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Elana Peterson Ford v. Michael J. Astrue

July 28, 2011


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Kugler, United States District Judge:



This matter comes before the Court on the appeal filed by Plaintiff Elana Peterson Ford from the decision of the Commissioner of Social Security (the "Commissioner") denying Plaintiff disability insurance benefits ("DBI") pursuant to Section 205(g) of the Social Security Act ("the Act"), 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Plaintiff also filed a motion for summary judgment pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56. For the reasons expressed below, Plaintiff's motion for summary judgment is denied, and the Court will reverse the Commissioner's decision that Plaintiff is not entitled to DBI and remand the matter to the Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ").


A.Procedural History

Plaintiff filed an application with the Social Security Administration (the "Administration") for DBI on February 7, 2007. (Tr. 10). Plaintiff claimed that she became disabled on January 6, 2006. (Id.). The Administration initially denied her claim on June 6, 2007, and then denied her claim again upon reconsideration. (Id.). Thereafter, Plaintiff filed a written request for a hearing before an ALJ. (Id.). Plaintiff appeared with counsel at a hearing and testified before the ALJ. (Id.). The ALJ issued a decision denying Plaintiff's claim. (Tr. 7-16). On August 31, 2009, Plaintiff filed a request for review by the Appeals Council. The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review. (Tr. 1-5). As a result of that denial, Plaintiff filed this action in September 2010. (Doc. No. 1).

B.Plaintiff's Medical History

Plaintiff is a thirty-four year old woman with a high school diploma, who attended college for an unspecified period of time. (Tr. 24). In her testimony before the ALJ, Plaintiff claimed that she sustained a back injury during her employment with Mediplex in March 1999. While employed by Mediplex, Plaintiff performed a variety of custodial tasks such as cooking meals, mopping floors, washing dishes, and lifting items that weighed at least twenty pounds. (Tr. 25). Despite her alleged back injury in 1999, Plaintiff worked for the State of New Jersey in a clerical or secretarial position between 2001 and 2006.*fn1 (Tr. 25). During her employment with the State of New Jersey, Plaintiff typed reports, scheduled meetings and training, answered phones, compiled training packages, and filed documents. (Tr. 138).

Plaintiff resigned from her employment with the State of New Jersey in 2006. At the time of her resignation, Plaintiff informed her employer that she could not work because she could not find anyone to care for her children. (Tr. 28). However, during the ALJ hearing, Plaintiff admitted that she "bended the truth some," and that the true reason for her resignation was that she could not perform her clerical and/or administrative duties. (Id.). Specifically, Plaintiff testified, "I told [my employer] that I couldn't return to work because I couldn't find no one to watch my kids when the truth was I was scared to tell them that I could not perform my work duties." (Id.).

At the ALJ hearing, Plaintiff provided a variety of explanations for her inability to perform clerical and administrative work. Plaintiff claimed that she could not perform that work for the State of New Jersey, or any other employer, because she had difficulty getting out of bed in the morning. (Tr. 27). Plaintiff also claimed that "[a]t times [she] ha[d] to take medication just to get out of bed to relieve the pain in [her] back and [her] wrists and, [her] legs." (Id.). In addition, Plaintiff claimed that "sitting at a desk all day long . . . [caused her] radiating pain," and claimed that she experienced a mental disorder as a result of her symptoms. (Id.).

Prior to her employment with the State of New Jersey, Plaintiff held a variety of other positions. For example, for a period of two to three years, she worked at Subway making sandwiches, operating a cash register, and baking bread. (Tr. 26). In addition, Plaintiff worked at Roy Rogers performing tasks similar to those she performed during her employment with Subway. (Id.). Finally, Plaintiff worked in a clerical position at Virtua Hospital for six months. (Id.).

In 2009, Plaintiff lived with her husband, and her four children. At the time of her ALJ hearing, she had two daughters and two three-year old twin sons. (Tr. 29). Before Plaintiff became pregnant with her two sons, she was informed that having children would exacerbate her back problems. (Id.). However, Plaintiff testified that she became pregnant with her two sons because her husband wanted to have more children. (Tr. 36). Plaintiff gave birth to her two sons in June 2007. (Tr. 29).

Plaintiff requires substantial assistance to perform daily tasks. Her husband does a majority of the chores in her household such as washing clothes and shopping. (Tr. 34). Her mother and daughters clean her home. (Id.). Her husband also helps her with a variety of personal tasks such as showering, applying lotion, dressing, and ironing her clothes. (Id.). Plaintiff's sister washes and styles her hair. (Id.).

Plaintiff spends a majority of her time lying idly around her home, watching television, and reading books. (Tr. 35). On occasion, Plaintiff picks up toys in her house or makes a sandwich. (Tr. 37). Plaintiff claims that she has difficulty performing tasks such as squeezing rags and putting mayonnaise on bread due to pain in her wrist. (Tr. 36-37). In addition, Plaintiff claims that she cannot do laundry or bend to wash herself in the shower. (Tr. 37). Plaintiff claims that when she sits on the toilet she needs help standing up. (Id.). Plaintiff also claims that she no longer attends church services because her back hurts when she sits in the pews. (Id.).

In addition to her physical ailments, Plaintiff claims that she suffers from a mental disorder. Specifically, Plaintiff testified that she has difficulty thinking, concentrating, and remembering. (Tr. 39). She claims that she is "always concentrating on . . . how [her] life was before [she] was injured." (Id.). She also complains that her ...

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