Sadaka v. Astrue
MEMORANDUM OPINION re 17 MOTION for Summary Judgment and 19 Cross-MOTION for Summary Judgment. Signed by Judge Richard G. Andrews on 8/22/2012. (nms)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE DISTRICT OF DELAWARE
ALAN M. SADAKA,
MICHAEL J. ASTRUE,
Commissioner of Social Security,
John Grady, Esq., Dover, Delaware; Attorney for Plaintiff Alan M. Sadaka.
Charles M. Oberly, III, United States Attorney, Wilmington, Delaware; Patricia A.
Stewart, Special Assistant United States Attorney, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Attorneys
for Defendant Michael J. Astrue, Commissioner of Social Security.
TA ES DISTRICT JUDGE:
Plaintiff Alan M. Sadaka appeals the denial of his application for disability insurance
benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act and for supplemental security income under
Title XVI ofthe Social Security Act (collectively "DIB"). Jurisdiction exists pursuant to 42
U.S.C. §§ 405(g) & 1383(c)(3).
Pending before the Court are cross-motions for summary judgment filed by Sadaka and
the Commissioner. Sadaka's motion for summary judgment asks the Court to remand the case to
the Commissioner with instructions to award him DIB, or, in the alternative, to reconsider the
Commissioner's decision in light of this opinion. The Commissioner's cross-motion for
summary judgment requests that the Court affirm the decision to deny benefits.
1. Procedural History
Sadaka filed a request for disability on May 2, 2008. The alleged disability onset date
was February 5, 2002. His claim was denied both initially and upon reconsideration. An oral
hearing was held on November 23, 2009 before an administrative law judge ("ALJ"). The ALJ
denied Sadaka's application for benefits. The Appeals Council declined to overturn that
decision, which became the final order of the agency. Sadaka filed a Complaint (D.I. 2) seeking
judicial review of the ALJ's decision and a motion for summary judgment seeking benefits (D.I.
17). The Commissioner filed a cross-motion for summary judgment to affirm the ALJ' s denial
ofbenefits. (D.I. 19).
2. Relevant Medical History
In his disability application, Sadaka alleged that he was disabled due to chronic low back
pain, degenerative disc disease, right knee and leg problems, depression, high blood pressure,
high cholesterol, asthma, and heartburn. Tr. at 165. Sadaka's appeal, however, is limited to the
ALJ' s evaluation of his back pain and self-reported daily activities. Thus, only medical history
relevant to his appeal is summarized here.
Sadaka began experiencing back pain after a September 14, 2001 motor vehicle accident.
Tr. at 427. At that time, he worked for Baltimore Gas and Electric as a service technician. Tr. at
46, 54. Sadaka attempted to continue working despite his injury, but he lost his job in January
2002 as a result of back pain. Tr. at 18. Sadaka received conservative treatment, including
chiropractic treatment, back bracing and interventional therapy with epidural steroid injections,
but these measures were ineffective. Tr. at 477. Sadaka eventually saw Dr. Stephen Ludwig, an
orthopedic surgeon, for significant back pain in October 2006. Tr. at 168, 427. At the referral of
Dr. Ludwig, Dr. Kerry Thompson, neurologist, performed an L5-S1 discogram. Tr. at 388-90,
426. This diagnostic showed evidence of a diskopathic pain mechanism that correlated with
Sadaka's history of back pain. Tr. at 390. Dr. Thompson characterized the pain as
"debilitating." Tr. at 390. Thereafter, Dr. Ludwig diagnosed Sadaka with severe degenerative
lumbar disc disease and recommended surgery. Tr. at 424-25. Dr. Ludwig performed fusion
surgery at the L5-S1 vertebrae successfully in June 2007. Tr. at 391-418. In his two week
follow-up appointment, Dr. Ludwig noted that Sadaka's pain was reported to be controlled, his
spine was stable, and Sadaka should continue his activities of daily living as tolerated. Tr. at
479. Sadaka again saw Dr. Ludwig in August 2007. Tr. at 420. At this appointment, Sadaka
reported that he was "functionally doing better." Tr. at 420. His pain was under better control,
although he continued to take "high-level narcotics." Tr. at 420 (presumably, methadone and
oxycodone, Tr. at 19). Dr. Ludwig opined that Sadaka was doing well, assigned physical
therapy, and discussed weaning him off the pain medication. Tr. at 420. The next appointment
was in December 2007 and similarly positive, with Dr. Ludwig noting that Sadaka was doing
well and that Sadaka was happy with his level of function and pain relief. Tr. at 622.
