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Arlinda Massey-Rhodes v. Michael J. Astrue

December 6, 2012

ARLINDA MASSEY-RHODES, 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 January 13, 2012, plaintiff Arlinda Massey-Rhodes filed a complaint against defendant Michael J. Astrue, seeking a review of a denial of Disability Insurance Benefits ("DIB"). 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 four specific disputed issues for decision: (1) whether the administrative law judge ("ALJ") properly assessed lay witness testimony regarding plaintiff's work at the YWCA; (2) whether the ALJ properly determined that plaintiff's lumbar impairment is not legally severe; (3) whether the ALJ properly rejected the opinions of plaintiff's treating physicians; (4) whether the ALJ properly assessed plaintiff's credibility. Memorandum in Support of Plaintiff's Complaint ("P. Mem.") at 12-21; Defendant's Memorandum in Support of Answer ("D. Mem.") at 2-9.

Having carefully studied, inter alia, the parties's written submissions, the Administrative Record ("AR"), and the decision of the ALJ, the court concludes that, as detailed herein, the ALJ failed to explain why he rejected significant probative evidence in his determination that plaintiff engaged in substantial gainful activity, and the ALJ improperly discounted plaintiff's credibility. 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 52 years old on the date of her March 17, 2010 administrative hearing, completed several years of college. AR at 58, 92, 106. Her past relevant work includes employment as a school director and teacher. Id. at 106.

On November 29, 2005, plaintiff filed an application for DIB, alleging an onset date of July 12, 2004, due to a large tumor in her right hip, muscle weakness, pain, and memory problems. Id. at 135, 203 The Commissioner denied plaintiff's application initially and upon reconsideration, after which she filed a request for a hearing. Id. at 135, 141, 147.

On June 12, 2007, plaintiff, represented by counsel, appeared and testified at a hearing before the ALJ. Id. at 51, 57-84. Vocational expert ("VE") Gail Marin also provided testimony. Id. at 84-90. The ALJ denied benefits on July 20, 2007. Id. at 39-48.

Plaintiff filed a request for review of the decision in August 2007. Id. at 169. On February 15, 2008, the Appeals Council remanded the case, ordering that the ALJ: obtain additional evidence concerning plaintiff's impairments to complete the administrative record in accordance with the regulatory standards regarding consultative examinations and existing medical evidence; evaluate lay witness testimony under the guidelines set forth in Social Security Ruling 06-3p and provide reasons for the conclusions reached; give further consideration to plaintiff's maximum residual functional capacity during the period at issue and provide rationale, with specific references to record evidence, in support of assessed limitations, and in so doing, evaluate the treating source opinion under the provisions of 20 CFR 404.1527 and Social Security Rulings 96-2p and 96-5p, explaining the weight given to such opinion evidence; and, finally, if warranted by the expanded record, obtain supplemental evidence from a vocational expert to clarify the effect of the assessed limitations on plaintiff's occupational base. Id. at 133.

On March 17, 2010, plaintiff appeared and testified at a second hearing. Id. at 92-127. Vocational expert Gail L. Marin and medical expert Arthur Brovender, M.D. also testified. Id. On March 22, 2010, the ALJ again denied plaintiff's claim for benefits ("the 2010 Decision"). Id. at 32.

Applying the well-known five-step sequential evaluation process, the ALJ found, at step one, that plaintiff engaged in substantial gainful activity during the period from her alleged onset date of July 12, 2004 through her date last insured of December 31, 2009; that is, she was specifically engaged in substantial gainful activity from August 2007 through November 2008. Id. at 24.

At step two, the ALJ found that plaintiff suffered from the following severe impairments: benign tumor ("lipoma") with removal and resulting cavity ("seroma"), and morbid obesity. Id at 25.

At step three, the ALJ found that plaintiff's impairments did not meet or medically equal one of the listed impairments set forth in the Listings. Id. at 27.

The ALJ then assessed plaintiff's residual functional capacity ("RFC") and *fn1 determined that she had the RFC to perform the full range of sedentary work, as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(a). Id at 28.

The ALJ found, at step four, that plaintiff was able to perform her past relevant work as a teacher from December 2008 through the date last insured of December 31, 2009. Id. at 31.

At step five, the ALJ found plaintiff capable of performing other, sedentary work that exists in a significant number of jobs in the national economy. Id. at 31-32. The ALJ ...


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