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Lisa Moreiras-Maczko v. Michael J. Astrue

November 4, 2011

LISA MOREIRAS-MACZKO,
PLAINTIFF,
v.
MICHAEL J. ASTRUE, COMMISSIONER OF
SOCIAL SECURITY, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Magistrate Judge George J. Limbert

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Lisa Moreiras-Maczko ("Plaintiff") seeks judicial review of the final decision of Michael J. Astrue ("Defendant"), Commissioner of the Social Security Administration ("SSA"), denying her application for Disability Insurance Benefits ("DIB") and Supplemental Security Income ("SSI"). ECF Dkt. #1. For the following reasons, the Court REVERSES the Commissioner's decision and remands the instant case for further proceedings:

I. PROCEDURAL AND FACTUAL HISTORY

On June 28, 2006, Plaintiff filed applications for DIB and SSI, alleging disability beginning September 26, 2003. ECF Dkt. #12-6 at 175-184.*fn1 The SSA denied Plaintiff's applications initially, ECF Dkt. 12-4 at 144-145, and on reconsideration. Id. at 146-147. On April 17, 2007, Plaintiff filed a request for an administrative hearing. Id. at 168. On May 27, 2009, an ALJ conducted an administrative hearing where Plaintiff was represented by counsel. ECF Dkt. #12-3 at 94-142. At the hearing, the ALJ heard testimony from Plaintiff and Kathleen L. Reis, a vocational expert ("VE"). Id. On July 30, 2009, the ALJ issued a Decision ("Decision") denying benefits. ECF Dkt. #12-2 at 76-92. Plaintiff filed a request for review, ECF Dkt. #12-2 at 74-75, which the Appeals Council denied. Id. at 65-69.

On June 18, 2010, Plaintiff filed the instant suit seeking review of the ALJ's decision. ECF Dkt. #1. On January 4, 2011, Plaintiff filed a brief on the merits. ECF Dkt. #16. With leave of Court on March 3, 2011, Defendant filed a brief on the merits. ECF Dkt. #18. With leave of Court on March 30, 2011, Plaintiff filed a reply brief. ECF Dkt. #20.

II. SUMMARY OF RELEVANT PORTIONS OF THE ALJ'S DECISION

The ALJ determined that Plaintiff suffered from postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome ("POTS"), a herniated L5-S1 disc and degenerative disc disease of the lumbar spine, myxoid degeneration of the menisci and early degenerative arthritis of the left knee, a depressive disorder v. bipolar II disorder, and panic disorder with agoraphobia, which qualified as severe impairments under 20 C.F.R. §404.1520(c) and 416.920(c)). ECF Dkt. #12-2 at 81. The ALJ next determined that Plaintiff did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that met or medically equaled one of the impairments listed in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 ("Listings"). Id. at 83-85. He ultimately concluded that, although Plaintiff can no longer perform her past relevant work, she has the residual functional capacity to perform a range of sedentary work, as defined by

20 C.F.R. §404.1567(a) and 404.967(a). Id. at 85.Specifically, she can lift, carry, push and pull a maximum of 10 pounds but must be able to sit or stand at will in 30-minute increments in an 8-hour workday. She is limited to simple, routine, low-stress tasks that do not take place in public and that involve no more than superficial interactions with supervisors, co-workers and the public. She is precluded from tasks involving arbitration, negotiation, confrontation, directing the work of others, and being responsible for the safety of others. Id.

III. STEPS TO EVALUATE ENTITLEMENT TO SOCIAL SECURITY BENEFITS

An ALJ must proceed through the required sequential steps for evaluating entitlement to SSI and DIB benefits. These steps are:

1. An individual who is working and engaging in substantial gainful activity will not be found to be "disabled" regardless of medical findings (20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(b) and 416.920(b) (1992));

2. An individual who does not have a "severe impairment" will not be found to be "disabled" (20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(c) and 416.920(c) (1992));

3. If an individual is not working and is suffering from a severe impairment which meets the duration requirement, see 20 C.F.R. § 404.1509 and 416.909 (1992), and which meets or is equivalent to a listed impairment in 20 C.F.R. Pt. 404, Subpt. P, App. 1, a finding of disabled will be made without consideration of vocational factors (20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(d) and 416.920(d) (1992));

4. If an individual is capable of performing the kind of work he or she has done in the past, a finding of "not disabled" must be made (20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(e) and 416.920(e) (1992));

5. If an individual's impairment is so severe as to preclude the performance of the kind of work he or she has done in the past, other factors including age, education, past work experience and residual functional capacity must be considered to determine if other work can be performed (20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(f) and 416.920(f) (1992)).

Hogg v. Sullivan, 987 F.2d 328, 332 (6th Cir. 1992). The claimant has the burden to go forward with the evidence in the first four steps and the Commissioner has the burden in the fifth step. ...


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