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Michelle Lee v. Michael J. Astrue

January 25, 2012


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



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 1955, has obtained a General Education Development certificate, and has attended some community-college classes. (Administrative Record ("AR" 34, 520-21.) Plaintiff has worked as a restaurant cook and a hotel housekeeper, but has not worked since October 2005. (AR 70, 143.) On October 4, 2005, Plaintiff filed an application for SSI, alleging several impairments including fallen arches and a heart problem. (AR 49, 60.)

Plaintiff has previously filed numerous applications for SSI.*fn2 (AR 25-26.) Plaintiff has experienced continuous physical problems associated with arthritic and degenerative body pain, hypertension, and obesity. (AR 34.) These ongoing conditions have resulted in Plaintiff's increased issues with depression, anxiety and a mood disorder, which have rendered her unable to perform past relevant work. (AR 28, 34.)

A. Medical Evidence

1. Yang Michelle Sun, M.D.

On August 26, 2006, Yang Michelle Sun, M.D., a state agency physician specializing in internal medicine, examined Plaintiff. (AR 233-37.) Dr. Sun opined that Plaintiff could (1) stand and walk six hours in an eight-hour workday; (2) sit without restrictions for an eight-hour workday; and (3) lift fifteen pounds frequently and up to thirty pounds occasionally. (AR 237.) Dr. Sun noted Plaintiff's postural limitations due to lower-back pain, but found no limitations for reaching, handling, feeling, grasping, or fingering.*fn3 (AR 237.) Dr. Sun also opined that Plaintiff had no communicative or workplace environmental limitations. (AR 237.) Dr. Sun noted, however, that Plaintiff had a flat mood during the examination, and was "highly suspicious" that Plaintiff was suffering from depression. (AR 237.)

2. Catherine Eskander, M.D.

On October 1, 2006, Catherine Eskander, M.D., a reviewing state agency physician, completed a physical residual functional capacity ("RFC")*fn4 questionnaire. (AR 289-96.) Dr. Eskander found Plaintiff able to (1) lift twenty pounds occasionally and ten pounds frequently; (2) stand/walk/sit about six hours in an eight-hour workday; and (3) push and/or pull without limitations. (AR 290.) She also found Plaintiff has no postural, manipulative, visual, or environmental limitations. (AR 291-93.) Dr. Eskander opined that Plaintiff was partially credible as to the severity of the pain in relation to her impairments and noted that Plaintiff is capable of light work with possible modifications. (AR 294, 97-98.)

3. Philip M. Cushman, Ph.D.

On December 2, 2006, Philip M. Cushman, Ph.D. performed a psychological evaluation of Plaintiff's cognitive functioning. (AR 238-43.) Dr. Cushman opined that Plaintiff may have difficulty performing detailed or complex tasks, but suspected that Plaintiff could easily perform simple and repetitive tasks. (AR 243.) Dr. Cushman also noted that Plaintiff may have difficulty maintaining regular attendance at a job because of her conditions. (AR 243.) Further, he suspected that although Plaintiff would have a difficult time working a normal workday or workweek she "most likely could work part-time." (AR 243.) Dr. Cushman assigned Plaintiff a Global Assessment of Functioning ("GAF") score of 60, indicating moderate difficulties in social functioning, and added that Plaintiff may experience difficulty functioning in a social environment. (AR 30, 243.)

4. Dr. Harrison

On December 27, 2006, Dr. Harrison, a reviewing state agency psychiatrist, completed a mental RFC questionnaire. (AR 299-314.) Dr. Harrison noted Plaintiff had a moderately limited ability to, among other things, complete a normal workday and workweek without interruptions, interact socially with co-workers and the general public, and adapt to changes in the workplace. (AR 300.) Dr. Harrison opined that Plaintiff is capable of learning and performing simple, repetitive tasks with limited public contact. (AR 313.)

5. Paul Weiner, D.P.M.

On April 20, 2007, Paul Weiner, D.P.M., a podiatrist, completed a mental disorders evaluation form concerning Plaintiff. (AR 261-63.) Dr. Weiner opined, in check-box form, that Plaintiff's mental impairments would not affect her ability to complete a normal workday and workweek. (AR 263.) Dr. Weiner noted, however, that he only treated Plaintiff for issues related to her feet. (AR 263.)

6. M. Morando, M.D.*fn5

On September 24, 2007, Dr. Morando, a non-examining state agency physician, reviewed the file and affirmed Dr. Harrison's assessment of Plaintiff's mental functioning capacity that Plaintiff could perform simple, ...

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