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Seals v. Commissioner of Social Security Administration

United States District Court, D. New Jersey, Camden Vicinage

April 26, 2019



          Robert B. Kugler, United States District Judge.

         THIS MATTER comes before the Court upon the appeal of Plaintiff Mary Agnes Seals (“Plaintiff”) for review of the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security. (Doc. No. 5-2.) The Commissioner denied Plaintiff's application for Social Security Disability Insurance (“SSDI”) benefits, finding Plaintiff was not disabled as defined by the Social Security Act. As explained below, the decision of the Commissioner is AFFIRMED.


         A. Procedural History

         On July 8, 2013, Plaintiff protectively filed a Title II application for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits, alleging disability beginning April 12, 2013. (R. at 17.) The claim was denied initially on October 15, 2013, and upon reconsideration on February 28, 2014. (Id.) On April 8, 2014 Plaintiff filed a request for a hearing. (Id.) A video hearing was held on June 1, 2016. (Id.) In a decision dated June 28, 2016, the Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) found that Plaintiff was not disabled. (R. at 17-24.) On August 29, 2017, the Appeals Council denied her request for review. (R. at 1-6.) Plaintiff then filed this action seeking review.

         B. Plaintiff's History

         Plaintiff Mary Agnes Seals is a 63-year-old woman who lives with her husband. (R. at 40.) She earned her GED and worked as a call center pension counselor from July 1991 to April 12, 2013. (R. at 39, 41.) She alleges that she became disabled on April 12, 2013 after being diagnosed with breast cancer in March 2013. (R. at 36.)

         Plaintiff filed her initial claim for disability on July 8, 2013 due to stage-two invasive lobular breast cancer, pulmonary blood clots, high cholesterol, acid reflux, and neuropathy. (R. at 66.) In April 2013, Plaintiff was diagnosed with breast cancer, with confirmation by a pathology report on May 17, 2013. (R. at 489.) Plaintiff underwent right total and left modified radical mastectomies on April 2, 2013. (R. at 421-22.) The following week, Plaintiff experienced a pulmonary embolism. (R. at 557.) In June 2013, Plaintiff began chemotherapy treatment and experienced other physical side effects. (R. at 605-13.)

         At her administrative hearing, Plaintiff testified to suffering from mixed-connective tissue disease and lymphedema, which cause her pain and limit her day-to-day activities. (R. at 42-43.) She stated that she did not receive medical treatment for either condition. (R. at 44.) She wears a compression garment to manage her lymphedema. (R. at 43.) Plaintiff also testified to treating her chronic pain with over-the-counter medication and elevating and icing her joints. (R. at 46.) Plaintiff does not receive treatment for her wrist pain. (R. at 47.) Nor has she received an MRI or EMG for her alleged wrist pain or neuropathy in her hands. (R. at 62-63.) Plaintiff takes Zoloft for her anxiety but does not receive specific treatment. (R. at 50-51.)

         Plaintiff also testified that her husband does the majority of the housework, including laying out her clothes. (R. at 269.) She is unable to walk, stand, or sit for more than fifteen minutes at a time. (R. at 47-49.) In total, Plaintiff can stand for about one and a half to one and three quarters hours per day with breaks. (R. at 48.) She is able to dust, wipe counters, assist with meal preparation, grocery shop, and spend time with her grandchildren a few times a week. (R. at 50, 53, 54.)

         C. Plaintiff's Relevant Medical History

         We now review Plaintiff's medical history before Robert Silverbrook, D.O., Pauline Lerma, M.D., and Mariam Rubbani, M.D.

         1. Dr. Silverbrook

         Dr. Silverbrook diagnosed Plaintiff with arthritis after complaints of pain as early as January 2, 2013 (R. at 455), but a treatment note of Dr. Silverbrook's from December 20, 2013 states Plaintiff's “arthritis onset date” as July 18, 2012. (R. at 604.) On December 20, 2013, Plaintiff complained to Dr. Silverbrook of arthritis and joint pain. Dr. Silverbrook noted on physical examinations in January 2013 and again in December 2013 that Plaintiff was “well nourished, well developed, [and] in no acute distress.” (R. at 456, 602.)

         In July 2014, Plaintiff reported further gastroesophageal reflux, a thyroid nodule, and lymphedema. (R. at 699.) Dr. Silverbrook found that her physical examination was normal and prescribed no plan of care for Plaintiff's lymphedema. (R. at 697-700.)

         In April 2015, Plaintiff complained of ankle, arm, hip, knee, leg, and wrist pain. Dr. Silverbrook noted Plaintiff's mixed connective tissue disease, but prescribed no therapies, medications, or plan of care. (R. at 750.)

         On May 17, 2016, Plaintiff reported knee and joint pain since starting her hormone blocker medication and described her pain as increasing but moderate. (R. at 809.) Dr. Silverbrook found that Plaintiff's physical examination was normal with the exception of bilateral hammer toes. (R. at 811.) Dr. Silverbrook also noted in May 2016 that Plaintiff complained of joint pain and stiffness, specifically when walking and sitting. (R. at 809-10.) Plaintiff told Dr. Silverbrook she cannot sit longer than twenty minutes, walk more than one hundred yards, or lift her arms over her head. (R. at 812.)

         Dr. Silverbrook completed a Medical Source Statement on May 27, 2016. (R. at 826- 29.) He stated that Plaintiff's limitations existed from or before 2006. (R. at 826.) He indicated that Plaintiff has substantial limitations, including: her ability to only lift and carry one pound once per day; her ability to sit, stand, or walk for only fifteen minutes; and her inability to stoop, crouch, kneel, or crawl; and her inability to reach, bend, push, or pull. (R. at 826-27.) Dr. Silverbrook ...

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