TASSELL v. COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY
OPINION. Signed by Judge Kevin McNulty on 12/1/16. (DD, )
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE DISTRICT OF NEW JERSEY
LUCILLE VAN TASSELL,
Civ. No. 15—5886 (KM)
CAROLYN COLVIN, Acting Commissioner
of Social Security,
KEVIN MCNULTY, U.S.D.J.:
Lucille Van Tassell brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §
405(g) to review a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security
(“Commissioner”) denying her claim for Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”)
under Title II of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C.
§ 40 1-434. Van Tassell
alleges that she is entitled to benefits because she is unable to engage in
substantial gainful activity because of debilitating knee pain. For the reasons
set forth below, the Administrative Law Judges (“AU”) decision is AFFIRMED.
Van Tassell has been diagnosed with osteoarthritis in her left knee.
From 2010-11, Van Tassell underwent a number of procedures to ameliorate
the pain she feels in that knee. In May 2011, she underwent a surgical knee
replacement. Van Tassell, who had been a home health aide, has not worked
since. (R. 11-17)’
Van Tassell applied for DIB on December 8, 2011. Her application was
initially denied on February 13, 2012 and then on reconsideration on May 10,
2012. Following two hearings at which Van Tassell testified and was
represented by counsel, AU Joel Friedman found that Van Tassell was not
under a disability as defined in the Social Security Act. On May 26, 2015, the
Pages in the administrative record (ECF no. 6) are cited as “R.
Appeals Council denied her request for review, rendering the AU’s decision the
final decision of the Commissioner. Van Tassell now appeals that decision. (R.
To qualify for Title II DIB benefits, a claimant must meet the insured
status requirements of 42 U.S.C. § 423(c). She must also show that she is
unable to engage in substantial gainful activity 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 expected to last) for a continuous period of
not less than twelve months. 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A).
Standard of Review
This Court exercises a plenary review of all legal issues. Schaudeck v.
Comm’r of Soc. Sec., 181 F.3d 429, 431 (3d Cir. 1999). This Court adheres to
the AU’s findings so long as they are supported by substantial evidence. Jones
v. Bamhart, 364 F.3d 501, 503 (3d Cir. 2004) (citing 42 U.S.C. 405(g)). Where
facts are disputed, this Court will “determine whether the administrative record
contains substantial evidence supporting the findings.” Sykes v. Apfel, 228
F.3d 259, 262 (3d Cir. 2000). “Substantial evidence is such relevant evidence
as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.”
Zirnsak v. Colvin, 777 F.3d 607, 610 (3d Cir. 2014) (internal quotation marks
and citation omitted). Substantial evidence “is more than a mere scintilla but
may be somewhat less than a preponderance of the evidence.” Id. (internal
quotation marks and citation omitted).
[Un evaluating whether substantial evidence supports the AU’s
leniency should be shown in establishing the claimant’s
the Secretary’s responsibility to rebut it should
be strictly construed. Due regard for the beneficent purposes of the
legislation requires that a more tolerant standard be used in this
administrative proceeding than is applicable in a typical suit in a
court of record where the adversary system prevails.
Reefer v. Bamhart, 326 F.3d 376, 379 (3d Cir. 2003) (internal citations and
quotations omitted). When there is substantial evidence to support the AU’s
factual findings, however, this Court must abide by them. See Jones, 364 F.3d
at 503 (citing 42 U.S.C. § 405(g)); Zirnsak, 777 F.3d at 610—11 (“[W]e are
mindful that we must not substitute our own judgment for that of the fact
This Court may, under 42 U.S.C.
§ 405(g), affirm, modify, or reverse the
Secretary’s decision, or it may remand the matter to the Secretary for a
rehearing. Podedwomy v. Harris, 745 F.2d 210, 221 (3d Cir. 1984). Outright
reversal with an award of benefits is appropriate only when a fully developed
administrative record substantial evidence which, on the whole, establishes
that the claimant is disabled and entitled to benefits. Podedwomy, 745 F.2d at
22 1-222; Morales v. Apfel, 225 F.3d 310, 320 (3d Cir. 2000); see also Bantleon
v. Comm’r of Soc. Sec., 2010 WL 2802266, at *13 (D.N.J. July 15, 2010).
