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Brown v. Barnhart

January 12, 2006

LISA BROWN, PLAINTIFF,
v.
JO ANNE B. BARNHART, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Richard W. Roberts United States District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION

Plaintiff Lisa Brown filed a complaint seeking to reverse the decision of the Social Security Administration ("SSA") denying her claims for Disability Insurance Benefits and Supplemental Security Income. Brown moved for a judgment of reversal, arguing that the SSA's final administrative decision is not supported by substantial evidence and is erroneous as a matter of law. The SSA filed a motion for judgment of affirmance in support of the administrative decision. Because the agency's final administrative decision is supported by substantial evidence, the SSA's motion for judgment of affirmance will be granted and Brown's motion for judgment of reversal will be denied.

BACKGROUND

I. FACTUAL BACKGROUND

Lisa Brown is a forty-one-year-old woman living in Washington, D.C. with her two minor children. (Administrative Record ("AR") at 24, 323, 328.) She attended Howard University for two years, was later employed as a word processor for two years, and then was employed as a Postal Service mail distribution clerk until November 2000 when she was terminated. (AR at 95, 136, 323-25.) Five months before her termination, on May 5, 2000, Brown injured her back when she slipped and fell while in a grocery store. (AR at 328-29.) After a trip to the emergency room, she was diagnosed with back strain. (AR at 330.)

Brown's pain persisted, and she was examined by a chiropractor, Dr. Enid Cruise, on May 9, 2000. (AR at 199-201, 331.) Dr. Cruise determined that Brown had moderately restricted cervical motion, moderate tenderness in the paracervical region, sharp cervical aching, and marked parathoracic and paralumbar tenderness as well as discomfort and a limited range of motion in other areas in her extremities.*fn1 Brown's sensation in her upper extremities, however, appeared to Dr. Cruise to be intact. (AR at 200.) Brown made a series of visits to Dr. Cruise through June 6, 2000 for treatment of her ailments.*fn2 (AR at 201-37.) Dr. Cruise's final report stated that Brown had "reached maximum medical improvement." (AR at 236.)

On August 16, 2000, Brown visited Dr. Ta'aat Maximous who performed an orthopaedic examination. (AR at 148-49.) Dr. Maximous noted tenderness in Brown's back and discomfort in her range of motion, but he concluded that Brown did not "have any physical disabilities that [could] prevent her from active daily living activities."*fn3 (AR at 149.) Brown visited Dr. Michael Langelle for a Physical Residual Functional Capacity Assessment on September 8, 2000. (AR at 162-66.) Dr. Langelle stated in a report that Brown could lift fifty pounds occasionally and lift twenty-five pounds frequently. (AR at 163.) He also noted in his report that given normal breaks, Brown could stand or walk for a total of about six hours a day and sit for a total of about six hours during an eight-hour workday. (AR at 163.) However, Dr. Langelle did place limitations on Brown's exposure to vibration, and the frequency with which she stooped, balanced, and climbed stairs. (AR at 164, 166.)

Before Brown's physical troubles stemming from her fall, she suffered miscarriages in 1995 and 1998 that caused her great emotional pain and stress. (AR at 96.) During that time, Brown sought psychiatric consultations and was diagnosed with adjustment disorder, anxiety, and depression in April of 1999. (Id.) On August 7, 2000, after Brown's fall, Dr. Giuseppe Scarcella conducted a psychiatric evaluation of Brown and determined that she was moderately anxious, angry, depressed and frustrated with her work situation. (AR at 146-47.) According to Dr. Scarcella's report, however, Brown's primary concern during her visit was her physical condition. (Id.) In fact, Dr. Scarcella reported that Brown stated, "I see no need to see a psychiatrist, I am more concerned about my back." (AR at 147.) Although Dr. Scarcella's diagnosis of Brown was "adjustment disorder with anxiety," he concluded there was no evidence that she was unable to maintain her concentration in a way that could impair her work-related capacities. (Id.) On three separate occasions in 2001, though, Brown sought psychiatric treatment and was consistently diagnosed as suffering from anxiety and depression. (AR at 97.)

II. PROCEDURAL HISTORY

Brown applied for Disability Insurance Benefits and Supplemental Security Income on May 25, 2000. (AR at 18, 101-03, 279-81.) Her claims were initially denied and denied again upon reconsideration. (AR at 18, 32-36, 39-42.) Brown then requested a hearing before an administrative law judge. (AR at 43.) During the hearing, the judge asked a vocational expert whether someone with Brown's age, educational background, employment history, and work restrictions could perform any jobs that exist in the national economy. (AR at 24.) The expert testified that someone with Brown's limitations could work as a "housekeeping cleaner," an "office helper," or a "small product assembler." (AR at 352.) The expert also testified that in the national economy, there were 150,000 "housekeeping cleaner" jobs, 87,000 "office helper" jobs, and 176,000 "small product assembler" jobs. (Id.) Neither the judge nor the attorney for Brown inquired into any possible conflicts between the expert's testimony about job availability and Brown's work capacity on the one hand, and on the other, the data contained in the Dictionary of Occupational Titles (U.S. Dep't of Labor, 4th ed. rev. 1991) ("DOT"), a publication of the U.S. Department of Labor that contains descriptions of thousands of jobs that exist in the United States. (AR at 351-59.)

The judge concluded, based on the expert's testimony, that Brown was "capable of making a successful adjustment to work that exists in significant numbers in the national economy," and therefore was not disabled. (AR at 25.) Thus, the judge denied Brown's claims for Disability Insurance Benefits and Supplemental Security Income. (AR at 27.) Brown requested review of the judge's decision by the Appeals Council of the SSA, and that request was denied. (AR at 10-14.)

Brown filed this action seeking to reverse the decision of the administrative law judge and moved for a judgment of reversal. The SSA moved for a judgment of affirmance.

DISCUSSION

I. STANDARD OF ...


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