United States District Court, D. New Jersey
Jamie Ryan Hall, Esq., East Norriton, PA, Attorney for Plaintiff.
Paul J. Fishman, UNITED STATES ATTORNEY, Peter W. Jewett, Special Assistant U.S. Attorney, New York, NY, Attorney for Defendant.
JEROME B. SIMANDLE, Chief District Judge.
Plaintiff Jennifer Decriscio brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §405(g), seeking review of a final decision issued by the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration ("the Commissioner"). Plaintiff, who suffers from symptoms consistent with a diagnosis of multiple sclerosis, was denied Social Security disability benefits for the period of October 21, 2010, the alleged onset date of disability, to December 18, 2012. The principal issues to be determined are (a) whether the Commissioner failed to accord due weight to the opinions and conclusions of Plaintiff's treating neurologist, neuropsychologist, and occupational therapist, and (b) whether the Administrative Law Judge's determination that Plaintiff's impairments did not meet or medically equal the listing for multiple sclerosis is supported by substantial evidence in the record. Because substantial evidence supports the findings of the Administrative Law Judge, the Court will affirm.
A. Procedural History
Plaintiff filed an application for disability insurance benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act on December 17, 2010. (R. at 118.) The Disability Determinations Services ("DDS") initially and upon requested reconsideration, determined Plaintiff was not disabled. (R. at 71, 78.) Plaintiff then filed a timely request for a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"). (R. at 83.) On April 19, 2012, Plaintiff appeared before ALJ Ruth Markart. (R. at 17.) In a written decision dated June 5, 2012, ALJ Markart determined Plaintiff was not disabled. (R. at 17-27.) Plaintiff timely filed this action, which the Commissioner opposes. [Docket Item 1.] The Court has jurisdiction to review the final decision under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).
B. Medical History
Plaintiff alleges that on September 16, 2010, she began experiencing an intermittent "spinning sensation" that lasted "throughout the day." (R. at 181.) Dr. Annette Okai, a neurologist working with the Multiple Sclerosis Center of Dallas, examined Plaintiff on November 3, 2010, for an "evaluation of multiple sclerosis." (Id.) Dr. Okai reported the Plaintiff's symptoms included "loss of balance and lack of coordination, " and "periods of difficulty focusing and concentrating." (Id.) However, Dr. Okai observed Plaintiff was "alert and oriented, " and that her "mental status, including registration, repetition, attention and comprehension" were intact. (R. at 182.) Plaintiff had full strength, but it was noted that she had a "mildly spastic gait." (Id.) At this visit Plaintiff used a cane "for balance and to prevent falls." (R. at 181.) Plaintiff denied experiencing blurred vision. (Id.) Dr. Okai noted a family history of autoimmune disorder and multiple sclerosis ("MS"). (R. at 182.) A previous MRI revealed brain lesions. (Id.) Dr. Okai concluded that Plaintiff was "at risk for developing an autoimmune process such as multiple sclerosis, " ordered an MRI of the cervical spine, and recommended "physical therapy for gait and station training." (Id.)
At her November 17, 2010 follow-up appointment with Dr. Okai, Plaintiff denied development of new symptoms or worsening of old symptoms, but did complain of being "very fatigued." (R. at 179.) However, Dr. Okai again noted Plaintiff was "alert and oriented" and that her mental status was "grossly intact." (Id.) Dr. Okai reported Plaintiff was "off balance" and used a cane. (Id.) Plaintiff again denied visual symptoms at this visit. (Id.) After reviewing a November 10, 2010 MRI of the Plaintiff's brain, Dr. Okai noted that Plaintiff was "at a high risk of developing multiple sclerosis." (Id.)
Plaintiff completed a "course of physical and occupational therapy, " and Dr. Okai later observed Plaintiff's gait had "significantly improved." (R. at 196.) Plaintiff reported that she was "overall better." (Id.) Dr. Okai also prescribed medication for Plaintiff's continued complaints of fatigue. (Id.)
In May 2011, Plaintiff denied any relapse. (R. at 213.) Dr. Okai noted that Plaintiff's gait was "mildly ataxic with difficulty tandem walking, " however, Plaintiff reported that her vision and gait were stable, and that she no longer used a cane. (Id.) She also reported that her fatigue had improved with medication. (Id.) Dr. Okai again noted that Plaintiff was "alert and oriented" and that her mental status was "grossly intact." (Id.)
In September 2011, Plaintiff reported to Dr. Okai that she had "not had any new symptoms or relapses." (R. at 227.) Dr. Okai noted that Plaintiff's balance was "still off, " but noted Plaintiff had not had any falls. (Id.) Plaintiff reported that repetitive movement made her "clumsy" and "weak in her hands, " and that she continued to have vertigo when "moving from one position to the other or performing simple household chores such as laundry, loading the dishwasher or picking up toys." (Id.) Plaintiff's spasms were controlled with medication, but she did complain of having flu-like symptoms the day after receiving injections of Rebif, one of the medications prescribed to her. (Id.) Plaintiff reported memory difficulties, however, Dr. Okai again noted Plaintiff was ...