Dr. Ludwig's final treatment notes are from October 2009. Tr. at 621. Dr. Ludwig noted
that Sadaka's pain symptoms had progressively worsened since he was off narcotics. Tr. at 621.
Dr. Ludwig also noted, however, that Sadaka was "improving clinically." Tr. at 621. Dr.
Ludwig assigned further physical therapy and made plans for a six month follow-up
appointment. Tr. at 621. Also in October 2009, Sadaka underwent an x-ray that reported his
fusion as having an "unremarkable appearance" with no additional findings. Tr. at 670. The
same month, Dr. Ludwig filled out a "Residual Functional Capacity Questionnaire" for Sadaka's
disability application. Tr. at 606-09. On the Questionnaire, Dr. Ludwig concluded that Sadaka
would necessarily miss at least four days of work per month due to his symptoms. Tr. at 609.
Sadaka also completed a "Function Report" concerning his daily activities. Tr. at 176-85. In
this report, Sadaka reported that he lived alone, did household chores and repairs, prepared his
own meals, cut his grass, and shopped for his own food. Tr. at 176-79.
On November 23, 2009, the ALJ conducted an in-person hearing where Sadaka testified
to his impairments and symptoms. Tr. at 38. Sadaka testified that, post-surgery, "I was better
than before, but I wasn't great." Tr. at 50. He testified that he still suffered from pain going
down his right leg and into his toes. Tr. at 50. Sadaka testified that every day is different, that
some days were "bad" and other days were "not-so-bad." Tr. at 52. On a good day, he rated his
pain at four out often, but commented that such days were rare. Tr. at 52. He was capable of
doing household chores, but those things were "very difficult" for him to do and afterwards his
pain was much worse. Tr. at 53. He was required to lay down three or four times per day to take
the weight off his spine. Tr. at 53. He also stated that for a period oftime after his surgery, his
pain was lessened by pain medication, but that he no longer took pain medication. Tr. at 56-57.
He also was undergoing psychological counseling and physical therapy. Tr. at 60.
A vocational expert then testified. The ALJ presented the expert with hypotheticals
corresponding to various possible combinations of Sadaka's limitations. Tr. at 64-67. The
expert considered those limitations and testified that such a person, if he did not have to lie down
four to five times a day, or miss one day of work per week, would be capable of working a
number of jobs that existed in the economy, including jobs as an inspector, price marker, table
worker, and assembler. Tr. at 65-67.
On March 23, 2010, the ALJ held that Sadaka was not disabled. Tr. at 30.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
The Court must uphold the Commissioner's factual decisions if they are supported by
"substantial evidence." See 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g), 1383(c)(3); Monsour Medical Center v.
Heckler, 806 F.2d 1185, 1190 (3d Cir. 1986). "Substantial evidence" means less than a
preponderance of the evidence but more than a mere scintilla of evidence. See Rutherford v.
Barnhart, 399 F.3d 546, 552 (3d Cir. 2005). As the United States Supreme Court has noted,
substantial evidence "does not mean a large or significant amount of evidence, but rather such
relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion."
Pierce v. Underwood, 487 U.S. 552, 565 (1988).
In determining whether substantial evidence supports the Commissioner's findings, the
Court may not undertake a de novo review of the Commissioner's decision and may not re-weigh
the evidence of record. See Monsour, 806 F.2d at 1190. The Court's review is limited to the
evidence that was actually presented to the ALJ. See Matthews v. Apfel, 239 F.3d 589, 593-95
(3d Cir. 2001). "Credibility determinations are the province ofthe ALJ and only should be
disturbed on review if not supported by substantial evidence." Pysher v. Apfel, 2001 WL
793305, at *3 (E.D. Pa. July 11, 2001).
