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Rosario v. Commissioner of Social Security

United States District Court, D. New Jersey

October 26, 2018

MAYRA ROSARIO, Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.

          OPINION

          STANLEY R. CHESLER, U.S.D.J.

         This matter comes before the Court on the appeal by Plaintiff Mayra Rosario (“Plaintiff”) of the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security (“Commissioner”) determining that she was not disabled under the Social Security Act (the “Act”). This Court exercises jurisdiction pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) and, having considered the submissions of the parties without oral argument, pursuant to L. Civ. R. 9.1(b), finds that the Commissioner's decision will be affirmed.

         In brief, this appeal arises from Plaintiff's application for disability insurance benefits, alleging disability beginning March 20, 2012. A hearing was held before ALJ Jonathan L. Wesner (the “ALJ”) on September 9, 2014, with a supplemental hearing held on February 10, 2015, and the ALJ issued an unfavorable decision on April 30, 2015, finding Plaintiff not disabled. After the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review, the ALJ's decision became the Commissioner's final decision, and Plaintiff filed this appeal.

         In the decision of April 30, 2015, the ALJ made the following findings. The ALJ found that, at step three, Plaintiff did not meet or equal any of the Listings. At step four, the ALJ found that Plaintiff retained the residual functional capacity to perform light work, with certain limitations, including a limitation to unskilled work. At step four, the ALJ also found that this residual functional capacity was not sufficient to allow Plaintiff to perform her past relevant work. At step five, the ALJ consulted a vocational expert and concluded that there are other jobs existing in significant numbers in the national economy which the claimant can perform, consistent with her medical impairments, age, education, past work experience, and residual functional capacity. The ALJ concluded that Plaintiff was not disabled within the meaning of the Act.

         Plaintiff contends that the decision should be reversed on three grounds: 1) the ALJ erred in assigning little weight to the opinion of Plaintiff's treating physician; 2) the ALJ erred in assigning little weight to the opinions of Plaintiff's treating nurse practitioners; and 3) the ALJ used the incorrect legal standard to assess Plaintiff's credibility.

         As to the first point, regarding the weight the ALJ gave to the opinion of Plaintiff's treating physician, Dr. Friedman, Plaintiff fails to persuade both that the ALJ erred and that any error materially prejudiced her. At step four, the ALJ reviewed the medical evidence in detail.

         Turning to Dr. Friedman, the ALJ summarized the expert's opinion, as stated in Dr. Friedman's report dated September 18, 2014, and then stated:

I assign little weight to Dr. Friedman's opinion, finding it is inconsistent with the claimant's broad range of daily activities. Furthermore, her treatment records do not reveal limitations (such as a purported need to lie down or a tendency to be off-task) as suggested by Dr. Friedman.

(Tr. 31.)

         With regard to Dr. Friedman's opinion, Plaintiff makes no persuasive points about how the ALJ erred. Plaintiff cites 20 C.F.R. § 404.1527(c), which sets forth a set of factors that must be considered in deciding how much weight to give to a medical opinion. Plaintiff, however, makes no specific argument about what the problem is. Absent an argument, a citation to regulations alone makes no persuasive point.

         Plaintiff next quotes SSR 96-2p: “If a treating source's medical opinion is well-supported and not inconsistent with the other substantial evidence in the case record, it must be given controlling weight; i.e., it must be adopted.” Again, Plaintiff's brief fails to apply this to the case at hand. The ALJ explained that Dr. Friedman's opinion was not well-supported and was inconsistent with other substantial evidence of record. As such, the ALJ's weighting of Dr. Friedman's opinion entirely complied with the quoted language from SSR 96-2p.

Similarly, Plaintiff's brief quotes the Third Circuit's decision in Morales v. Apfel:
A cardinal principle guiding disability eligibility determinations is that the ALJ accord treating physicians' reports great weight, especially “when their opinions reflect expert judgment based on a continuing observation of the patient's condition over a prolonged period of time.” . . . In choosing to reject the treating physician's assessment, an ALJ may not make “speculative inferences from medical reports” and may reject “a treating physician's opinion outright only on the basis of contradictory medical evidence” and not due to his or her own credibility judgments, speculation or lay opinion.

Morales v. Apfel, 225 F.3d 310, 317 (3d Cir. 2000). Again, Plaintiff does not make any specific argument applying Morales to this case. It is quite clear that the ALJ gave little weight to Dr. Friedman's opinion because he found it to be both inconsistent with the medical evidence and ...


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