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Murphy v. Astrue

August 31, 2010

DOROTHY MURPHY, PLAINTIFF,
v.
MICHAEL J. ASTRUE, HON. HARRY D. LEINENWEBER COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Harry D. Leinenweber, Judge United States District Court

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Plaintiff Murphy moves for summary judgment on her action for judicial review of an adverse decision of the Commissioner of Social Security. Plaintiff's motion is denied and the Commissioner's final decision is affirmed.

I. BACKGROUND

A. Procedure

Murphy filed applications for Disability Insurance Benefits and Supplemental Security Income in October 2005. These applications were denied initially in February 2006, and denied upon reconsideration in May 2006. Murphy requested a hearing, and appeared before Administrative Law Judge Michael McGuire ("ALJ") with counsel on August 7, 2008. The ALJ issued an opinion on September 18, 2008, denying Plaintiff's applications. The Appeals Council denied Murphy's request for a review, so the ALJ's decision became the Social Security Agency's final decision.

Murphy then filed the present case seeking judicial review of this final decision.

B. Facts

1. ALJ's Decision

When reviewing Murphy's claim, the ALJ performed the required five step inquiry: (1) whether the claimant is doing substantial gainful activity; (2) whether she has a severe impairment; (3) whether the impairment(s) meet or equal one listed by the Commissioner; (4) whether the claimant can perform her past relevant work; and if not (5) whether a significant number of other jobs exist in the national economy that claimant could perform. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520.

Murphy's applications alleged a disability onset date of March 22, 2000. As to the first step of the inquiry, the ALJ noted that Murphy was employed through approximately July 2005 such that she was engaging in substantial gainful activity and not eligible for disability benefits. This finding has gone unchallenged by Murphy, so the judicial review will focus on the evidence in the case concerning whether Murphy was disabled after July 2005.

On the second step of the inquiry, the ALJ found that Murphy had the following severe impairments: irritable bowel syndrome, a limited ability to read and write, and pain in her lower back, left knee, left elbow, and right shoulder. The ALJ also found that Murphy suffered from depression, but decided that this impairment was not severe and did not cause more than a minimal limitation in performing basic work activities.

On the third step of the inquiry, the ALJ found that these impairments, taken together, did not meet or equal one of the Commissioner's listed impairments. He found that Murphy's musculoskeletal impairments were not severe enough to interfere with basic activities such as walking or performing both fine and gross movements. He found that Murphy's irritable bowel syndrome was not severe enough to result in a marked impairment, such as interference with nutrition, recurrent lesions, complications of disease, or recurrent obstruction.

Before the next step in the inquiry, the ALJ had to determine Murphy's residual functional capacity ("RFC"). The ALJ decided that Murphy was capable of performing light work comprised of simple tasks with limited reading and math requirements, but Murphy can only sit/stand twenty minutes at a time, lift/carry twenty pounds occasionally and ten pounds frequently, stand/walk for six hours and sit for six hours in an eight hour workday.

On the fourth step of the inquiry, the ALJ considered Murphy's RFC and determined that she was unable to perform her "past relevant work as a certified nurses' aide" ("CNA") on a full-time basis.

This led the ALJ to the fifth and final step in the inquiry, at which stage he determined that there are jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy that Murphy can perform, given her RFC. Specifically, he found that Murphy was able to perform the jobs of officer helper and information clerk, and thus was not disabled as defined in the Social Security Act.

2. Employment History

From 2000-2005, Murphy worked as a CNA until she was laid off from her full time job in July 2005. From November 2006 to the time of the hearing in 2008, Murphy was employed on a part-time basis as a CNA. She worked on Saturday and Sunday each week for a total of fifteen hours per week. Murphy testified that her employer was pleased with her performance. She requested full-time placement with this employer upon beginning work in November of 2006, but this request had not yet been granted at the time of the hearing. Murphy said that her employer promised she would get more work, but this additional work never materialized. Murphy believed that the additional hours were held up because of a Worker's Compensation claim she made for an on-the-job injury. Murphy looked for a new job, but did not manage to acquire one.

3. Treating Physician

Dr. Woodard was Murphy's treating physician and completed a "Residual Functional Capacity Questionnaire" for the ALJ's consideration. Woodard found that Murphy suffered from depression and that this condition would result in moderate limitations in her ability to deal with normal work stress. Woodard diagnosed Murphy with irritable bowel syndrome and back, shoulder, and knee pain. Woodard's RFC recommendation included the following limitations: Murphy be permitted to change at will between sitting, standing, and walking, receive unscheduled bathroom breaks, require occasional lifting of a maximum of twenty pounds, require frequent lifting of a maximum of ten pounds, and that Murphy sit/stand/walk less than a total of two hours in an eight hour workday. Woodard estimated that Murphy would be absent from work more than three times a month on average as a result of her impairments.

The ALJ adopted Woodard's RFC requirement that Murphy be permitted to change at will between sitting, standing, and walking, and a few other limitations, but did not adopt the RFC requirement that Murphy sit/stand/walk less than two hours in an eight hour workday.

4. Independent Psychiatric Evaluation

The Administration ordered an independent psychiatric examination of Murphy, which was done by Dr. Radomska on January 25, 2006. Radomska spent forty-five minutes obtaining Murphy's history and performing the examination. Radomska found that Murphy "has several stressors at the work place, finances, her family and landlord," and Murphy was "irritable, preoccupied with her problems" and had "some paranoid ideas" about her landlord and husband acting against her. Radomska's diagnosis was of a ...


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