The Third Circuit has explained that a "single piece of evidence will not satisfy the
substantiality test if the [Commissioner] ignores, or fails to resolve, a conflict created by
countervailing evidence. Nor is evidence substantial if it is overwhelmed by other evidenceparticularly certain types of evidence (e.g., evidence offered by treating physicians )-or if it really
constitutes not evidence but mere conclusion." Kent v. Schweiker, 710 F.2d 110, 114 (3d Cir.
Thus, the inquiry is not whether the Court would have made the same determination, but
rather, whether the Commissioner's conclusion was reasonable. See Brown v. Bowen, 845 F.2d
1211, 1213 (3d Cir. 1988). Even if the Court would have decided the case differently, it must
defer to the ALJ and affirm the Commissioner's decision so long as that decision is supported by
substantial evidence. See Monsour, 806 F.2d at 1190-91.
1. Disability Determination Process
Title 11 ofthe Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. § 423(a)(1)(D), "provides for the payment
of insurance benefits to persons who have contributed to the program and who suffer from a
physical or mental disability." Bowen v. Yuckert, 482 U.S. 137, 140 (1987). In order to qualify
for DIB, the claimant must establish that he or she was disabled prior to the date she was last
insured. See 20 C.F .R. § 404.131. A "disability" is defined as the inability to do any substantial
gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment which
can be expected to result in death or which has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous
period of not less than 12 months. See 42 U.S.C. §§ 423(d)(l)(A), 1382(c)(a)(3). A claimant is
disabled "only if [his] physical or mental impairment or impairments are of such severity that
[he] is not only unable to do [his] previous work but cannot, considering [his] age, education,
and work experience, engage in any other kind of substantial gainful work which exists in the
national economy." 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(2)(A); Barnhart v. Thomas, 540 U.S. 20,21-22 (2003).
In determining whether a person is disabled, the Commissioner is required to perform a
five-step sequential analysis. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520; Plummer v. Apfel, 186 F.3d 422,427-28
(3d Cir. 1999). If a finding of disability or non-disability can be made at any point in the
sequential process, the Commissioner will not review the claim further. 20 C.F.R. §
404.1520(a)(4). At step one, the Commissioner must determine whether the claimant is engaged
in any substantial gainful activity. If the claimant is engaged in substantial gainful activity, a
finding of non-disabled is required. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4)(i). If the claimant is not
engaged in substantial gainful activity, step two requires the Commissioner to determine whether
the claimant is suffering from a severe impairment or a combination of impairments that is
severe. If the claimant is not suffering from a severe impairment or a combination of
impairments that is severe, a finding of non-disabled is required. See 20 C.F.R. §
Ifthe claimant's impairments are severe, the Commissioner, at step three, compares the
claimant's impairments to a list of impairments (the "listings") that are presumed severe enough
to preclude any gainful work. See 20 C.P.R.§ 404.1520(a)(4)(iii): Plummer, 186 P.3d at 428.
