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Louise Pena v. Michael J. Astrue

April 19, 2012

LOUISE PENA, PLAINTIFF,
v.
MICHAEL J. ASTRUE, COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Sheri Pym United States Magistrate Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

I. INTRODUCTION

On July 21, 2011, plaintiff Louise Pena filed a complaint against defendant Michael J. Astrue, seeking a review of a denial of Disability Insurance Benefits ("DIB") and Supplemental Security Income benefits ("SSI"). Both plaintiff and defendant have consented to proceed for all purposes before the assigned Magistrate Judge pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c). The parties' briefing is now complete, and the court deems the matter suitable for adjudication without oral argument.

Two issues are presented for decision here: (1) whether the Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") properly determined at step five that plaintiff is capable of performing work as telephone quotation clerk, order clerk, and document preparer; and (2) whether the ALJ properly evaluated plaintiff's credibility and subjective symptoms. Pl.'s Mem. at 3-7, 7-12; Def.'s Mem. at 3-7, 7-10.

Having carefully studied, inter alia, the parties' written submissions and the Administrative Record ("AR"), the court concludes that, as detailed herein, the ALJ failed to meet the Commissioner's step five burden to demonstrate that plaintiff can perform other jobs in the regional and national economy. In addition, the ALJ inappropriately discounted plaintiff's credibility and her subjective complaints. Therefore, the court remands this matter to the Commissioner in accordance with the principles and instructions enunciated in this Memorandum Opinion and Order.

II. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

Plaintiff, who was forty-nine years old on the date of her September 24, 2009 administrative hearing, has two years of college education. See AR at 29-30. Her past relevant work includes employment as a salesclerk and caregiver. Id. at 30, 172.

On May 14, 2008, plaintiff applied for DIB and SSI, alleging that she has been disabled since May 1, 2005 due to epilepsy, depression, high cholesterol, and panic attacks. See AR at 89-93, 94-96, 102. Plaintiff's applications were denied initially, after which she filed a request for a hearing. Id. at 39, 40, 41-45, 46-50, 51-52.

On September 24, 2009, plaintiff, represented by counsel, appeared and testified at a hearing before the ALJ. AR at 23-24, 29-37. The ALJ also heard testimony from Lowell Sparks, a medical expert ("ME"). Id. at 24-29. Thereafter, Alan Boroskin, a vocational expert ("VE"), answered and submitted Vocational Expert Interrogatories to the ALJ. Id. at 172-74. On January 8, 2010, the ALJ denied plaintiff's request for benefits. Id. at 9-17.

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 disability onset date. AR at 11.

At step two, the ALJ found that plaintiff suffers from severe medically determinable impairments consisting of: epilepsy, morbid obesity, high cholesterol, panic attacks, and depression. AR at 11.

At step three, the ALJ determined that the evidence does not demonstrate that plaintiff's impairments, either individually or in combination, meet or medically equal the severity of any listing set forth in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix

1. AR at 11.

The ALJ then assessed plaintiff's residual functional capacity ("RFC") and*fn1 determined that she can perform medium work. ...


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