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Lupold v. Commissioner of Social Security

United States District Court, D. New Jersey

July 31, 2014

MICHELLE M. LUPOLD, Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.

OPINION

KEVIN McNULTY, District Judge.

Michelle Marie Lupold brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) and 5 U.S.C. § 706 to review a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security that denied her applications for Title II disability insurance benefits ("DIB"). Lupold alleges that she is entitled to disability benefits because she is unable to engage in substantial gainful activity due to severe impairments, including fibromyalgia, chronic and severe pain, major depressive disorder, hip pain, and back pain. Docket No. 1 ("Compl.") ¶ 6.

For the reasons set forth below, the Commissioner's decision is affirmed.

I. BACKGROUND

Plaintiff, Michelle Marie Lupold, filed her Complaint in this Court on April 26, 2013 to appeal the final ruling of the Commissioner denying her disability benefits.

On January 6, 2010, Lupold filed a Title II application alleging a disability onset date of June 19, 2006. Her claim was originally denied on July 7, 2010 and on reconsideration thereafter. On July 28, 2011, she appeared for a hearing before Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") George C. Yatron. On August 5, 211, the ALJ determined that Lupold was not disabled. The Appeals Council denied review of the ALJ's decision, rendering ALJ Yatron's decision the final decision of the Commissioner.

II. DISCUSSION

Lupold's claims for DIB were denied by ALJ Yatron.

To qualify for Title II DIB benefits, a claimant must meet the insured status requirements of 42 U.S.C. § 423(c). To be eligible for SSI benefits, a claimant must meet the income and resource limitations of 42 U.S.C. § 1382. To qualify under either statute, a claimant must show that she is unable to engage in substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment that can be expected to result in death or that has lasted (or can be expected to last) for a continuous period of not less than twelve months. 42 U.S.C. §§ 423(d)(1)(A), 1382c(a)(3)(A).

On appeal to this Court, Lupold submits that the Commissioner's decision is not supported by substantial evidence. Specifically, she raises four claims of error: (1) The MO erred in not fully addressing the consultative examination report authored by Mark Greenberg, Ph.D.; (2) The ALJ erred in determining that the Plaintiff suffered from "moderate" limitations in social functioning, but failing to include any restrictions related to this limitation in the formulation of RFC; (3) The ALJ erred in his determination of the Plaintiff's credibility; and (4) The ALJ erred in assigning little weight to the opinion of Dr. Anderson. Docket No. 8 ("Pl. Br.").

A. Standard of Review

As to legal issues, this Court's review is plenary. See Schaudeck v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 181 F.3d 429, 431 (3d Cir. 1999). As to the factual findings of the Administrative Law Judge ("MO"), however, this Court is directed "only to determine whether the administrative record contains substantial evidence supporting the findings." Sykes v. Apfel, 228 F.3d 259, 262 (3d Cir. 2000). Substantial evidence is "less than a preponderance of the evidence but more than a mere scintilla." Jones v. Barnhart, 364 F.3d 501, 503 (3d Cir. 2004) (citation omitted). "It means such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Id .; accord Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971).

[I]n evaluating whether substantial evidence supports the ALJ's findings... leniency should be shown in establishing the claimant's disability, and... the Secretary's responsibility to rebut it should be strictly construed. Due regard for the beneficent purposes of the legislation requires that a more tolerant standard be used in this administrative proceeding than is applicable in a typical suit in a court of record where the adversary system prevails.

Reefer v. Barnhart, 326 F.3d 376, 379 (3d Cir. 2003) (internal citations and quotations omitted). When there is substantial evidence to support the ALJ's factual findings, this Court must abide by them. See Jones, 364 F.3d at 503 (citing 42 U.S.C. § 405(g)).

After review of MO Yatron's analysis, pursuant to the five-step legal framework, I find that the ALJ's opinion is supported by substantial evidence. Accordingly, I will affirm his opinion of August 5, 2011.

B. The ALJ's Decision

After performing the sequential five-step analysis, the Administrative Law Judge Yatron denied Lupold's claim of benefits on August 5, 2011. The ALJ found that Lupold could perform light work without detailed instructions and was not disabled. Lupold now submits that ALJ Yatron's denial was in error and that the decision is not supported by substantial evidence. The Commissioner of Social Security (the "Commissioner") maintains that ALJ Yatron's denial of benefits is supported by substantial evidence.

STEP 1: Determine whether the claimant has engaged in substantial gainful activity since the onset date of the alleged disability. 20 CFR §§ 404.1520(b), 416.920(b). If not, move to step two.

At Step 1 of the sequential evaluation, ALJ Yatron found that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since her alleged onset date of June 19, 2006. R 31.

STEP 2: Determine if the claimant's alleged impairment, or combination of impairments, is "severe." Id. § 404.1520(c), 416.920(c). If the claimant has a severe impairment, move to step three.

At Step 2, ALJ Yatron found the following severe impairments: fibromyalgia and major depressive disorder. R 31.

STEP 3: Determine whether the impairment meets or equals the criteria of any impairment found in the Listing of Impairments. 20 CFR Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1, Part A. If so, the claimant is automatically eligible to receive benefits; if not, move to step four. Id. §§ 404.1520(d), 416.920(d).

At step 3, ALJ Yatron found that Lupold did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that met or medically equaled a listened impairment.

The ALJ found that Lupold did not meet the "paragraph B" criteria of listing 12.04 of 20 CFR Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 because her mental impairments did not cause at least two "marked" limitations or one "marked" limitation and "repeated" episodes of decompensation. He found that Lupold had moderate restrictions in daily living and that the majority of these limitations stemmed from her physical limitations and not from her mental health impairment. R 31. The ALJ also found that she had moderate difficulties with social functioning and in regard to concentration, persistence, or pace. R 32. He also found that her limitations did not meet "paragraph C" criteria. R 32.

STEP 4: Determine whether, despite any severe impairment, the claimant retains the Residual Functional Capacity ("RFC") to perform past relevant work. Id. §§ 404.1520(e)-(f), 416.920(e)-(f). If not, move to step five. Up to this point ...

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