Remand is proper if the record is incomplete, or if there is a lack of substantial
evidence to support a definitive finding on one or more steps of the five step
inquiry. See Podedworny, 745 F.2d at 221—22. Remand is also proper if the
AU’s decision lacks adequate reasoning or support for its conclusions, or if it
contains illogical or contradictory findings. See Burnett v. Comm’r of Soc. Sec.,
220 F.3d 112, 119—20 (3d Cir. 2000); Leech v. Bamhart, 111 Fed. Appx. 652,
658 (3d Cir. 2004) (“We will not accept the AU’s conclusion that Leech was not
disabled during the relevant period, where his decision contains significant
contradictions and is therefore unreliable.”). It is also proper to remand where
the AU’s findings are not the product of a complete review which “explicitly’
weigh[sj all relevant, probative and available evidence” in the record. Adorn
Shalala, 40 F.3d 43, 48 (3d Cir. 1994).
The Five Step Analysis
Under the authority of the Social Security Act, the Social Security
Administration has established a five-step evaluation process for determining
whether a claimant is entitled to benefits. 20 C.F.R.
§ 404.1520, 416.920.
Review necessarily incorporates a determination of whether the AU
followed the fivestep process prescribed by regulations.
Step 1: Determine whether the claimant has engaged in
substantial gainful activity since the onset date of the alleged disability. 20
C.F.R. § 404.1520(b), 416.920(b). If not, move to step two.
Step 2: Determine if the claimant’s alleged impairment, or
combination of impairments, is “severe.” Id. § 404.1520(c), 416.920(c). If the
claimant has a severe impairment, move to step three.
Step 3: Determine whether the impairment meets or equals the
criteria of any impairment found in the Listing of Impairments. 20 C.F.R. Pt.
404, Subpt. P, App. 1, Pt. A. (Those Part A criteria are purposely set at a high
level, to identify clear cases of disability without further analysis.) If so, the
claimant is automatically eligible to receive benefits; if not, move to step four.
§ 404.1520(d), 4 16.920(d).
Step 4: Determine whether, despite any severe impairment, the
claimant retains the Residual Functional Capacity (“RFC”) to perform past
relevant work. Id.
§ 404.1520(e)—(f), 416.920(e)—(f). If not, move to step five.
Step 5: At this point, the burden shifts to the SSA to demonstrate
that the claimant, considering her age, education, work experience, and RFC,
is capable of performing jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national
economy. 20 C.F.R.
§ 404.1520(g), 4 16.920(g); see Poulos v. Comm’r of Soc.
Sec., 474 F.3d 88, 9 1—92 (3d Cir. 2007). If so, benefits will be denied; if not,
they will be awarded.
The AU’s Decision
Friedman determined that Van Tassell had sufficient quarters
of coverage to remain insured through March 31, 2016, and that the alleged
disability onset date was December 3, 2010. The AU further determined that
Van Tassell was not under a disability, as defined in the Social Security Act, at
any time from December 3, 2010 through May 14, 2014. (R. 11, 13) The ALl’s
specific determinations may be summarized as follows.
found that Van Tassell has not engaged in substantial
gainful activity since December 3, 2010. (R 13)
identified Van Tassell’s osteoarthritis and obesity as severe
impairments. He also found that Van Tassell’s condition following her knee
replacement surgery was a severe impairment. (Id.)
