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COLEMAN v. SHALALA

July 28, 1995

JOAN COLEMAN, Plaintiff,
v.
DONNA E. SHALALA, SECRETARY OF HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES, Defendants.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: DEBORAH A. BATTS

 DEBORAH A. BATTS, U.S.D.J.:

 Joan Coleman ("Coleman") brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and 1383(c) for judicial review of a final decision of the Secretary of Health and Human Services ("Secretary") denying her application for disability insurance benefits and Supplemental Security Income ("SSI") benefits under Titles II and XVI of the Social Security Act ("Act"), 42 U.S.C. § 401, et seq. Both parties have moved for judgment on the pleadings pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(c). For the reasons set forth below, the decision of the Secretary is affirmed.

 Prior Proceedings

 Coleman initially filed an application for Social Security Disability Insurance benefits and Supplemental Security Income on May 1, 1991. (Admin. Tr. at 71-4.) Coleman's concurrent claim was denied on October 18, 1991 and she requested reconsideration. (Admin. Tr. at 101-5.) The Secretary reconsidered Coleman's application but once again denied benefits. Coleman then requested a hearing before an administrative law judge ("ALJ"). A hearing was held on September 1, 1993. In a decision dated November 18, 1993 the ALJ found Coleman not disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act, and therefore not entitled to benefits. (Admin. Tr. at 16-29.) Coleman then requested that the Appeals Council review the hearing decision, (Admin. Tr. at 13); however, this request was denied. The Secretary's determination then became final and Coleman began this action seeking a reversal of the Secretary's decision, or in the alternative, a remand for a new hearing.

 Facts

 Coleman was born on August 14, 1949 and has completed three years of college. She worked as a professional rock and roll singer from 1967 until March 1988 and also worked as a composer and producer. (Admin. Tr. at 44-5.) She appeared in and did "voice-over" for more than 1500 commercials, was a recording artist for more than five years, and was executive president of two companies. After working as a singer, Coleman attempted to work as a receptionist for a couple of months but was unable to sustain employment. (Admin. Tr. at 45.) By July 1, 1988, Coleman stopped working full-time due to a host of complaints including extreme fatigue, loss of balance, migraines, vertigo, hearing loss, respiratory difficulty, anxiety, insomnia, depression, disorientation, palpitations, intermittent nausea, chest pain, low grade fevers, facial pain and swelling, chronic sinusitis, chronic tracheobronchitis and laryngitis, and pressure. (Admin. Tr. at 129.) In addition to these physical ailments, Coleman suffers from depression. (Admin. Tr. at 334.)

 Coleman's application for disability and supplemental security income benefits is based on the claim that both her physical and mental ailments impede her from working. The record is replete with references to Coleman's visits to physicians and psychiatrists for treatment of her various conditions. (Admin. Tr. at 147-254; 335-460.) With regard to her physical ailments, Coleman appears to have been under the care of a single physician, Dr. Scott Kessler, from 1987 to 1991. During this period, her condition varied from one requiring bed rest and restrictions on her activities to one in which Coleman was completely disabled and unable to work or travel without suffering numerous symptoms. (Admin. Tr. at 162.) As indicated by Dr. Kessler, most of Coleman's medical problems were the result of exposure to volatile irritants and noxious fumes in her apartment. (Admin. Tr. at 166-67.)

 In a statement dated June 6, 1991, which was completed in connection with her claim of disability, Dr. Kessler indicated that despite Coleman's various complaints, he could not report any clinical or laboratory findings. He also noted that it was difficult to describe Coleman's limitations because of the wide variation in the frequency and severity of her symptoms. (Admin. Tr. at 159.) In a statement completed on October 16, 1991, Dr. Kessler indicated once again that he was unable to determine Coleman's ability to sit, stand, and walk because all of the objective medical tests he had performed did not "confirm" any disabling symptoms. (Admin. Tr. at 243.) In addition, in a letter to Coleman's attorney dated May 19, 1992, the physician stated that his February 21, 1991 examination of the Plaintiff had been normal. (Admin. Tr. at 295-96.)

 During the period from December 1989 to May 1991, Coleman also made several visits to emergency rooms for various ailments. (Pl.'s Mem. at 7-8.) These visits either resulted in treatment for minor conditions, or, following appropriate tests, no treatment at all. (Def.'s Mem. at 6-7.) Further, a July 26, 1991 examination by Dr. A. DeLeon, a Social Security consult, indicated no abnormal findings. (Admin. Tr. at 186.)

 With respect to Coleman's mental health, it is the opinion of Coleman's personal psychiatrist, Dr. Richard Lacy, that events experienced by Coleman beginning with an alleged rape in 1988 coupled with exposure to noxious irritants in her apartment eventually led to her mental illness. (Admin. Tr. at 329.) Over the next few years her mental condition worsened and she became suicidal, paranoid, hopeless, and experienced feelings of worthlessness. (Admin. Tr. at 330.) These feelings contributed in part to her inability to seek treatment, and it is for this reason that Coleman did not come under the care of a psychiatrist until July 1991 when she suffered acute suicidal ideation and uncontrollable outbursts. (Admin. Tr. at 330-31.) An examination at that time by Dr. Lacy indicated that she was "incapable of employment." (Admin. Tr. at 253.) An examination on August 3, 1991 by Dr. Richard King, a Social Security consult, however, resulted in a diagnosis that Coleman was anxious and depressed to a moderate degree, but nevertheless able to perform the routine activities of daily living. (Admin. Tr. at 195.) A report by Dr. Lacy completed in September 1993 indicated that Coleman was responding well to treatment with weekly psychotherapy and medication. (Admin. Tr. at 329.) The final statement in the record from Dr. Lacy was that Coleman was to continue psychiatric treatment and that her diagnosis was "major depression, partial remission." (Admin. Tr. at 334.)

 Discussion

 A claimant is entitled to disability benefits under the Act if he is unable to "engage in 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." 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A). The impairment must be of such severity that the person "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, regardless of whether such work exists in the immediate area in which he lives, or whether a specific job vacancy exists for him, or whether he would be hired if he applied for work." 42 U.S.C. §§ 423(d)(2)(A), 1382c(a)(3)(B). The presence of an impairment is thus not in and of itself disabling within the meaning of the Act. Murphy v. Secretary of Health and Human Servs., 872 F. Supp. 1153, 1155 (E.D.N.Y. 1994). See also Spears v. Heckler, 625 F. Supp. 208, 210 (S.D.N.Y. 1985).

 The Secretary has promulgated regulations establishing a framework in which to evaluate disability claims. See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520 and 416.920. Essentially, a five step analysis of ...


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