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Lane v. Astrue

January 3, 2008


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Leon Jordan United States District Judge


This is an action for judicial review, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), of defendant Commissioner's final decision denying plaintiff's claim for Supplemental Security Income ("SSI") benefits under Title XVI of the Social Security Act. For the reasons set forth herein, defendant's motion for summary judgment [doc. 19] will be granted, and plaintiff's motion for summary judgment [doc. 14] will be denied. The final decision of the Commissioner will be affirmed.

I. Procedural History

Plaintiff applied for SSI in January 2003, claiming to be disabled by back and leg pain, hypertension, and "nerves." [Tr. 52, 58]. She alleges a disability onset date of April 1, 1998. [Tr. 52]. Plaintiff relates her purported pain to a motor vehicle accident which she has stated occurred in 1986 [Tr. 234], 1989 [Tr. 73, 136, 262, 317], 1992 [Tr. 356], and/or 1999 [Tr. 258]. She relates her anxiety and depression to allegedly suffering either one [Tr. 262] or three [Tr. 136-37, 234-35] miscarriages in the early 1990s.

Plaintiff's claim was denied initially and on reconsideration. She then requested a hearing, which took place before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") on May 17, 2005.

On October 26, 2005, the ALJ issued a decision denying benefits. He concluded that plaintiff suffers from "combined impairments which are 'severe' including degenerative disc disease, depression, anxiety, high blood pressure, restless leg syndrome, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and obesity but that she does not have an impairment or combination of impairments listed in, or medically equal to one listed in[,] Appendix 1, Subpart P, Regulations No. 4." [Tr. 23]. Of particular relevance to this appeal, the ALJ determined that plaintiff's depression and anxiety would cause no more than moderate limitations in the workplace. [Tr. 21-22]. Citing inconsistent claims, minimal objective evidence, and actions "suggestive of drug seeking behavior," the ALJ further concluded that plaintiff's allegations are "not totally credible" and that she retains the residual functional capacity to perform a full range of light work. [Tr. 19-20, 22-23]. Applying Grid Rule "202.24," the ALJ concluded that plaintiff is not disabled and therefore is ineligible for SSI benefits. [Tr. 23-24].*fn1

Plaintiff then sought review from the Commissioner's Appeals Council. On September 27, 2006, review was denied, notwithstanding plaintiff's submission of four pages of additional medical records. [Tr. 6, 9].*fn2 The ALJ's ruling became the Commissioner's final decision. See 20 C.F.R. § 416.1481. Through her timely complaint, plaintiff has properly brought her case before this court for review. See 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).

II. Background and Testimony

Plaintiff was born in 1970 and has an eleventh grade education. [Tr. 52, 137].

She stands approximately 5' 4" tall and weighs as much as 310 pounds. [Tr. 259]. Plaintiff testified (and told one doctor) that she has worked for only a single day since 1990. [Tr. 263, 346]. She twice told another medical source that she worked for a month and a half in 2002. [Tr. 137, 235]. Elsewhere, she appears to claim a seventeen year history of factory work "from 1984 til 2001." [Tr. 59].

Plaintiff alleges that she is in constant leg and back pain. [Tr. 69]. She informed the Commissioner that she is unable to independently perform most household chores because of difficulties with bending, lifting, and pulling. [Tr. 76, 108]. She testified that she can stand for no more than ten minutes at a time and sit for no more than twenty minutes. [Tr. 350-51]. She purportedly "can't go walking" and "can't hardly walk." [Tr. 104, 353].

The Commissioner referred plaintiff's case to his Cooperative Disability Investigations Unit ("CDI") "to investigate possible work concealment and malingering." [Tr. 98]. Following three witness interviews (presumably neighbors), the CDI concluded that plaintiff "might be exaggerating her disabilities in order to become entitled to benefits." [Tr. 98]. The witnesses reported that plaintiff has offered to do housework for two of them, that she daily walks up and down her "steep declining driveway" to retrieve mail, and that she can "walk[] around her neighborhood without any assistive devices." [Tr. 99-100].

Further, despite her purported infirmities, plaintiff is able to (on multiple occasions) "assault" or "get[] into physical fights with" her sister and sister-in-law. [Tr. 235-37]. She is admittedly able to shop and attend flea markets on at least an occasional basis, and she cooks two or more meals per day. [Tr. 237].

III. Relevant Medical Evidence and Opinions

A. Physical

In January 2000, nearly two years after her alleged disability onset date, plaintiff complained to Dr. Harjeet Narula that a back ache had occurred "suddenly" after "lift[ing] some weight." [Tr. 184]. Later that month, plaintiff complained of knee pain. Dr. Narula noted normal knee movement and only slight tenderness. [Tr. 183]. In June 2000, plaintiff reported "some back problem" requiring an "occasional muscle relaxer or analgesics" [Tr. 178], which Dr. Narula had apparently been providing her for at least the previous six months [Tr. 178-84]. Plaintiff was "otherwise feeling good" and Dr. Narula suspected that the occasional back problems were secondary to obesity. [Tr. ...

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