submitted, without oral argument, to the Honorable Sheila K. Oberto, United States Magistrate Judge.*fn1


Plaintiff was born in 1967, completed the tenth grade, and has no past relevant work. (Administrative Record ("AR") 80, 124, 167.) On August 16, 2004, Plaintiff filed an application for SSI, alleging disability beginning on August 10, 2001, due to lumbar disc disease and diabetes. (AR 87, 124-27.)

A. Medical Evidence

1. Dr. Tran

On May 12, 2007, Juliane Tran, M.D., performed a consultative orthopedic examination of Plaintiff. (AR 617-21.) Dr. Tran stated that Plaintiff's straightaway gait was normal, but generally slow. (AR 619.) Plaintiff declined to toe-heel walk due to pain, and did not use an assistive device. (AR 619.) Plaintiff's straight leg test raising was negative on the right, with complaints of back pain, and the straight leg raising test in the sitting position produced back pain, without radicular symptoms. (AR 619.) Plaintiff's motor strength was 5/5 bilaterally in all extremities, except for the quadriceps, which were 4-/5. (AR 620.)

Dr. Tran opined that Plaintiff was capable of lifting 20 pounds occasionally and 10 pounds frequently, sitting for six hours daily and standing for four hours, and that she may need to alternate between sitting and standing throughout the day. (AR 620.) Dr. Tran also opined that Plaintiff could frequently bend and stoop, and did not need an assistive device to ambulate. (AR 621.)

2. Dr. Pineda

On August 27, 2007, Gregorio Pineda, M.D., a neurologist, completed a consultative neurological examination of Plainitff. (AR 630-31.) Dr. Pineda's diagnoses included "lumbosacral syndrome, post op, persisting pain," "diabetic polyneuropathy," and "podiatric problem, both lower extremities." (AR 631.) Because of these problems, Dr. Pineda opined that "any job which requires any amount of standing or prolonged sitting would be very difficult for [Plaintiff]." (AR 631.)

On January 25, 2008, Dr. Pineda conducted a nerve conduction test, which revealed a "normal nerve conduction study of both lower extremities" and possibly an early neuropathy.*fn2 (AR 642.)

3. Dr. Hirokawa

On September 9, 2007, Greg Hirokawa, Ph.D., completed a consultative psychiatric evaluation of Plaintiff. (AR 632-40.) Dr. Hirokawa diagnosed Plaintiff with adjustment disorder with mixed emotional features, and assigned a GAF score of 64.*fn3 (AR 635-36.) Dr. Hirokawa noted that Plaintiff's "symptoms of depression and anxiety appear to be within the mild range . . . . The likelihood of [Plaintiff's] mental condition improving within the next 12 months is fair." (AR 626.)

Dr. Hirokawa opined that Plaintiff's ability to understand, remember, and carry out simple and complex instructions was mildly limited. (AR 638.) Plaintiff's ability to make judgments on simple and complex work-related decisions was also mildly limited. (AR 638.) Plaintiff's ability to interact appropriately with supervisors, co-workers, and the public was mildly limited. (AR 639.) Finally, Plaintiff's was mildly limited in her ability to respond appropriately to usual work situations and to changes in a routine work setting. (AR 639.)

4. State Agency Physician

On January 10, 2005, Lavanya Bobba, M.D., a state agency medical consultant, assessed Plaintiff's physical residual functional capacity ("RFC")*fn4 and opined that Plaintiff could

(1) occasionally lift and/or carry 20 pounds and frequently 10 pounds; (2) stand and/or walk for a total of about six hours in an eight-hour workday; (3) sit for about six hours in an eight-hour workday; and (4) perform unlimited pushing and/or pulling with the upper and lower extremities. (AR 342.) Further, Plaintiff could occasionally climb, balance, stoop, kneel, crouch, and crawl. (AR 343.) Finally, Plaintiff had no manipulative, visual, communicative, or environmental limitations other than avoiding concentrated exposure to "[f]umes, odors, ...

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