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BETANCOURT v. APFEL

October 5, 1998

FAYE BETANCOURT, Plaintiff,
v.
KENNETH S. APFEL, Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: DENLOW

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

 Plaintiff Faye Betancourt ("Betancourt") brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) to review the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner") denying Betancourt's claim for Disability Insurance Benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 416(i), 423(d), between March 2, 1981, her alleged onset date, and June 30, 1986, the date her insured status expired. The Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"), found that, based on Betancourt's capacity, age, education, and work experience, she was "not disabled." (R. at 5-30.)

 This matter comes before the Court on Betancourt's motion for summary judgment. This Court must decide whether substantial evidence in the record supports the ALJ's finding that Betancourt was "not disabled" under 20 C.F.R. § 404, Subpt. P, App. 2, Tbl. 1, Rule 201.18, and that she could perform a full range of sedentary work prior to June 30, 1986. (R. at 28.) For the reasons stated herein, Betancourt's motion for summary judgment is denied and the ALJ's decision is affirmed.

 I. FACTUAL BACKGROUND

 Faye Betancourt, a 58 year old woman with a 7th grade education, first applied for Disability Insurance Benefits on June 24, 1994, alleging that she had been unable to work since March 2, 1981, due to disabling conditions. (R. at 26.) Betancourt's application was denied initially, on request for reconsideration, at the hearing, and by the Appeals Council. (R. at 83, 89, 29, 3.)

 Betancourt testified at a hearing before ALJ Carolyn Cozad Hughes on March 19, 1996 that in the 1970's she started suffering from pain in her knees, back, and head, and had blackout spells. (R. at 57.) Joe Betancourt, her husband, testified that in the 1970's, while she was still working as a security guard, his wife would come home in bad pain. (R. at 74.)

 Betancourt testified that, in 1980 and 1981, she suffered such severe problems with her feet, knees, hips, back and head that she was forced to seek treatment. (R. at 60.) Medical records show that in 1980 and 1981 Betancourt went to Victory Memorial Hospital on several occasions with varying complaints. (R. at 276-287.) The medical records reflect that in early 1980 Betancourt was diagnosed with degenerative disc disease (arthritis) and an ulcer. (R. at 277, 278.) However, all other tests conducted at the time displayed normal results. (R. at 277.) Several months later, an evaluation revealed pain and stiffness in her shoulders and somewhat restricted movement in her legs. (R. at 279-80.) She was also diagnosed with hypertension, migraine headaches, chest pain, chronic back pain, cervical strain, and arthritis. (R. at 281.) Medical records also show that Betancourt also started receiving treatment for her back pain in late 1980. (R. at 282.)

 In 1981, Betancourt stopped working because of arthritis in her feet and knees, migraine headaches, and lower back pain. (R. at 50, 53.) Betancourt testified to having awful headaches that would partially cut off her vision and affected her hearing after leaving her job. (R. at 67.) She further stated that her body aches were so severe that she could no longer engage in normal daily activities such as dressing herself, housework, climbing stairs, or sitting for long periods of time. (R. at 67-70) Joe Betancourt corroborated this testimony. (R. at 74-75.)

 Betancourt testified that, in the 1980's, she would go to the doctor only once in a great while, because she could not afford medical care, but that in 1990 she started going to the doctor because she was in such severe pain. (R. at 72.) Betancourt stated that in 1983 she was receiving cortisone shots and prescriptions twice a week. (R. at 55.) She stated that in 1986 she was taking Motrin and Prednisone for her arthritis and headaches. (R. at 58.)

 Betancourt underwent an examination in 1994 as part of her claim for Social Security Disability benefits. (R. at 122.) In this assessment Betancourt demonstrated the full range of motion of the spine and the ability to lift and carry minimal weight, stand or walk for about 6 hours in an 8-hour workday, and sit for a total of 6 hours in an 8-hour workday. (R. at 127-28.)

 II. THE DECISION OF THE ALJ

 The ALJ applied the Commissioner's sequential evaluation of "disability" under 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520 to determine that Betancourt was not disabled. (R. at 26.) In making this determination, the ALJ found that Betancourt satisfied the first step of the five part test because she had not worked since her alleged onset date. (R. at 26.) The ALJ then determined that due to her obesity, history of hypertension, migraine headaches and low back pain, that Betancourt had a "severe impairment(s)," satisfying the second part of the test. (R. at 26.) Despite the determination of Betancourt's "severe impairment(s)," the ALJ concluded that Betancourt did not have an impairment or combination of impairments meeting or equaling the criteria of any section of the Listing of Impairments, thus not meeting the third part of the test. (R. at 26.) Under steps four and five of the test, the ALJ concluded that although Betancourt could not perform her past relevant work, she was able to perform at least the full range of sedentary work as of her date last insured. (R. at 28.)

 The ALJ also considered the hearing testimony and the medical evidence in deciding that Betancourt was not disabled. (R. at 26-29.) The ALJ found that x-rays taken on June 28, 1984 showed the same medical problems which were present in April 1980 but no other evidence of arthritis. (R. at 27.) She also found that the medical records contained scarce evidence of a medical impairment between 1981 and 1990 and that Betancourt had no reliable recollection of what was going on from the time she stopped working to her last date insured. (R. at 27.) The ALJ noted that although Betancourt testified that she stopped working because of medical problems including arthritis in her knees and feet, lower back pain, and migraine headaches, Betancourt had also testified that these problems had existed since the 1970's and that she had stopped working to be home with her children. (R. at 27.)

 The ALJ agreed that arthritis is a progressive disease but found that the first indication in the medical records of serious pain from arthritis was in April 1991. (R. at 27.) From this the ALJ inferred that the symptoms prior to her date last insured were not of disabling severity. (R. at 27.) The ALJ's conclusion was also based on the lack of medical records or other reliable evidence to establish an onset date before 1991. (R. at 28.) The ALJ found that, using considerations in 20 C.F.R. § 404.1529, the claimant's complaints were not fully credible. (R. at 28.)

 Under 20 C.F.R. § 404.1569, the ALJ applied the facts and her findings to the vocational rule in an effort to reach a decision. (R. at 28.) The ALJ, finding that the claimant was a "younger individual" in 1986; that she completed the seventh grade; and, that her past relevant work was unskilled, found that Rule 201.18 directs a finding of not disabled. (R. at 29); 20 C.F.R. § 404, Subpt. P, App. 2, Tbl. 1, Rule 201.18. Thus, the ALJ found, "the claimant was not under a ...


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