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Tompkins v. Astrue

United States District Court, Third Circuit

May 10, 2013



STANLEY R. CHESLER, District Judge.


Plaintiff Lisa Tompkins, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 1383(c)(3), 405(g), seeks review of the Commissioner of Social Security Administration's ("the Commissioner") decision denying her application for Social Security Disability Benefits. Plaintiff argues that the decision is not supported by substantial evidence and should be reversed. For the reasons set forth in this Opinion, this Court finds the Commissioner's decision is supported by substantial evidence and will be affirmed.


On August 27, 2009, Plaintiff filed a Title II application for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits, alleging disability beginning November 30, 2004, pursuant to Sections 216(i) and 223(d) of the Social Security Act, codified as 42 U.S.C. §§ 416(i) and 423, respectively. Plaintiff alleges disabilities of morbid obesity, chronic left femoral nerve neuropathy, and the effects of surgery on her left knee in 2004. (Tr. 12). Plaintiff appeared and testified at a hearing held before Administrative Law Judge Donna A. Krappa ("ALJ Krappa") on June 6, 2011. ALJ Krappa issued a decision on July 21, 2011, finding that Plaintiff was not eligible for Social Security disability benefits based upon her disabilities. The following is a summary of the ALJ's findings:

1. As defined in the Social Security Act, Plaintiff was not under a disability at any time from November 30, 2004, the alleged onset date, through December 31, 2009, the date last insured.
2. Plaintiff was not engaged in "substantial gainful activity" during the period between the alleged onset date of her disability and the date she was last insured.
3. Through the date last insured, Plaintiff did have the following "severe" impairments: the residual effects of left knee surgery in 2004; chronic left femoral nerve neuropathy; and morbid obesity. However, through the date last insured, Plaintiff did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that matched or medically equaled one of the impairments listed in the Regulations.
4. Plaintiff remains capable of performing the exertional, postural, and environmental demands of sedentary work.
5. Plaintiff's medically determinable impairments could reasonably be expected to cause her alleged symptoms and pain; however, Plaintiff's statements regarding the intensity, persistence and limiting effects of those symptoms are not credible insofar as they conflict with the residual functional capacity assessment for sedentary work within the postural, exertional, and environmental limitations provided.
6. Plaintiff's allegedly severe fibromyalgia, anxiety, and depression are not supported by the medical record.
7. Plaintiff's morbid obesity does not produce any additional or cumulative effects that would limit Plaintiff's ability to perform sedentary work. Plaintiff's obesity was considered in the analysis of her alleged disability, but it has not caused or aggravated any other medical ailments.

On September 15, 2011, Plaintiff filed a request for review of the ALJ's decision. On March 8, 2012, the Social Security Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request. Pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 1383(c) and 405(g), Plaintiff filed the instant action, seeking review of the Commissioner's decision.


A. Background

Plaintiff, Lisa Tompkins, born February 26, 1959, is a 54-year-old United States citizen who resides in Middlesex, New Jersey with her teenage son. (Tr. 17-18, 130, 150). She is 5'1" tall and weighs 250 pounds. (Tr. 15).

Plaintiff last met the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act on December 31, 2009. (Tr. 15). She completed her initial application on October 2, 2009. (Tr. 130). Plaintiff claims that, starting November 30, 2004, her disabling condition has prevented her from working. (Tr. 33, 130).

Prior to the onset of her alleged disabling condition, Plaintiff worked as a cost analyst manager for AT&T, a sedentary position. (Tr. 17). Plaintiff had a good work record at AT&T, starting in the late 1970s and going through 2004, when Plaintiff was making close to $90, 000 per year. (Tr. 33). Plaintiff worked regularly until October 2003, after which she went through two short-term disability periods, one related to problems with her knee and one due to a combination of knee problems and pneumonia. (Tr. 38, 56). She stopped working after she was laid off in November of 2004. (Tr. 17). Plaintiff reports that she had two jobs after her layoff from AT&T, but that her impairments made it impossible for her to successfully complete her assigned tasks. (Tr. 18). For instance, when she worked in a pediatrician's office, she was physically unable to climb up on a stool to reach the files and was fired after one day. (Tr. 18, 56).

B. Claimed Disabilities

Beginning November 30, 2004, Plaintiff claims disability due to morbid obesity, chronic left femoral nerve neuropathy, and the residual effects of a 2004 surgery on her left knee. (Tr. 12). Plaintiff states that she cannot work because she cannot sit or stand for extended periods of time. (Tr. 18).

Plaintiff claims that she suffers from the adverse residual effects of left knee surgery, which include severe pain and swelling. (Tr. 18, 42). On February 24, 2004, Plaintiff underwent arthroscopic resection surgery on her left knee. (Tr. 19, 198). From November 2003 to April 2004, Plaintiff required outpatient care to address left knee pain and to help with her difficulty walking. (Tr. 19). At the time the ALJ denied disability benefits in 2011, Plaintiff still complained of swelling, pain, inability to stand and walk, a limping gait, and weakness of the lower left leg. (Tr. 19).

Plaintiff claims that she suffers from chronic left femoral nerve neuropathy that painfully affects her entire left leg. (Tr. 30). On June 16, 2004, Plaintiff underwent electromyographic nerve conduction studies to investigate her complaints of left leg pain and weakness, the results of which were consistent with chronic left femoral neuropathy. (Tr. 19). On December 3, 2009, Dr. Weber examined Plaintiff and confirmed the prior diagnosis based on evidence of reduced muscle strength in the lower left leg. (Tr. 19). On June 3, 2010, Plaintiff was examined by Dr. Robert Walsh, who again confirmed the diagnosis of chronic left femoral neuropathy and added a secondary diagnosis of "disorders of muscle, ligament, and fascia, internal derangement of left knee, s/p surgery." (Tr. 74). Even with these diagnoses, however, Dr. Walsh opined that Plaintiff was "not disabled" through December 31, 2009. (Tr. 74).

Plaintiff's treating physician, Dr. Sharon, diagnosed her with fibromyalgia and prescribed Savella. (Tr. 297-98, 300-01). His report from her June 21, 2010 appointment states that Plaintiff had "mild tenderness" to palpation present on the left lower extremity and that there was "no pain on motion." (Tr. 298, 301).

In addition to her physical ailments, Plaintiff claims to have mental difficulties with focusing and remembering that would affect her ability to return to work. (Tr. 18). Plaintiff used to balance budgets as a part of her cost analyst manager position at AT&T, but states that she could no longer handle that task because of pain and trouble focusing. (Tr. 54).

C. Medical Testimony Considered by the ALJ

a. Medical Testimony of Dr. Fechner, board-certified expert in internal medicine

Based on his review of the medical records, Dr. Fechner stated that Plaintiff had three diagnoses: (1) obesity; (2) left knee meniscus tear and patella softening (corrected by surgery in February 2004); and (3) chronic left femoral nerve neuropathy. (Tr. 63-65).

Dr. Fechner testified that, at 5'1" tall and 250 pounds, Plaintiff was considered obese under medical guidelines. Dr. Fechner stated that the record shows that Plaintiff had left knee surgery in February 2004 for a lateral meniscus tear and that a June 2004 EMG showed that Plaintiff suffers from chronic left femoral nerve neuropathy. (Tr. 64). He also stated that, although fibromyalgia is reported in the record, the fact that there is no ...

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