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Barbara Fisher v. Michael Astrue

March 21, 2012


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Hon. Jerome B. Simandle

SIMANDLE, Chief Judge:



This matter comes before the Court pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) for review of the final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration denying Plaintiff Barbara Fisher's application for Disability Insurance Benefits and Supplemental Security Income under Title II and Title XVI of the Social Security Act (the "Act").

At issue in this case is whether there is substantial evidence in the record that was fully and fairly developed to support the Administrative Law Judge's ("ALJ") determination that Plaintiff's impairments were not severe enough to qualify her as disabled under the Social Security Act. For the reasons explained below, the Court will remand the case to the Commissioner of Social Security to reconsider Plaintiff's request for Disability Insurance Benefits.


A. Procedural Background

Plaintiff, Barbara Fisher, was born December 24, 1961. Pl's Brief at 4. Plaintiff applied for Disability Insurance Benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act on November 2, 2006. Compl. at 1. The application was initially denied on December 19, 2007. R. at 9. Plaintiff subsequently requested a hearing before an ALJ. R. at 9. The hearing was held on August 31, 2009. R. at 9. On October 20, 2009, the ALJ issued a final decision, finding that Plaintiff was not disabled under the Social Security Act and was therefore not entitled to disability benefits. R. at 18-19. The Appeals Council denied further review on February 11, 2011. Compl. at 1. Plaintiff timely filed the instant complaint on March 24, 2011, asking the Court to reverse the final judgment of the Commissioner of Social Security, or alternatively remand the case to reconsider Plaintiff's request.

B. Medical Reports

Several medical and psychiatric reports from a number of physicians and psychologists were submitted. Relevant to the present appeal are the reports submitted by Dr. Gary Goldstein, M.D., Dr. Ronald Karpf, Ph.D., and Dr. Richard Filippone, Ph.D., because they were relied upon by the ALJ in reaching his decision.

Dr. Goldstein, an orthopedist, had been treating and evaluating Plaintiff for her physical injuries which resulted from her automobile accidents on December 17, 2005 and March 31, 2007. R. at 529-45; Pl's Brief at 8. Dr. Goldstein had been treating Plaintiff for "musculoskeletal symptomatology." R. at 529. After numerous consultations between May 2007 and November 2007, Dr. Goldstein concluded that Plaintiff was "mechanically capable of working in a variety of situations," and did not "qualify for disability from an orthopedic standpoint." R. at 529. Dr. Goldstein again evaluated Plaintiff on a number of occasions between October 2008 and August 2009. R. at 604-08. He classified her symptomatology as "ongoing and permanent," but relatively "unchanged." R. at 604, 608. Dr. Goldstein's later reports also note Plaintiff's complaints regarding her diffuse pain, headaches, neck pain, lower back pain, and pain radiating to her arms and left leg. R. at 604.

Dr. Karpf, a psychologist, evaluated Plaintiff and submitted his report November 19, 2007. R. at 552-56. Dr. Karpf reported that Plaintiff has a dysthymic disorder and would occasionally have "a major depressive episode which would make her depression more severe." R. at 554. Dr. Karpf also reported that Plaintiff claimed to have "some delusions," but he believed that she "was exaggerating some of her symptoms." R. at 554-55. Overall, Dr. Karpf diagnosed Plaintiff as having a dysthymic disorder and generalized anxiety disorder. R. at 556.

Dr. Filippone, a non-examining State Agency psychologist, provided a report based on Dr. Karpf's evaluations of Plaintiff. Def's Brief at 11-12; R. at 557-73. Dr. Filippone's report reiterated everything Dr. Karpf reported. R. at 557-73. He also noted that Plaintiff's reported symptoms to Dr. Karpf were inconsistent with her "activities of daily living,"*fn1 but were still partially credible. R. at 573.

C. ALJ Opinion

After reviewing the applicable law, the ALJ first determined that Plaintiff met the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act through December 31, 2010. R. at 11. The ALJ proceeded through the regulatory five-step analysis for determining whether an individual is "disabled" or "not disabled," as defined by the Act.

In step one, the ALJ found that Plaintiff did not engage in substantial gainful activity during the time period from her alleged onset date of February 24, 2006, through her date last insured. R. at 11. In step two, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff had several severe impairments: moderate sized broad-based disc herniation, discectomy, anterior cervical discectomy, dysthymic disorder and generalized anxiety disorder. R. at 11. In step three, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff did not have an impairment or ...

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