When a claimant's impairment or its equivalent matches an impairment in the listing, the
claimant is presumed disabled. See 20 C.P.R.§ 404.1520(a)(4)(iii). If a claimant's impairment,
either singly or in combination, fails to meet or medically equal any listing, the analysis
continues to steps four and five. See 20 C.P.R. § 404.1520(e). At step four, the Commissioner
determines whether the claimant retains the residual functional capacity ("RFC") to perform his
past relevant work. See 20 C.P.R.§ 404.1520(a)(4)(iv); Plummer, 186 P.3d at 428. A claimant's
RFC is "that which an individual is still able to do despite the limitations caused by [his]
impairment(s)." Fargnoli v. Massanari, 247 P.3d 34, 40 (3d Cir. 2001). "The claimant bears the
burden of demonstrating an inability to return to [his] past relevant work." Plummer, 186 P.3d at
If the claimant is unable to return to his past relevant work, step five requires the
Commissioner to determine whether the claimant's impairments preclude him from adjusting to
any other available work. See 20 C.P.R. § 404.1520(g) (mandating finding of non-disability
when claimant can adjust to other work); Plummer, 186 P.3d at 428. At this last step, the burden
is on the Commissioner to show that the claimant is capable of performing other available work
before denying disability benefits. See !d. In other words, the Commissioner must prove that
"there are other jobs existing in significant numbers in the national economy which the claimant
can perform, consistent with [his] medical impairments, age, education, past work experience,
and [RFC]." ld In making this determination, the ALJ must analyze the cumulative effect of all
of the claimant's impairments. See id At this step, the ALJ often seeks the assistance of a
vocational expert. See id
The ALJ applied the sequential analysis in rejecting Sadaka's claim. Tr. at 17-30. The
ALJ found that Sadaka met the insured status requirement of the Social Security Act and had not
been engaged in substantial gainful activity since the alleged disability onset date of February 5,
2002. Tr. at 17. This satisfied the first step of the sequential analysis. At the second step, the
ALJ determined that Sadaka suffered from multiple severe impairments, including lumbar
degenerative disc disease with status-post June 2007 lumbar fusion, depression, and a right knee
disorder. Tr. at 17. The ALJ also determined that Sadaka's alleged obesity, hypertension,
asthma, and history of opiate dependency due to chronic pain medication were not severe
impairments. Tr. at 18-20. Because the ALJ found at least one severe impairment, he continued
to the third step of the sequential analysis to determine whether any impairment or combination
of impairments medically equaled one of the listed impairments that statutorily presume
disability. Tr. at 20-22. The ALJ held that none of Sadaka' s impairments equaled a listed
impairment. Tr. at 20.
The ALJ then continued to the fourth step, where he determined Sadaka's residual
functional capacity. Tr. at 22. The ALJ stated that he considered all of Sadaka's symptoms to
the extent they reasonably could be accepted based on the objective medical evidence. Tr. at 22.
The ALJ determined that Sadaka retained the residual functional capacity to perform certain
limited types of sedentary work. Tr. at 22. The work was limited to jobs that involved lifting no
more than ten pounds at a time and occasionally lifting or carrying articles like docket files,
ledgers, and small tools. Tr. at 22. At the fifth step, the ALJ determined that Sadaka was not
capable of his previous work as a service technician. Tr. at 28. The ALJ then adopted the
vocational expert's opinion that Sadaka was capable ofworking a number of jobs that existed in
significant numbers in the local and national economy. Tr. at 28-29. For these reasons, the ALJ
held that Sadaka was not disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act. Tr. at 23, 30.
2. Appeal and Analysis of the ALJ's Decision
Sadaka appeals the ALJ's decision, making three arguments: (1) the ALJ erred by
rejecting Sadaka's orthopedic surgeon's opinion that he would necessarily miss four work days
per month due to his symptoms (D.I. 18, p. 14); (2) the ALJ erred when he failed to account for
the findings of Sadaka' s neurologist in making the ALJ' s credibility determinations about
Sadaka's subjective complaints (!d. at 17-18); and (3) the ALJ wrongfully emphasized Sadaka's
daily activities in making the residual functional capacity determination. (!d. at 19). The Court
discusses each of these arguments in tum.
Sadaka first argues that the ALJ improperly denied weight to a key conclusion of his
treating physician, Dr. Ludwig. Specifically, the ALJ erred by not crediting Dr. Ludwig's
conclusion that Sadaka would necessarily miss at least four days of work per month due to his
impairments. In making this conclusion, Sadaka argues, the ALJ ignored Dr. Ludwig's specialty
as an orthopedic surgeon, the fact that Dr. Ludwig actually performed the back surgery, and the
history of the treating relationship dating back to 2001. Instead, Sadaka argues, the ALJ
improperly relied on a single x-ray taken in October 2009, seven years after the alleged disability
onset date. An ALJ may reject a well-supported treating physician's opinion only on the basis of
contradictory medical evidence. Morales v. Apftl, 225 F.3d 310, 318 (3d Cir. 2000). That
opinion may not be rejected for no reason or the wrong reason. !d. at 317. When there is
contradictory medical evidence, the ALJ must carefully evaluate how much weight to give the
treating physician's opinion and provide an explanation as to why that opinion was not given
controlling weight. Gonzalez v. Astrue, 537 F. Supp. 2d 644, 660 (D. Del. 2008).