The AU determined that Van Tassell’s impairments did not meet or
medically equal the severity of the impairments listed in 20 C.F.R. Pt. 404,
Subpt. P, App. 1, Pt. A
§ 1.02. (hereinafter, “Listing 1.02”)2 Specifically, AU
Friedman found that Van Tassell failed to demonstrate that her knee rendered
her unable to ambulate effectively or that she suffered from a gross anatomical
deformity or joint space narrowing, bony deconstruction, or ankylosis. He
Listing 1.02 provides:
Major dysfunction of a joint(s) (due to any cause): Characterized by gross
anatomical deformity (e.g., subluxation, contracture, bony or fibrous ankylosis,
instability) and chronic joint pain and stiffness with signs of limitation of motion or
other abnormal motion of the affected joint(s), and findings on appropriate medically
acceptable imaging of joint space narrowing, bony destruction, or ankylosis of the
affected joint(s). With:
A. Involvement of one major peripheral weight-bearing joint (i.e., hip, knee, or
ankle), resulting in inability to ambulate effectively, as defined in 1 .OOB2b;
B. Involvement of one major peripheral joint in each upper extremity (i.e.,
shoulder, elbow, or wrist-hand), resulting in inability to perform fine and
gross movements effectively, as defined in 1 .OOB2c.
“Inability to ambulate effectively means an extreme limitation of the ability to
walk; i.e., an impairment(s) that interferes very seriously with the individual’s ability to
independently initiate, sustain, or complete activities.” Listing 1 .OOB 1. An applicant’s
inability to effectively ambulate is indicated by their inability to walk without the use
noted that no examining or treating physician determined that her ability to
walk was extremely limited, and found her statements that she could only walk
or stand for 10-15 minutes at a time not credible. (R.13, 16)
Before proceeding to step four, AU
Friedman determined Van
5. After careful consideration of the entire record, the
undersigned finds that the claimant has the residual
functioning capacity to perform the full range of
sedentary work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(a). She
is able to lift and carry up to ten [poundsi, able to
stand and[/jor walk up to two hours and to sit at least
six hours out of an eight-hour workday. She can
engage in all postural activities on at least an
(R. 14) The AU
based that RFC finding on a thorough review of the
evidence in the record.
Friedman noted that Van Tassell was 36 years old, had
completed high school, and previously worked as a home health aide, childcare
worker, maintenance worker, and cashier. He observed that her impairment
stemmed from a left knee anterior cruciate ligament (“ACL”) injury she suffered
in 1993. She underwent surgery to fix that injury in September 2006, but
reported little improvement. In 2010 and 2011, her condition apparently
of a device; walk around the block at a reasonable pace; use standard public
transportation; carry out routine activities, like shopping and banking; or the inability
to climb a few steps at a reasonable pace with the use of a single hand rail. Listing
1 .0032b(2). The fact that an applicant can walk around their home without assistance
does not, in and of itself, mean they can effectively ambulate in a work setting. IcL
“Sedentary work involves lifting no more than 10 pounds at a time and
occasionally lifting or carrying articles like docket files, ledgers, and small tools.
Although a sedentary job is defined as one which involves sitting, a certain amount of
walking and standing is often necessary in carrying out job duties. Jobs are sedentary
if walking and standing are required occasionally and other sedentary criteria are
met.” 20 C.F.R. § 404.1567(a). The full range of sedentary work requires that an
individual “be able to remain in a seated position for approximately 6 hours of an 8hour workday, with a morning break, a lunch period, and an afternoon break at
approximately 2-hour intervals. If an individual is unable to sit for a total of 6 hours in
an 8hour work day, the unskilled sedentary occupational base will be eroded.” 1996
worsened; she reported that it felt as if the bones of her knee were grinding
against each other. She was prescribed Percocet, a painkiller, and Flexeril, a
muscle relaxant. In May 2011, her entire left knee was replaced. (R. 15)
The AU considered treatment records prepared by Shailendra
Hajela, M.D., a pain management specialist, following the knee replacement
surgery. In September 2011, Van Tassell reported to Dr. Hajela that her knee
pain was improving with physical therapy and she had been given the green
light to go back to work. Dr. Hajela noted that she did not return to work
because she was not permitted to lift anything beyond a moderate weight. Dr.
