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Cynthia Mansker v. Commissioner of Social Security

March 30, 2011

CYNTHIA MANSKER, PLAINTIFF,
v.
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, MICHAEL J. ASTRUE, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Stiehl, District Judge

AMENDED MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

Before the Court is the Report and Recommendation of Magistrate Judge Clifford J. Proud that this Court affirm the Administrative Law Judge's determination affirming the Commissioner's final decision finding that plaintiff is not disabled and deny her motion for Summary Judgment. (Doc. 25.) The plaintiff filed objections to the Report and Recommendation (Doc. 39) and the defendant filed a response. (Doc. 43.) Upon review of the record, the Court ADOPTS the Report and Recommendation of Magistrate Judge Clifford J. Proud (Doc. 37). Pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 636(b) the Court will review those portions of the recommendation to which objections were filed.

I. BACKGROUND

Plaintiff, Cynthia Mansker, filed an appeal with this Court from the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner") which denied her application for Social Security benefits. Plaintiff claims to have been disabled since July 5, 2005, due to shortness of breath, pain in her knees and lower back, diabetes, hearing and vision loss, and arthritis in her fingers.

The magistrate judge has filed a Report and Recommendation in which he recommends that plaintiff's motion for summary judgment be denied and that Commissioner's final decision denying disability benefits be adopted.

The parties do not object to the facts as set out in the magistrate judge's Report and Recommendation. Briefly, plaintiff filed concurrent applications for disability insurance benefits and supplemental security income in July, 2005, alleging disability beginning in 2005 as a result of diabetes, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, arthritis, and hearing and visual impairments. The application was denied initially in October of 2005, and again on reconsideration in February of 2006. At plaintiff's request, a hearing was held before the Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") on August 22, 2007. The ALJ denied the application for benefits in a decision dated April 7, 2008. The Appeals Council denied plaintiff's request for review on January 6, 2009, making the ALJ April 7, 2008 decision final.

Plaintiff then sought judicial review in this Court arguing that: (1) ALJ's Residual Functional Capacity ("RFC") Assessment was not supported by substantial evidence, (2) the ALJ erred in weighing medical opinions, (3) ALJ's finding that plaintiff could return to her past relevant work was flawed because she did not determine the specific requirements of that past work and (4) the ALJ erred in her determination of plaintiff's credibility. The magistrate judge rejected plaintiff's arguments.

The magistrate judge recommends that this Court find that the ALJ's findings as to plaintiff's RFC are supported by substantial evidence in the record and that the ALJ put forth sufficient analysis of the evidence and set out a logical explanation about how the plaintiff's symptoms limit her ability to work. This analysis included a finding that the ALJ did not err in her determination that the plaintiff was not a credible witness as to the self-serving description of her disabling symptoms. The magistrate judge also recommends a determination by this Court that the ALJ did not err in weighing medical opinions and favoring the opinion of the examining doctor over the opinion of the treating doctor. The magistrate judge explained that, "the ALJ quite properly observed that the rather severe limitations set forth in [the treating doctor's] assessment were contradicted by the objective findings in his own records." Finally, the magistrate judge's recommendation is a finding that the ALJ did not have to investigate in any detail the requirements of the plaintiff's past relevant work, because the plaintiff had no functional limitations in the use of her hands. Following magistrate judge's Report and Recommendation, plaintiff filed a timely objection.

Judicial review of a denial of a social security benefits claims against the Commissioner of Social Security is limited to a determination of whether the ALJ's findings are supported by substantial evidence. See, Books v. Chater, 91 F.3d 972, 977-78 (7th Cir. 1996). This Court will review de novo those parts of the Report and Recommendation to which the plaintiff objects. See 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(C); L.H. Jr. v. Astrue, No. 3:07-CV-300-TS, 2010 WL 2710577, at *1 (N.D. Ind. July 7, 2010).

II. ANALYSIS

Plaintiff raises several objections to the magistrate judge's Report and Recommendation. First, plaintiff objects to ALJ's treatment of Dr. Leung's opinion. She asserts that the magistrate judge failed to explain why, despite differences between the light work requirement of 6 hours in an 8-hour work day and Dr. Leung's finding that plaintiff should be limited to standing for 4 hours and walking 1 hour, the magistrate judge recommended a finding that the ALJ's opinion was supported by "substantial evidence". Second, plaintiff objects to the magistrate judge's finding regarding plaintiff's fatigue due to diabetes. Third, plaintiff objects to the magistrate judge's recommendation regarding the ALJ's treatment of plaintiff's limitations regarding the use of her hands. Fourth, plaintiff objects to magistrate judge's recommendation regarding plaintiff's hearing and vision impairments. Fifth, plaintiff objects to magistrate judge's recommendation on ALJ's determination on how much weight to give the opinion of plaintiff's treating doctor, because the ALJ did not address the factors required by 20 C.F.R. § 404.1527(d). Sixth, plaintiff objects to the magistrate judge's recommendation regarding ALJ's finding that plaintiff could return to her past work without sufficiently considering the demands of that work. Finally, plaintiff objects to magistrate judge's recommendation regarding smoking cessation as a factor in determining credibility.

A. The ALJ Properly Found that Plaintiff Was Capable of Performing Light Work.

The ALJ determined that plaintiff had the RFC to perform light work and the magistrate judge found that this determination was based on substantial evidence. Plaintiff takes issue with an alleged inconsistency between Dr. Leung's opinion that plaintiff should be limited to standing for 4 hours per day and walking 1 hour per day, and Dr. Kerr's opinion, that plaintiff could stand or walk for less than 2 out of 8 hours, in contract to the ALJ's finding that plaintiff could perform "light work" which requires standing and walking about 6 hours in an 8-hour day. (AR 17.) However, plaintiff's argument misses the mark in that it relies on only a partial definition of "light work". SSR 83-10 additionally defines "light work" as a job involving "sitting most of the time but with some pushing and pulling of arm-hand or leg-foot controls, which require greater exertion than in sedentary work." See SSR 83-10; 20 C.F.R. § 404.1567(b); Ziegler v. Astrue, 336 F. App'x 563, 569 (7th Cir. 2009) ("[plaintiff] may be correct that he could not perform a job that required a 'good deal of walking or standing,' but his argument ignores the remainder of the definition."). Thus, according to its full statutory definition, the ALJ properly found that plaintiff was restricted to a limited range of light work.

Additionally, plaintiff alleges that the ALJ erred by not sufficiently addressing both doctors' opinions on plaintiff's limitations of walking and standing due to leg pain and numbness. However, a complete reading of the record reveals that the ALJ did specifically address these concerns but found that the "evidence as a whole does not support the degree of limitations assigned." (AR 16.) The ALJ properly determined, that Dr. Kerr's findings regarding plaintiff's limitations of walking and sitting, were primarily based on plaintiff's self-reported symptoms. (AR 16.) The ALJ ...


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