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RUFINO v. APFEL

April 17, 1998

MAMERTA RUFINO, Plaintiff, against KENNETH S. APFEL, Commissioner of Social Security Administration, Defendant.


The opinion of the court was delivered by: SPRIZZO

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

 SPRIZZO, DJ.:

 Pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), plaintiff Mamerta Rufino ("Rufino") brings the instant action challenging the decision of defendant Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (the "Commissioner") denying her application for Supplemental Security Income ("SSI") disability benefits. Pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(c), the Commissioner moves for judgment on the pleadings. For the reasons set forth below, the Commissioner's motion is granted.

 BACKGROUND

 Rufino was born in the Dominican Republic on May 11, 1935, and came to the United States in 1978. See Transcript of the Administrative Record ("Tr.") at 25, 36. Although Rufino received a seventh grade education in the Dominican Republic, she is unable to communicate in English. Id. at 25. From 1979 through 1990, Rufino worked in a lamp factory, manually folding shades and applying ribbons to the shades with a glue gun. Id. at 25-26, 66. Rufino describes a typical eight-hour work day in this job as involving little to no walking, four hours of standing, four hours of sitting, constant bending and reaching, and lifting a maximum of twenty pounds. Id. at 67. On February 10, 1990, Rufino stopped working when her employer moved its facilities to North Carolina. Id. at 26. However, Rufino testified that she would have continued working had the plant remained in New York. Id. Rufino claims that she has been disabled by arthritis, an intestinal ulcer, high blood pressure, and persistent weakness and tiredness since the plant closed. Id. at 62. Although Rufino testified that she cannot work because of pains in her legs and lower back, see id. at 27, she admits that she performs all of her own household chores, including cooking, cleaning, shopping, and housework, see id. at 28, and engages in social activities such as visiting friends and family and taking walks. Id.

 ADMINISTRATIVE PROCEDURE

 On January 12, 1995, Rufino filed applications for SSI disability benefits. See Tr. at 32-38. On March 21, 1996, after her applications were denied initially and upon reconsideration, a hearing before Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") Mark S. Sochaczewsky was held. Id. at 21-31, 48-51, 54-57. Rufino appeared at the hearing and testified through a Spanish interpreter. Id. at 21-31.

 On April 26, 1996, ALJ Sochaczewsky issued a written decision (the "ALJ decision") based upon medical reports submitted by Rufino's physician, Dr. Leonard Conger, consultative physicians Drs. S. Rocker and Rocco P. Bevilacqua, and Rufino's own testimony, finding that Rufino was not disabled *fn1" at any time during the application process through the issuance of the ALJ decision. Id. at 12, 15 (Dept. of Health and Human Serv. Soc. Sec: Admin. Office of Hearings and Appeals Decision dated April 26, 1996). ALJ Sochaczewsky found it especially noteworthy that Rufino received no specific treatment for her musculoskeletal complaints, id. at 14, and that her claims of disabling pain were unsupported by objective clinical findings. Id. at 15. Further, the ALJ noted that Rufino's elevated cholesterol has not resulted in any demonstrable functional limitations, and her mild hypertension has not resulted in any complications nor end organ damage. Id. at 14. ALJ Sochaczewsky held that the medical evidence supported a finding: (1) that Rufino did not suffer from an impairment or combination of impairments listed in, or medically equal to, an impairment contained in Appendix 1, Subpart P, Regulations No.4, see id. at 15 P 3; (2) that Rufino has the residual functional capacity *fn2" to perform work-related activities except for work involving lifting and carrying more than twenty-five pounds, id. PP 5-6; and (3) that Rufino's impairments do not prevent her from performing her past relevant work. Id. P 7. Thus, the ALJ concluded that Rufino was not under a disability as defined by the Social Security Act. Id. P 8.

 On November 15, 1996, the ALJ decision became final when the Appeals Council denied Rufino's request for review. Id. at 5-6 (Letter from Bernard A. Dowgiello, Admin. Appeals Judge, Soc. Sec. Admin., to Mamerta Rufino, pro se, dated November 15, 1996). Rufino filed this suit shortly thereafter.

 MEDICAL EVIDENCE IN THE ADMINISTRATIVE RECORD

 During the application process, Rufino stated that she has been medically treated by Centro Medico Dominicano ("CMD"). See Tr. at 64 (Dept. of Health and Human Serv. Disability Report dated Jan. 12, 1995). On June 19, 1995, Dr. Leonard Conger, M.D., of the CMD reported that Rufino suffers from hyperlipoproteinemia, mild hypertension and a possible psychiatric disorder. *fn3" Id. at 86. Dr. Conger further reported that he has been treating Rufino since June 1, 1992, for mild hypertension, increased cholesterol, and arthritis pain. Id. at 87, 90. Dr. Conger found Rufino to be physically unremarkable and her EKG normal. Id. at 88-89. However, Dr. Conger was unable to form an opinion about Rufino's physical limitations arising from her medical condition. Id. at 90.

 On March 9, 1995, Rufino was examined by Dr. S. Rocker, M.D., a consultative physician for the Social Security Administration. See Tr. at 78-85. Dr. Rocker observed that Rufino exhibited a normal station and gait, see id. at 79, had no difficulty standing up from a seated position or getting onto and off the examination table, id., and Rufino displayed full use of both hands and arms in robing and disrobing. Id. Dr. Rocker noted that Rufino's grasping strength and manipulative functions were not impaired, and that Rufino displayed a full range of motion in the lumbar spine with no tenderness or muscle spasm of the lumbosacral or cervical spine or any other musculature. Id. at 131. Straight leg raising was negative and Rufino displayed no muscular atrophy. Id. Dr. Rocker also noted that all of Rufino's peripheral joints displayed full range of motion without deformities, swelling, warmth, redness or tenderness. Id. Dr. Rocker reported that Rufino was able to "heel, toe, and tandem walk without difficulty." Id. Furthermore, Dr. Rocker found Rufino to be alert and oriented, with normal tone and strength throughout. Id. Dr. Rocker consulted Dr. Rocco P. Bevilacqua, M.D., regarding x-rays of Rufino's right knee, lumbosacral spine, and chest. Id. at 83-85. Dr. Bevilacqua concluded that Rufino suffered from osteoarthritis in her right knee, *fn4" see id. at 83, mild scoliosis with convexity to the right in her lumbar spine and minimal to mild bilateral condensing ileitis, *fn5" id. at 84, and mild cardiomegaly. *fn6" Id. at 85. Based upon his own observations as well as Dr. Bevilacqua's findings, Dr. Rocker concluded that Rufino suffered from hypertension and arthralgias *fn7" of the cervical spine, lumbosacral spine and knees. Id. at 79. Dr. Rocker found Rufino to have no objective musculoskeletal impairment per the examination, and concluded that Rufino had no significant impairment in her ability to do work-related activities, thus her prognosis was "good." Id. at 79-80.

 On May 30, 1995, Dr. Anthony L. Danza, M.D., evaluated Rufino's residual functional capacity. See Tr. at 40-47. Based upon the medical evidence contained in Rufino's SSI benefits file, Dr. Danza opined that Rufino could occasionally lift and/or carry 50 lbs., frequently lift and/or carry 25 lbs., sit, stand and/or walk (with normal rest breaks) for a total of 6 hours per eight hour work day, and that Rufino's ability to push and/or pull was unlimited in relation to her upper and lower extremities. See id. at 41. Thus, Dr. Danza concluded that ...


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