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Joann Moots v. Commissioner of Social Security Administration

February 21, 2012


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Magistrate Judge Mchargh


This case is before the Magistrate Judge pursuant to the consent of the parties. (Doc. 13). The issue before the undersigned is whether the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security (the "Commissioner") denying Plaintiff Joann Moots's application for a Period of Disability and Disability Insurance Benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 416(i) and 423 is supported by substantial evidence, and therefore, conclusive.

For the reasons stated herein, the Court AFFIRMS the decision of the Commissioner. I. INTRODUCTION & PROCEDURAL HISTORY

On September 28, 2007, Joann Moots*fn1 ("Plaintiff" or "Moots") filed an application for a Period of Disability and Disability Insurance Benefits. (Tr. 106-13). Plaintiff alleged that she became disabled on February 1, 2001, due to suffering from bipolar disorder, arthritis in her hands and arms, and being suicidal. (Tr. 145). Plaintiff's application was denied initially and upon reconsideration. (Tr. 51-52). Subsequently, Plaintiff requested a hearing before an administrative law judge to contest the denial of her application. (Tr. 76-77). The Social Security Administration later acknowledged receipt of Plaintiff's request and informed her that her request was approved. (Tr. 78-79, 87-91).

On September 28, 2009, Administrative Law Judge Penny Loucas (the "ALJ" or "ALJ Loucas") convened a hearing via video to consider Plaintiff's application for benefits. (Tr. 6-50). ALJ Loucas presided over the hearing from Springfield, Massachusetts, and Plaintiff and her counsel appeared in Mansfield, Ohio. (Tr. 56). Vocational expert, James Parker (the "VE") also appeared and testified at the hearing. (Tr. 38-50).

On October 26, 2009, ALJ Loucas issued her unfavorable ruling concluding that Plaintiff was not disabled under the Social Security regulations. (Tr. 53-65). In the decision, the ALJ applied the five-step sequential analysis,*fn2 and determined that Plaintiff retained the ability to perform work which existed in significant numbers in the national economy. (Id.) Plaintiff sought review of the ALJ's decision from the Appeals Council, but it denied her request, thereby making ALJ Loucas's decision the final decision of the Commissioner. (Tr. 4-5, 1-3). Plaintiff now seeks judicial review of the Commissioner's decision pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).

Plaintiff, born on January 7, 1948, was fifty-three years old on her alleged onset date, and was therefore considered as a "person closely approaching advanced age" for Social Security purposes. (Tr. 51); See 20 C.F.R. § 404.1563(d). Moots graduated from high school and attended fifteen months of college. (Tr. 141). She has past experience working as a window frame assembler, greeter, store detective and as a corrections officer. (Tr. 40).


Plaintiff has a history of problems associated with the use of her hands and arms. In July 2001, Moots underwent x-rays of both of her hands after expressing complaints of pain in them. (Tr. 394). Upon examination, her radiologist, Dr. K. Lew, noted "quite advanced osteoarthritic changes" and spur formation in both of Plaintiff's hands. (Id.) Dr. Lew diagnosed Plaintiff with "[a]dvanced osteoarthritic changes of the distal interphalengeal joints of both hands." (Id.) Following this diagnosis there is a three year lapse in Plaintiff's treatment of this condition.*fn4 It was not until 2004 that she sought treatment for this impairment again.

On July 28, 2004, Moots presented to Dr. Carlos Nani*fn5 complaining of numbness in all of the fingers on her right hand. (Tr. 235-36). Dr. Nani diagnosed Moots with rheumatoid arthritis and carpal tunnel syndrome in her right hand, and recommended surgery. (Id.) The next day Moots underwent surgery on her right hand. (Tr. 236). Months later, Plaintiff presented to Dr. Robert Dawson complaining of pain in her right hand and wrist due to an injury she suffered while working at a factory. (Tr. 457). Dr. Dawson noted that Moots experienced "pain with CMC grind maneuver" and had tenderness in the base of her index carpal metacarpal joint. (Id.) He administered Plaintiff a series of injections of pain medication, after which Plaintiff noted that her symptoms subsided. (Tr. 457). Subsequently, when Plaintiff presented to Dr. Dawson for a follow-up visit on March 9, 2005, she indicated that her right wrist was "100%" better. (Tr. 458). However, during the appointment, Plaintiff also informed Dr. Dawson that she had begun to experience pain in her left elbow. (Id.)


Following the completion of the administrative hearing, ALJ Loucas ruled that Plaintiff was not disabled. (Tr. 53-65). At step one, the ALJ found that Moots had not engaged in substantial gainful activity from her alleged onset date of February 1, 2001 through her date last insured of December 31, 2004. (Tr. 58). At step two, ALJ Loucas held that Plaintiff suffered from two severe impairments: bipolar disorder and disorders of the hand. (Tr. 59). Next, at step three, the ALJ determined that none of Plaintiff's severe impairments met or equaled one of the listed impairments set forth in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. (Tr. 59-60). Before moving to step four, ALJ Loucas assessed Plaintiff's residual functional capacity ("RFC") to work. The ALJ concluded that Moots retained the RFC to perform a limited range of light work as defined in 20 C.F.R § 404.1567(b). (Tr. 60-64). ALJ Loucas further noted that from a mental health standpoint, Plaintiff suffered from no more than moderate limitations. (Id.) Based upon Plaintiff's prior experience working as a greeter, at step four, the ALJ found that Plaintiff's RFC permitted her to return to this type of work. (Tr. 64-65).


A claimant is entitled to receive Disability Insurance and/or Supplemental Security Income benefits only when she establishes disability within the meaning of the Social Security Act. See 42 U.S.C. ยงยง 423, 1381. A claimant is considered disabled when she cannot perform "substantial gainful employment by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment that can be expected to result in death or that has lasted or can be ...

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