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Veloso v. Commissioner of Social Security

United States District Court, D. New Jersey

July 18, 2019




         Before this Court is Plaintiff Adelaide Veloso's (“Plaintiff”) appeal of the final administrative decision of the Commissioner of Social Security (“Commissioner”), with respect to Administrative Law Judge Peter R. Lee's (“ALJ Lee”) denial of Plaintiff's claim for disability insurance benefits (“DIB”) under the Social Security Act (the “Act”). This appeal is decided without oral argument pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 78. This Court has subject matter jurisdiction pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Venue is proper under 28 U.S.C. § 1391(b). For the reasons set forth below, this Court finds that ALJ Lee's factual findings are supported by substantial credible evidence and that his legal determinations are correct. Therefore, the Commissioner's decision will be AFFIRMED.


         A. Procedural History

         On December 16, 2014, Plaintiff completed a Title II application for DIB, alleging a disability onset date of December 1, 2007 due to physical and mental impairments including mitral valve prolapse, anxiety disorder with panic attacks, temporomandibular joint disorder, and carpal tunnel syndrome of the right hand. (Administrative Record [hereinafter R.] 77, 172-175, 210); see also 42 U.S.C. § 423. The application was denied initially on August 13, 2015 (R. 106-10) and on reconsideration on January 12, 2016. (R 113-17.)[1] ALJ Lee held a hearing on October 17, 2017, in which Plaintiff, who was represented by counsel, and vocational expert Jackie L. Wilson (“VE Wilson”), testified. (R. 35-68.) On December 11, 2017, the ALJ issued a decision that Plaintiff was not disabled and denied her application for DIB. (R. 17-29.) On September 28, 2018, the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review, and ALJ Lee's decision became the Commissioner's final decision. (R. 1-3.) Plaintiff now requests that this Court reverse the Commissioner's decision. (Compl. at 2, ECF No. 1.)

         B. Factual History

         1. Personal and Employment History

         Plaintiff was born on March 19, 1977, and was forty years old on the date of ALJ Lee's decision. (R. 39, 46.) She can communicate in English and graduated college. (R. 39, 211.) Plaintiff previously worked as a part-time cashier, a part-time sandwich maker, a full-time shoe sale specialist, and was working part-time as a merchandise handler at Marshalls department store at the time of the administrative hearing. (R. 39-42; 212.)

         2. Physical Medical History

         The record demonstrates that numerous practitioners examined, consulted, and treated Plaintiff for physical medical issues associated with her disability claim. (R. 213-19.) The following is a summary of the evidence.

         Plaintiff underwent a craniotomy and ventricular peritoneal shunt placement in 1993 to treat tuberculosis meningitis, but subsequently experienced residual issues including vertigo, temporomandibular joint dysfunction, migraine headaches, and loss of balance. (R. 46-48, 284-85, 358, 446, 472, 475.) Medical records note Plaintiff's stable recovery after her shunt placement. (R. 422; 446-47, 475.) However, beginning in 2013, Plaintiff complained of vertigo, poor vision, chest pain, coughing, dizziness, palpitations and migraine headaches. (R. 358-64, 380, 426, 449, 486-87, 520.) Plaintiff has also complained of chronic headaches, but reports that her condition improved with Topamax. (R. 473.) On October 10, 2016, an MRI of Plaintiff's brain revealed the presence of temporoparietal encephalomalacia and atrophy, however it showed no evidence of fluid or swelling of the brain. (R. 449.) Plaintiff also underwent EEG examinations in 2010 and in 2017 which presented as normal and did not detect seizures. (R. 290, 476-78.)

         In 2015, Plaintiff reported difficulty breathing and syncopal episodes attributed to mitral valve prolapse and asthma. (R. 285, 420, 479-84.) She uses an inhaler and takes medication for her asthma. (R. 479, 488.) Medical records consistently document Plaintiff's normal respiratory conditions, clear lungs, and unlabored breathing. (R. 80, 302, 355, 359, 393, 420, 426, 472, 479-93, 503-22.)

         3. Psychological Medical History

         Plaintiff has a history of psychiatric illnesses, and was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, [2]with primary depressive episodes, anxiety, and panic disorder by her longtime treating psychiatrist Dr. Allison Weiner (“Dr. Weiner”). (R. 414-419, 427-29, 464-69.) Dr. Weiner noted that Plaintiff would snap at customers at her job, cry easily, and isolate herself. (R. 416-17.) Although Dr. Weiner reported that Plaintiff's concentration and memory were poor, she stated that Plaintiff was oriented, displayed fair judgement, and was not suicidal or homicidal. (R. 428.) Dr. Weiner completed a medical status evaluation (“MSE”) dated August 31, 2017, in which she opined that Plaintiff's mental abilities were limited in numerous categories, making her unable to meet competitive standards, and estimated that Plaintiff would miss work about four days per month. (R. 415, 464-69.) Although Dr. Weiner determined that Plaintiff was seriously limited in her ability to travel to unfamiliar places, she indicated that Plaintiff could interact appropriately with the general public, maintain socially appropriate behavior, adhere to basic standards of neatness and cleanliness, and use public transportation. (R. 467.)

         4. Function Report

         Plaintiff submitted a self-function report on April 13, 2015 in which she alleged suffering from anxiety, depression, and panic attacks, which limit her to working four hours a day. (R. 233-40.) She described having difficulty lifting, bending, sleeping, completing tasks, concentrating, handling stress or changes in her routine, following instructions, and remembering. (R. 234-38.) Plaintiff noted using her phone for reminders. (R. 235.) She claimed she could not go shopping, read, pay bills, complete household chores, or handle a savings account due to her ailments. (R. 234-37.) Plaintiff claimed that she was unable to drive due to panic attacks, but could walk, use public transportation, and ride in a car. (R. 236.) She also reported that she could tend to her personal grooming, prepare simple meals, feed her cat, travel independently, and engage in leisure activities, and did not report any unusual behavior or fears. (62, 233-39.) Although Plaintiff reported difficulty handling stress and socializing, she admitted to getting along with authority figures, family, friends, neighbors, and others. (R. 237-39.) Plaintiff also indicated she had never been fired from a job. (R. 239.)

         5. State ...

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