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Charolette K. Debello v. Michael J. Astrue

June 4, 2012

CHAROLETTE K. DEBELLO, 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 May 24, 2011, plaintiff Charolette K. Debello ("Plaintiff") filed a complaint against defendant Michael J. Astrue ("Defendant"), the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, seeking review of a denial of disability insurance benefits ("DIB"). [Docket No. 1.]

On November 29, 2011, Defendant filed his answer, along with a certified copy of the administrative record. [Docket Nos. 10-12.]

In sum, having carefully studied, inter alia, the parties' joint stipulation and the administrative record, the Court concludes that, as detailed below, the Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") improperly evaluated the opinion of Plaintiff's treating physician. The Court thus remands this matter to the Commissioner in accordance with the principles and instructions enunciated in this Memorandum Opinion and Order.

II. PERTINENT FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

Plaintiff, who was 47 years old on the date of her administrative hearing, is a college graduate. (See Administrative Record ("AR") at 204, 209, 229, 294, 328.)

On October 26, 2007, Plaintiff protectively filed for DIB, alleging that she has been disabled since July 1, 2007 due to a hernia, abdominal pain, nerve entrapment, and bladder adhesions. (See AR at 241, 242, 249, 259, 294, 322, 344.)

On February 18, 2010, Plaintiff, represented by counsel, appeared and testified at a hearing before an ALJ. (See AR at 204-40.) The ALJ also heard testimony from Elizabeth Ramos, a vocational expert ("VE"). (Id.; see also id. at 288-90.)

On February 26, 2010, the ALJ denied Plaintiff's request for benefits. (AR at 195-203.) 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 alleged onset date. (Id. at 197.)

At step two, the ALJ found that Plaintiff suffers from severe impairments consisting of "recurrent left inguinal hernia, direct type, status-post mesh (Kugel technique); status-post left inguinal herniorrhaphy; second degree nerve entrapment; neuralgia; chronic pain syndrome; and anxiety disorder, not otherwise specified."*fn1

(AR at 197 (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 equal the severity of any listing set forth in the Social Security regulations.*fn2 (AR at 199.)

The ALJ then assessed Plaintiff's residual functional capacity*fn3 ("RFC") and determined that she can "perform the full range of light work." (AR at 199 (emphasis omitted).) Specifically, the ALJ found Plaintiff "can occasionally climb ramps and stairs, balance, stoop, kneel, crouch and crawl. She can never climb ladders, ropes or scaffolds. In addition, she should avoid concentrated exposure to vibrations and hazards such as machinery and heights." (Id. (emphasis omitted).)

The ALJ found, at step four, that Plaintiff retained the ability to perform her past relevant work as a dental hygienist and a receptionist. (AR at 202.) Thus, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff was not suffering ...


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