Hajela observed that she walked with a normal gait and her knee had some
swelling and restricted range of motion. Van Tassell was prescribed Vicodin
and a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (“NSAID”). In an October follow-up
visit, Van Tassell reported constant and throbbing pain that worsened when
she bent her knee, lay down, stood up, or walked. A month later, Van Tassell
reported that the discomfort and stiffness in her left knee was improving. She
continued taking a painkiller and a NSAID. She did not return to work,
however, because she had been advised not to show up unless she was “100%
with no disability.” (R. 15, 32 1-29)
The AU also considered a pair of reports submitted in connection
with Van Tassell’s application for disability benefits. H. Mahmood Cheema,
M.D., the orthopaedic surgeon who performed Van Tassell’s knee replacement,
opined that Van Tassell was able to lift and carry 10 pounds, stand or walk
less than two hours a day, sit all day, and was limited in her ability to push or
pull. In his accompanying report, Dr. Hajela agreed that Van Tassell was able
to stand or walk for less than two hours a day and limited in her ability to
carry, lift, push and pull, but thought that Van Tassell could only sit for less
than 6 hours a day. (R. 16-17, 340-43, 369-7 1)
From January to April 2012, AU Friedman noted, Van Tassell
continued to receive treatment for “sharp, burning, [and] constant” knee pain
from Prashant Patel, M.D., another pain management specialist. During that
time, Van Tassell reported that her pain worsened when she stood, walked, or
bent her knee and lessened when she would sit or lie down. Dr. Patel noted
that Van Tassell’s pain was managed by Percocet and a NSAID without sideeffects, and that she denied any weakness, falling, or sensory deficits. The
painkillers and anti-inflammatory drugs were continued. (R. 15-16, 359-64)
Friedman also reviewed the state medical consultants’
February and May 2012 assessments. They thought Van Tassell could perform
some light work, i.e., could lift and carry 20 pounds occasionally and 10
pounds frequently; stand or walk for four hours, sit (with normal breaks) about
six hours; had a limited ability to push or pull with her left leg; and could
occasionally engage in most postural activities (e.g., climbing stairs, kneeling,
crouching, balancing, etc.) (R. 17, 64-65, 74-76)
At the AU’s request, Justin Fernando, M.D., performed a
consultative examination of Van Tassell in June 2013.6 He reported that she
seemed “generally capable of conducting her life[,] doing all the activities of
daily life without any assistance.” Dr. Fernando also observed that Van Tassell
claimed “to be in pain nearly every minute of every day” and that “[s]tanding,
sitting, and every movement causes a great deal of aggravation of the pain.”
Van Tassell related to him that she was taking Percocet and a muscle relaxant,
although he noted that there was no evidence of dosage or frequency. Although
Van Tassell did not permit him to test the affected knee’s range of motion, he
observed that she could squat halfway, had a normal gait, did not use a hand-
Light work involves lifting no more than 20 pounds at a time with frequent
lifting or carrying of objects weighing up to 10 pounds. Even though the weight lifted
may be very little, a job is in this category when it requires a good deal of walking or
standing, or when it involves sitting most of the time with some pushing and pulling of
arm or leg controls. To be considered capable of performing a full or wide range of light
work, you must have the ability to do substantially all of these activities.” 20 C.F.R. §
The examination was ordered because Van Tassell testified in May 2013 that
she had no medical insurance and had not taken medication or seen a doctor since
2012. (R. 15)
held assistive device, and had driven herself to the appointment. He noted that
Van Tassell’s left calf was a centimeter smaller than her right because that leg
had been non-weight-bearing for a number of months. (R. 16, 407-17)
Friedman also assessed Van Tassell’s testimony at two
hearings. At the initial May 2013 hearing, Van Tassell testified that she could
not sit or stand for longer than 15 minutes without experiencing pain or
numbness in the affected knee. She testified that, on an average day, she raked
leaves, did laundry, and tried to stay busy to keep her mind off the pain. When
asked Van Tassell to explain why she could not do a “sitting down job
or a very light job”, she explained that she “can’t perform to the best of my
ability.” The AU
observed that Van Tassell stood up awkwardly after less than
a 30 minutes. (R. 16, R. 4 1-43, 49)
At the October 2013 hearing, the AU asked why Van Tassell
thought she could not perform a “sitting down type of job.” Van Tassell
reiterated that she “can’t work to the best of my ability” because, after 10-15
minutes, “her whole leg goes numb” and she has “to get up and walk around to
loosen it back up and get the feeling back into it.” She also testified that she
did not have insurance and was taking only Aleve, which did not relieve her
pain. (R. 28-32)
On this record, the AU found that Van Tassell’s symptoms were
not inconsistent with the medically determinable impairments, but he did not
fully credit her statements about the severity of her knee pain. In AU
It is noted that Dr. Cheema.