The ALJ's decision to deny credit to Dr. Ludwig's conclusion that Sadaka would
necessarily miss at least four days of work each month was supported by substantial evidence.
The ALJ properly considered the extent of Sadaka' s treatment relationship with Dr. Ludwig.
The ALJ conducted a lengthy review ofSadaka's medical history, beginning with the September
2001 car accident that triggered his back problems. 1 Tr. at 23. The ALJ discussed the various
therapies Sadaka attempted to unsuccessfully treat his back pain. Tr. at 23. The ALJ noted that
these conservative treatments failed and that Dr. Ludwig performed a "Stage II posterior spinal
fusion at L5-Sl with posterior non-sentimental instrumentation" in June 2007. Tr. at 24. The
ALJ documented Dr. Ludwig's post-surgery treatment through October 2009, including Dr.
Ludwig's opinion that Sadaka was doing "very well" and happy with his levels of function and
pain relief. Tr. at 24. The ALJ demonstrated that he understood the extent of the doctor-patient
relationship and fairly incorporated those details into the opinion. This included Dr. Ludwig's
status as Sadaka's treating orthopedic surgeon who actually performed the back surgery.
Sadaka' s insistence to the contrary is without merit.
Further, the ALJ's decision to deny Dr. Ludwig's opinion full credit was based on far
more than a single October 2009 x-ray. For example, the ALJ relied on Dr. Ludwig's notations
that, within two weeks of the June 2007 surgery, Sadaka retained full motor strength, had grossly
Although Sadaka argues that the ALJ failed to consider the fact that Dr. Ludwig began treating Sadaka in 200 I
(D.I. 18, p. 16), the records state that Dr. Ludwig's treatment did not start until October 2006. Tr. at 168,427.
Sadaka further argued that the ALJ never made an alternative conclusion as to how many days Sadaka would miss
from work each month. (D.I. 18, p. 16). Sadaka, however, cites no law suggesting that the ALJ had a duty to make
this determination. Finally, Sadaka argues that the ALJ failed to adequately address Dr. Ludwig's orthopedic
specialty and the fact that he was the physician who actually performed the surgery. (D.I. 18, p. 16). The record
shows, however, that the ALJ addressed these facts and incorporated them into his analysis. Tr. at 23-24.
intact sensation, equal reflexes, and was instructed to resume activities of daily living as
tolerated. Tr. at 421. Dr. Ludwig's observations from December 2007 further support the ALJ's
[Sadaka] is doing very well. He is happy with his level of function and level of
pain relief. His pain is much more diminished ... He is neurologically intact. He
stands well balanced in the coronal and sagittal planes ... AP and lateral of the
lumbar spine shows good maintenance of alignment. No evidence ofhardware
failure ... At this juncture, [Sadaka] is doing well.
Tr. at 622. The ALJ also relied on a key observation from Dr. Ludwig's October 2009
records: "At this point, Mr. Sadaka is improving clinically." Tr. at 621. This observation
is important because it was made the same month that Dr. Ludwig opined that Sadaka
would necessarily miss four days of work per month. Tr. at 609. Although Dr. Ludwig's
October 2009 appointment notes also state that Sadaka's pain progressively worsened
after he went off narcotics, at no point do they suggest that the pain was incapacitating.
Tr. at 621. If Dr. Ludwig had actually observed significantly limiting symptoms, it
follows that he would have simply stated so in his treatment records, rather than
repeatedly noting improvement over time. Further, Sadaka's physical therapist stated
that exercises decreased Sadaka's pain. 2 These inconsistencies provided a reasonable
basis for the ALJ to deny full credit to Dr. Ludwig's opinion.
