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Sally E. Richardson v. Michael J. Astrue

April 25, 2012

SALLY E. RICHARDSON, 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 February 23, 2011, plaintiff Sally E. Richardson filed a complaint against defendant Michael J. Astrue, seeking a review of a denial of a period of disability, disability insurance benefits ("DIB"), and supplemental security income ("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 court deems the matter suitable for adjudication without oral argument.

Plaintiff presents two disputed issues for decision: (1) whether the Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") properly determined, at step five, that plaintiff could perform other work; and (2) whether the ALJ properly discounted plaintiff's credibility. Joint Stipulation ("JS") at 4.

Having carefully studied, inter alia, the Joint Stipulation, the Administrative Record ("AR"), and the decision of the ALJ, the court concludes that, as detailed herein, the ALJ erred at step five. Therefore, the court remands this matter to the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration ("Commissioner") in accordance with the principles and instructions enunciated in this Memorandum Opinion and Order.

II. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

Plaintiff, who was thirty-seven years old on the date of her November 17, 2008 administrative hearing, has an associate's degree in general science and received training as a medical assistant. AR at 102, 133, 237. Her past relevant work includes employment as a medical assistant and ophthalmic technician. AR at 139.

On August 25, 2006 and September 11, 2006, plaintiff filed applications for DIB, alleging a period of disability from August 25, 2006 through December 31, 2010, the date last insured, and SSI, due to carpal tunnel, wrist and ulnar pain, cervical pain, and thorocolumbar strain. AR at 17, 102-11, 125, 129. The Commissioner denied plaintiff's applications initially and upon reconsideration, after which she filed a request for a hearing. AR at 52-55, 57-61, 64.

On November 17, 2008, plaintiff, represented by counsel, appeared and testified at a hearing before the ALJ. AR at 25-46. The ALJ also heard testimony from Sharon Spaventa, a vocational expert. AR at 43-46. On December 18, 2008, the ALJ denied plaintiff's claim for benefits. AR at 14-24.

Applying the well-known five-step sequential evaluation process, the ALJ found, at step one, that plaintiff did not engage in substantial gainful activity since her alleged onset date of disability, August 24, 2006. AR at 19.

At step two, the ALJ found that plaintiff suffered from the following severe impairments: multi-level disc bulging and cervical spondylosis; migraine headaches; osteoarthritis of the lumbar spine; and right upper extremity median neuropathy. Id.

At step three, the ALJ found that plaintiff's impairments, whether individually or in combination, did not meet or medically equal one of the listed impairments set forth in 20 C.F.R. part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 (the "Listings"). AR at 20.

The ALJ then assessed plaintiff's residual functional capacity ("RFC") and *fn1 determined that she had the RFC to perform light work with the following limitations: "frequent but not constant gross and fine manipulation with the bilateral upper extremities; no overhead reaching bilaterally; and no neck posturing at the extreme end range of motion." AR at 20.

The ALJ found, at step four, that plaintiff was incapable of performing her past relevant work. AR at 22.

At step five, the ALJ determined that, based upon plaintiff's age, education, work experience, and RFC, plaintiff could perform "jobs existing in significant numbers in the national economy," including companion, usher/lobby attendant, and lot attendant. AR at 23. Consequently, the ALJ concluded that plaintiff did not suffer from a disability as defined by the Social Security Act. AR at 24.

Plaintiff filed a timely request for review of the ALJ's decision, which was denied by the Appeals Council. AR at 9-11. The ALJ's decision stands as ...


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