assessed the claimant
as able to lift/carry 10 pounds, stand/walk less than
two hours, and sit with no limitation, but limited in
In the RFC portion of the report, Dr. Fernando opined that Van Tassell could
continuously lift up to 100 pounds, frequently carry up to 50 pounds, sit 7 hours,
stand 6 hours, and walk 6 hours. As discussed below, the AU noted that the “RFC
form doesn’t always mat[c]h up with anything in the actual report” and did not credit
this portion of Dr. Fernando’s opinion. (R. 27)
her ability to push or pull. Dr. Hajela.
finding that the claimant could and stand
walk less than two hours and sit for less than six;
however, his final treatment note, from December 9,
2011 (only six months post-surgery) reflects that she
complained of ‘some discomfort’ in her left knee with
None of these findings are
inconsistent with the ability to do a sedentary job and
I afford the assessments for less than sedentary work
little weight as they are unsupported by the doctor’s
own treatment records.
The only evidence that is more recent is the opinion of
the consultative examiner that she could do much
more than sedentary. Although Dr. Cheema and Dr.
Hajela said that she could stand and walk less than
two hours, neither of them specify how much less, and
even those opinions were rendered over two years ago
(and only 8 months after the surgery). Given the
unlimited ability to sit, a slight reduction in the total
length of time she could stand and walk would not
significantly erode the sedentary occupational base.
Although DDS found a narrow range of light work,
considering all the evidence as well as the claimant’s
I would limit the claimant to sedentary
found that Van Tassell was unable to perform past relevant
work as home health aide because it required her to lift patients from
wheelchairs to beds. (R. 17)
Based on Rule 201.27 of the medical-vocational guidelines, 20 C.F.R.
Pt. 404, Subpt. P, Appx. 2, and Van Tassell’s age, education, work experience,
the ALJ found that Van Tassell, within her RFC restrictions, was capable of
performing other work that existed in significant numbers in the national
Rule 201.27 directs a finding of “not disabled” for a younger individual (18-44)
with an RFC for sedentary work that has at least a high school education and
Van Tassell attacks the AU’s decision on two fronts: the AU
inappropriately rejected Dr. Hajela’s opinion that she could not perform
sedentary work and (2) did not adequately consider her need for prescription
Rejection of Treating Physician’s Opinion
Van Tassell first faults the AU for rejecting for Dr. Hajela’s January
2012 opinion that Van Tassell could stand or walk less than 2 hours and sit
less than 6 hours. I disagree.
In general, the opinion of a medical professional who has treated
the claimant is entitled to deference. 20 CFR
§ 404.1527(c)(2) (“Generally, we
give more weight to opinions from your treating sources, since these sources
are likely to be the medical professionals most able to provide a detailed,
longitudinal picture of your medical impairment(s)...”); see also Plummer v.
Apfel, 186 F.3d 422, 429 (3d Cir. 1999) (“Treating physicians’ reports should be
accorded great weight, especially when their opinions reflect expert judgment
based on a continuing observation of the patient’s condition over a prolonged
period of time.”) (internal quotation marks omitted)). Indeed, unless there is
contradictory medical evidence in the record, an AU
may not simply reject a
treating physician’s opinion. See Brownawell v. Comm’r of Soc. Sec., 554 F.3d
352, 355 (3d Cir. 2008). But the opinion of a treating source is given
“controlling weight” only when it is “well-supported by medically acceptable
clinical and laboratory diagnostic techniques and is not inconsistent with the
other substantial evidence in [the claimant’sj case record.” 20 CFR
404. 1527(c)(2). And in any a case, “[tihe law is clear.., that the opinion of a
treating physician does not bind the AU on the issue of functional capacity.”