The inconsistencies did not stop there, however. Dr. Ludwig's opinion was also
undermined by the internal inconsistency of the Residual Functional Capacity
Questionnaire he completed on Sadaka's behalf. On one hand, the Questionnaire claimed
that Sadaka would miss at least four days of work per month due to his symptoms. Tr. at
609. On the other hand, the Questionnaire stated that Sadaka was "occasionally" capable
At a November 2009 physical therapy appointment, Sadaka reported, "I have pain, but the pain decreases a lot after
I do my exercises." Tr. at 648.
of performing the following physically demanding activities: "twist," "stoop,"
"crouch/squat," "climb ladders," and "climb stairs." Tr. at 609. In addition, Sadaka had
no problems "reaching, handling, or fingering." Tr. at 609. Perhaps most significantly,
Dr. Ludwig concluded that Sadaka was "frequently" capable of carrying ten pounds or
less, "occasionally" capable of carrying twenty pounds, and "rarely" (but not "never")
capable of carrying fifty pounds. Tr. at 608. All of these conclusions were made in the
context of a "competitive work situation." Tr. at 608. These inconsistencies provided the
ALJ with an additional basis to discredit the conclusion that Sadaka would necessarily
miss "[a]bout four days per month" from work. Tr. at 609.
The ALJ thus took into account the entirety of Dr. Ludwig's relevant treatment
records, citing specific progress notes and examinations. The ALJ did not merely rely on
a single x-ray in declining to credit Dr. Ludwig's opinion. That is not to say that it was
incorrect to rely on the x-ray in the context of the entire record. To the contrary, the x-ray
provided additional objective evidence that Sadaka's back was stable post-surgery. The
x-ray diagnostic findings follow:
All vertebral bodies are well aligned. Prior fusion at L5-S 1 identified, stabilized
by metallic hardware including transpedicular screws. There is a prosthetic
spacer at the L5-S 1 level.
No fracture or compression deformity is identified. All disc spaces are well
IMPRESSION: UNREMARKABLE APPEARANCE OF PRIOR L5-S 1
FUSION. THERE ARE NO ADDITIONAL SIGNIFICANT FINDINGS.
Tr. at 670. These objective findings reflected stability in Sadaka's back condition. The ALJ was
entitled to consider them in determining Sadaka's residual functional capacity. He had the
statutory authority to choose which evidence to credit among conflicting evidence, so long as he
does not reject evidence for no reason or the wrong reason. See Mason v. Shalala, 994 F .2d
1058, 1066 (3d Cir. 1993). Dr. Ludwig's records did not contain observations of extremely
limiting symptoms and therefore do not support his "check-the box" conclusion that Sadaka
would necessarily miss four days of work per week. 3 Moreover, Dr. Ludwig's opinion regarding
Sadaka's physical capacity to work a certain number of days per month intruded into the ALJ's
sole authority to determine the claimant's residual functional capacity. See Bassler v. Comm'r of
Soc. Sec., 2012 WL 393660, n.1 (W.D. Pa. 2012). For all these reasons, there was substantial
evidence to support the ALJ's decision to disregard Dr. Ludwig's conclusion that Sadaka would
miss four days of work per month due to his impairments and symptoms.
Sadaka next argues that the ALJ failed to give due weight to his subjective complaints of
pam. "In order for an ALJ to reject a claim of disabling pain, he must consider the subjective
pain and specify his reasons for rejecting these claims and support his conclusion with medical
evidence in the record." Matullo v. Bowen, 926 F.2d 240,245 (3d Cir. 1990). Sadaka argues
that ALJ ignored the objective findings of his neurologist, Dr. Kerry Thompson. These findings
supposedly supported his subjective complaints:
Clinically significant diagnostic injection results have been observed at L5-S 1.
As summarized above, there is unequivocal evidence for a major underlying
diskopathic pain mechanism, which, in my opinion, closely correlates with and
best explains this patient's long-standing debilitating lower back condition.
