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Dale Anne Watkins v. Michael J. Astrue

January 17, 2012

DALE ANNE WATKINS, 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 March 8, 2011, plaintiff Dale Anne Watkins ("Plaintiff") filed a complaint against defendant Michael J. Astrue ("Defendant"), the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, seeking review of a denial of supplemental security income benefits ("SSI"). [Docket No. 3.]

On October 3, 2011, Defendant filed his answer, along with a certified copy of the administrative record. [Docket Nos. 14, 15.]

In sum, having carefully studied, inter alia, the parties' joint stipulation and the administrative record, the Court concludes that, as detailed below, there is substantial evidence in the record, taken as a whole, to support the decision of the Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"). Thus, the Court affirms the Commissioner's decision denying benefits.

II. PERTINENT FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

Plaintiff, who was 48 years old on the date of her administrative hearing, has a high school equivalent education and training as a cosmetologist. (See Administrative Record ("AR") at 20, 28, 56, 128, 151.)

On August 24, 2007, Plaintiff filed for SSI, alleging that she has been disabled since February 1, 2002 due to blindness, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, bipolar disorder, mental illness, and hepatitis C. (See AR at 70, 147, 191.)

On December 7, 2009, Plaintiff, represented by counsel, appeared and testified at a hearing before an ALJ. (See AR at 20-67.) Elizabeth Ramos, a vocational expert ("VE"), also testified. (Id.; see also id. at 123-25.)

On January 19, 2010, the ALJ denied Plaintiff's request for benefits. (AR at 9-19.) Applying the familiar five-step sequential evaluation process, the ALJ found, at step one, that Plaintiff has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since her SSI application date. (Id. at 11.)

At step two, the ALJ found that Plaintiff suffers from severe impairments consisting of "lumbar strain with degenerative changes by history, Hepatitis C, corneal scar, left eye, obesity, and bipolar disorder." (AR at 11 (emphasis and citations omitted).)

At step three, the ALJ determined that the evidence did not demonstrate that Plaintiff's impairments, either individually or in combination, meet or medically equaled the severity of any listing set forth in the Social Security regulations.*fn1 (AR at 12.)

The ALJ then assessed Plaintiff's residual functional capacity*fn2 ("RFC") and determined that she can perform light work. Specifically, the ALJ found:

[Plaintiff] can stand and/or walk for six hours in an eight hour work day, sit for six hours in an eight hour work day, occasionally balance, kneel, crouch, crawl, and stoop, must avoid concentrated exposure to fumes, dust, gases, poor ventilation, unprotected heights, and dangerous machinery, and cannot engage in work requiring continuous near and far vision, but can perform frequent near and far vision tasks. [Plaintiff] can also engage in simple, routine work, meaning she can understand, remember, and carry[ out] simple job instructions, adapt to a routine work setting, use judgment, and interact with others, but would have difficulty engaging in complex or detailed work. (AR at 13 (emphasis omitted).)

The ALJ found, at step four, that Plaintiff has the ability to perform her past relevant work as a retail sales clerk. (AR at 17.)

In the alternative, at step five, based on Plaintiff's RFC and the VE's testimony, the ALJ also found that "there are jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy that [Plaintiff] can perform," including plastic roller, racker of bakery products, and basket filler. (AR at 18-19.) Thus, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff was not suffering from a disability as defined by the Act. (Id. at 9, 19.)

Plaintiff filed a timely request for review of the ALJ's decision, which was denied by the Appeals Council. (AR at 1-3, 5.) The ALJ's decision stands as ...


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