Brown v. Astrue, 649 F.3d 193, 197 (3d Cir. 2011).
unskilled previous work experience. Van Tassell does not challenge the AU’s step five
The AU’s decision to give “little weight” to Dr. Hajela’s opinion that
Van Tassell could do less than sedentary work was adequately explained and
supported by substantial evidence.
For starters, AU
Friedman noted that Dr. Hajela’s January 2012
opinion is inconsistent with his final treatment note—written only the month
before—in which he reported that Van Tassell walked with a normal gait, the
range of motion of her left knee was 0 to 110 degrees, and she complained only
of some discomfort and stiffness. Dr. Hajela’s opinion was also inconsistent
with the opinion of another treating physician, Dr. Cheema, who thought that
Van Tassell could sit without any limitation. While each physician thought that
she could walk or stand less than two hours, the AU
noted that those doctors’
opinions were inconsistent with Dr. Fernando’s most recent opinion that she
could do much more than sedentary work. And in any event the AU correctly
noted that no medical evidence corroborated Van Tassell’s allegation that her
pain was so severe that she could not sit, stand or walk for longer than 10-15
minutes. (R. 16-17)
The RFC formulation, which clearly incorporates the limitations
supported by the record as a whole, demonstrates that the AU
did not reject
Dr. Hajela’s opinions out of hand. For example, AU Friedman noted that
although Van Tassell’s most recent examination with Dr. Fernando supported
the conclusion that she could perform sedentary work, he found the suggestion
that she could perform heavy work not credible. For similar reasons, the AU
also discounted the opinions of the two state agency medical consultants who
Van Tassell asserts that AU’s weighing of the evidence incorrectly assumed
that her condition steadily improved following her knee replacement. By that logic,
Van Tassell says, the AU should have at least found her disabled as of the alleged
onset date, December 2010, through 2011. (Pl.’s Br. 13) But even if this were true,
Van Tassell would not be entitled to DIB benefits. In September 2011, Van Tassell’s
condition had reportedly improved with physical therapy and she was told that she
could go back to work so long as she did not lift more than moderate weights. (R. 328)
That, however, would fall short of 12-month continuous duration requirement
required under the Social Security Act. 42 U.S.C. § 423(a)(l)(A); 20 C.F.R. § 404.1509.
concluded that Van Tassell was capable of a narrow range of light work. In
other words, the determination that Van Tassell can perform a full range of
sedentary work was in line with the lion’s share of objective medical evidence
and consistent with Van Tassell’s own description of her daily living activities.
Because the AU gave due consideration to Dr. Hajela’s opinion,
the AU was entitled to, and did, find that it was outweighed by the other
evidence in the record. Under the “substantial evidence” standard of review, I
cannot reverse merely because there is some evidence that supports a
conclusion contrary to that of the AU. Jones, 364 F.3d at 503 (describing the
substantial evidence standard as “less than preponderance but more than a
mere scintilla”) (citation omitted)). Indeed, the process by its nature requires
that the AU “weigh the medical evidence and make choices between conflicting
medical evidence.” Williams v. Sullivan, 970 F.2d 1178, 1187 (3d Cir. 1992).
The AU faithfully discharged that duty here. AU Friedman
reviewed the entirety of Van Tassell’s records before weighing the various
medical opinions in this case. His findings are therefore supported by
Need for Pain Medication
Van Tassell also contends that the AU
did not give due consideration
to her need for painkillers. Specifically, she argues that the AU
acknowledge that the doctors’ prescription of painkillers corroborated her
assertions of chronic pain and functional limitations. Here, too, I disagree; this
was one piece of evidence, but the AU was required to, and did, weigh all of
the evidence regarding the claimant’s pain and resulting limitations.
A claimant’s subjective complaints merit careful consideration, but
is not required to accept them uncritically. Chandler v. Comm’r of Soc.
Sec., 667 F.3d 356, 363 (3d Cir. 2011) (citing 20 C.F.R.
