United States District Court, D. New Jersey
For Anne Marie Wallace, Plaintiff: Adrienne Freya Jarvis, Esq., Adrienne Freya Jarvis, Esq., Cherry Hill, NJ.
For Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant: Paul J. Fishman, UNITED STATES ATTORNEY, David L. Brown, Esther Kim, Special Assistant U.S. Attorneys, Social Security Administration, Office of the General Counsel, New York, NY.
JEROME B. SIMANDLE, Chief United States District 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 Anne Marie Wallace's application for disability insurance benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. § 401, et seq. (the " Act").
Plaintiff argues that the finding of the Administrative Law Judge (" ALJ") regarding her residual functional capacity is not supported by substantial evidence because the ALJ did not account for the total limiting effects of her narcolepsy, and she seeks remand to the ALJ for further consideration. Plaintiff also argues that the ALJ erred at step five of the sequential analysis because the ALJ failed to apprise her of her right to cross-examine the vocational expert, and moreover, the vocational expert's testimony conflicted with the Dictionary of Occupational Titles (" DOT").
For the reasons discussed below, the Court will vacate the Commissioner's final decision and remand the matter for further proceedings.
A. Procedural History
Plaintiff filed an application for disability insurance benefits on December 22, 2009, alleging an onset of disability on September 30, 2009. (R. at 11.) The claim was denied, as was a request for reconsideration. (Id.) Hearings were held on June 29, 2011 and December 6, 2011 before the ALJ, Jonathan L. Wesner. (Id.) Plaintiff appeared and elected to give testimony at both hearings without representation. (Id.) On January 24, 2012, the ALJ denied Plaintiff's appeal at step five of the sequential analysis, finding that Plaintiff was capable of performing jobs that existed in significant numbers in the national economy. (R. at 24-26.) The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review. (R. at 1-4.) Plaintiff then filed the instant action.
B. Medical History
The following are facts relevant to the present motion. Plaintiff was 43 years-old as of the date of Decision with a ninth grade education, and she had past work experience as a truck driver. Dr. Vedat Obuz began treating Plaintiff in late 2004 for various health issues including narcolepsy, sleep apnea, hyperglycemia, hypothyroidism, obesity and pain in both legs. (R. at 246, 390.) In the fall of 2008, Plaintiff complained of slight fatigue and Dr. Obuz referred her to the Deborah Heart and Lung Center for a sleep study. (R. at 246.) Following a sleep study in June, 2009, Plaintiff was diagnosed with unspecified hypersomnia and narcolepsy by a multiple sleep latency test. (Id.; R. at 374.) Dr. Obuz noted that despite treatment and medications, Plaintiff's condition continued to deteriorate and opined that she was " no longer able to maintain functionality to continue working. Failure to succumb to the need for sleep now becomes involuntary. Therefore, she is currently unable to keep or maintain a set time schedule with regularity." (R. at 246.) In November, 2011, Dr. Obuz found that Plaintiff remained " disabled" due to narcolepsy and her other medical conditions. (R. at 486.)
Plaintiff underwent a series of medical tests from 2009 to 2011, most of which showed normal results. A pulmonary function test on November 23, 2009 revealed " [n]ormal lung function, as indicated by the lack of a significant obstructive impairment or restrictive defect." (R. at 400.) An EMG of Plaintiff's left arm and left leg on May 28, 2010 showed no abnormalities. (R. at 427.) Following neurological testing on that same date, Dr. Timothy Dunn explained that Plaintiff's " nerve conduction/EMG did not show any signs of neuropathy. Therefore, it is difficult for me to say whether she actually has any neurological cause for her lower extremity pain symptoms." (R. at 430.) A MR of the brain on July 14, 2011 found " very subtle increased signal, which has uncertain clinical significance and etiology" in the periventricular white matter. (R. at 493.)
Plaintiff underwent two consultative exams as part of her claim for benefits. Following an internal medicine evaluation on April 22, 2010, Dr. Ken Klausman noted that Plaintiff has a history of diabetes, depression, COPD, narcolepsy, and back pain. (R. at 413.) Dr. Klausman observed that " claimant walks with a normal gait without the use of a handheld assistive device, " " [s]he is able to get on and off the examining table without difficulty, " but had " moderate difficulty going from lying down to sitting up." (R. at 415.) Plaintiff's lungs were " clear to auscultation and percussion anteriorly/posteriorly without evidence of rales, rhonchi or wheezing." (Id.) Dr. Klausman found Plaintiff's fine hand motor movements within normal limits and noted her ability to pick up a coin and make a fist with both hands. (Id.) Plaintiff exhibited a normal range of motion in the lumbar spine and full knee strength. (Id.) Plaintiff could walk heel-to-toe and tandem walk without difficulty. (Id.) Dr. Klausman observed no neurological abnormalities except " decreased sensation in a stocking distribution for light touch and pinprick of both feet." (R. at 416.) The Physical Residual Functional Capacity Assessment completed by state medical consultant, Jyothsna Shastry, on May 5, 2010 indicates diagnoses of diabetes with neuropathy, narcolepsy, and obesity and notes credible complaints of leg pain. (R. at 422.) The medical consultant found that Plaintiff could lift and carry twenty-five pounds frequently and fifty pounds occasionally, could sit for about six hours out of eight hours during a workday, had unlimited push/pull abilities, could frequently balance, stoop, kneel, crouch, and ...