Tr. at 390. Sadaka argues that the ALJ's failure to incorporate Dr. Thompson's findings into the
opinion was error. The ALJ, however, did not ignore this evidence. Although the ALJ did not
mention Dr. Thompson by name, he noted that Sadaka underwent "a discogram that revealed
unequivocal evidence for a major underlying discopathic pain mechanism at L5-S 1 that
correlated to the claimant's pain complaints." Tr. at 24. This was an accurate paraphrase of Dr.
Fonns that require physicians to only check boxes and fill in blanks are considered weak evidence absent thorough
treatment reports in support. See id. at 1065.
Thompson's findings. Further, the ALJ did not err by declining to give weight to Dr.
Thompson's opinion that Sadaka's back pain was debilitating. First, the question of whether a
condition is debilitating, i.e., disabling, is one reserved to the Commissioner. Ray v. Astrue, 649
F. Supp. 2d 391,400 (E.D. Pa. 2009). Second, Dr. Thompson made these findings before
Sadaka underwent back surgery. 4 The record is replete with evidence that the surgery provided
Sadaka with considerable pain relief. See, e.g., Tr. at 622. Findings that only correspond to
Sadaka's pre-surgery condition do not provide objective evidence in support of Sadaka's postsurgery subjective complaints. The ALJ therefore was not required to explain why his
conclusion conflicted with Dr. Thompson's findings.
Sadaka's final argument is that the ALJ erred by excessively relying on evidence of his
daily activities in determining his residual functional capacity. The ALJ considered Sadaka's
testimony and a "Function Report" completed by Sadaka. Tr. at 52-53, 176-83. From this
evidence, the ALJ noted the following:
It bears reiteration that the claimant testified that he is independent regarding
personal care and he is capable of performing all housework as consistent with the
record. He is clearly able to reside independently, be self-reliant and be selfsufficient. His Function Report corroborates independence of daily activities and
no problems with social functioning as admitted therein.
Tr. at 27. Sadaka argues that the ALJ erred by relying on Sadaka's personal activities, arguing,
"Disability does not mean that a claimant must vegetate in a dark room excluded from all forms
ofhuman and social activity." Smith v. Califano, 637 F.2d 968, 971 (3d Cir. 1981). The ALJ,
however, never imposed this requirement on Sadaka. It is appropriate for an ALJ to consider a
The residual functional capacity determination was made in regard to Sadaka's capabilities post-surgery. Sadaka's
evidence in support of his claim for disability, including Dr. Ludwig's RFC Questionnaire, chiefly related to his
post-surgery capabilities. The ALJ properly evaluated his claim accordingly.
claimant's statements regarding his daily activities when those statements are inconsistent with
complete disability. See Giese v. Comm'r ofSoc. Sec., 251 F. App'x 799, 803 (3d Cir. 2007).
In the "Function Report," Sadak:a stated that he lived alone in a trailer, handled his
personal hygiene, did laundry, cleaned the house, and prepared his own meals. Tr. at 176. He
took care of his dog with the assistance of his brothers. Tr. at 177. He did household repairs, cut
the grass, and whacked the weeds. Tr. at 178. He shopped for food, attempted to go outside at
least twice a day, and was in frequent contact with his family. Tr. at 179-80. He admitted no
problem with paying attention and got along with authority figures. Tr. at 181, 184. It was
perfectly acceptable for the ALJ to rely on this information in determining Sadak:a' s residual
functional capacity. Sadak:a cites Smith to the contrary, but that case is inapposite. There, the
ALJ was overturned for relying on activity that the claimant only engaged in sporadically and for
very short periods oftime. See Smith, 637 F.2d at 971-72. In contrast, the ALJ here based his
findings on Sadak:a's regular and continuous daily activities. When asked how often he did daily
chores, Sadak:a admitted, "I pretty much am always doing these things. It [seems] I never really
stop." Tr. at 178. This admission provides evidence inconsistent with a finding of complete
disability. The ALJ did not error by relying on Sadaka's self-reported daily activities in his
Sadak:a has failed to establish that the ALJ lacked substantial evidence in determining he
was not disabled. His request for summary judgment is therefore denied. An appropriate order