§ 416.929). Rather, the
is required to assess whether and to what degree such complaints are
credible. See SSR 96-7p, 1996 WL 374186, at *4•
Such credibility determinations are reserved for the AU:
[Wjhile an AU must consider a claimant’s subjective
complaints, an AU has discretion to evaluate the
credibility of a claimant and arrive at an independent
judgment in light of medical findings and other
evidence regarding the true extent of the pain alleged
by the claimant. Subjective complaints cannot alone
Gantt v. Comm’r Soc. Sec., 205 Fed. Appx. 65, 67 (3d Cir. 2006) (internal
quotations and citations omitted). See also 20 C.F.R.
§ 404.1529(c); Malloy v.
Comm’r of Soc. Sec., 306 Fed. Appx. 761, 765 (3d Cir. 2009) (citing Van Horn v.
Schweiker, 717 F. 2d 871, 873 (3d Cir. 1983)); Davis v. Com’r of Soc. Sec., 240
Fed. Appx. 957, 960 (3d Cir. 2007).
The AU may reject subjective complaints, for example, if they are not
credible in light of the other evidence of record. Schaudeck v. Comm’r of Soc.
Sec., 181 F.3d 429, 433 (3d Cir. 1999). The AU is called upon to evaluate the
intensity, persistence, and limiting effects of a claimant’s symptoms to
determine the extent to which they limit his ability to perform basic work
activities. See 20 C.F.R.
§ 404. 1529(c)(2). As to that issue, “[ojbjective medical
is a useful indicator.” Id. The AU
may also examine factors that
precipitate or aggravate the symptoms, medications and treatments, and daily
living activities. 20 C.F.R.
The AU’s credibility determination “must contain specific reasons for
the finding on credibility, supported by the evidence in the case record.” SSR
96-7P; see also 20 C.F.R.
§ 404.1529(b), 416.929(b). What is required overall
is that the AU give the claimant’s testimony “serious consideration,” state her
reasons for discounting it, and make “specific findings.” Rowan v. Barnhart, 67
Fed. Appx. 725, 729 (3d Cir. 2003). Where that has been done, a reviewing
court will defer to the AU’s credibility determinations.
here discharged that responsibility. His decision, supported
by substantial evidence of record, represents a classic weighing of evidence to
which the Court must defer. Because the relevant objective medical evidence
has already been discussed, supra, only the following point need be made here.
It was not lost on the AU
that Van Tassell had been prescribed
medication to manage her knee pain. Citing to Van Tassel’s medical history,
treating physician records, the consultative examination report, and hearing
testimony, the AU acknowledged that Van Tassell reportedly benefitted from
taking prescription painkillers. (R. 15-17) In fact, it was within that context
Friedman observed the “inconsistency between what she told us [i.e.,
that she had lost her medical insurance and was not taking prescription
painkillers as of May and October 2013] and what she told the consultative
examiner [i.e., that she was taking prescription painkillers as of June 2013].”
In conjunction with the objective medical evidence, the ALT determined that
Van Tassell’s subjective allegations of pain were not fully credible. (R. 16)
For these reasons, the ALT concluded that Van Tassell’s symptoms
were real and limited the range of work she could perform. Her complaints of
debilitating pain so severe that she could not walk, stand, sit or stand for
longer than 10-15 minutes, how
ever, he found to be exaggerat
all the evidence together, includ
ing the prescription painkiller
s, the AU found
that she could perform a full
range of sedentary work.
The AU’s weighing of evidence
was careful, and he made specif
findings to support his conclusio
ns. Whether the Court would
evidence the same way is irrelev
ant. Because the AU’s findings
conclusions are supported by sub
stantial evidence, I must sustain
For the reasons stated above, the
AU’s decision is AFFIRMED.
Dated: December 1, 2016
United States District Judge
Disclaimer: Justia Dockets & Filings provides public litigation records from the federal appellate and district courts. These filings and docket sheets should not be considered findings of fact or liability, nor do they necessarily reflect the view of Justia.
Why Is My Information Online?