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MEDINA v. BARNHART

March 10, 2004.

EVELYN MEDINA, Plaintiff -against- JO ANNE B. BARNHART, Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant


The opinion of the court was delivered by: SHIRA SCHEINDLIN, District Judge

OPINION AND ORDER

Evelyn Medina brings this action under section 205(g) of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) (the "Act"), challenging the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner") denying her application for supplemental security income ("SSI") benefits. The Commissioner has moved to remand to the Social Security Administration ("SSA") for further proceedings pursuant to the fourth sentence of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Plaintiff has cross-moved for judgment on the pleadings and remand for the calculation and award of benefits. For the reasons set forth below, the decision of the Commissioner is vacated and the case is remanded for further administrative proceedings. Page 2

 I. BACKGROUND

  A. Procedural History

  Plaintiff filed an application for SSI benefits on September 25, 2000. See Transcript of the administrative record ("Tr.")*fn1 at 92. In her application, plaintiff alleged that she was disabled and had been unable to work since May 1996 due to carpal tunnel syndrome, arthritis of the left hip, and bulging and herniated discs. Id. at 101. She described "excruciating pain" in her back, pain in her shoulders, and numbness in her hands and legs, and indicated that those conditions prevented her from "[doing] heavy lifting, sitting too long or standing," or using her hands to write or do other things. Id. at 108. Plaintiff also noted in her application that "[t]here are times that because of my illness [sic] and pain from them I get depressed and disgusted." Id.

  Plaintiff's application was denied. Id. at 62-66. Upon request, a hearing was conducted before an administrative law judge ("ALJ") on January 29, 2002. Id. at 19-61. On May 2, 2002, the ALJ issued a decision denying plaintiff's application for benefits. Id. at 9-17. The ALJ's decision became the final decision of the Commissioner when the Appeals Council denied plaintiff's request for Page 3 review on October 10, 2002. Id. at 4-5.

  B. Plaintiff's Personal History

  Plaintiff was born on September 22, 1958. Id. at 92. She was 43 years old at the time of the ALJ's decision. She has a tenth-grade education. Id. at 107. Plaintiff has not worked since she was a teenager and had a summer job helping kids in a youth program; she has no vocational training. Id. at 101-02, 27-28. Plaintiff lives with three children, her 24-year-old daughter, eight-year-old daughter, and three-year-old nephew, in a seventh-floor apartment in an elevator building. Id. at 25.

  At the hearing, plaintiff testified that she was only able to walk about a block or two and that the furthest she generally walked was from her home to a store across the street. Id. at 43. She explained that she took cabs or an

  ambulance service to get around. Id. at 25-26. Plaintiff also stated that she did not cook or do any housework. Id. at 46-47. She testified that her 24-year-old daughter helped with cleaning and shopping and that a government-provided "homemaker" came to her home daily to look after her three-year-old nephew and do housework. Id. at 48-49. Plaintiff indicated that a typical day for her entailed getting up "slowly but surely," watching television, getting dressed with assistance, and attending medical appointments such as her twice-weekly physical Page 4 therapy sessions. Id. at 49-50. She testified that she did not sleep well at night because of her pain. Id. at 50.

  C. Medical Evidence

  Plaintiff's medical record in this case starts with a visit to the Urban Health Plan ("UHP") clinic in the Bronx in June 1999. Id. at 209. Over the next several years, she received treatment for, among other things, chronic neck pain, cervical neuropathy, carpal tunnel syndrome, herniated discs, osteoarthritis, anxiety, and depression. Id. During this time, plaintiff saw her primary physician, Dr. Claude-Edouard Parola, as well as UHP physicians in the neurology, rheumotology, podiatry, psychiatry, and physiatry departments. See Plaintiff's Memorandum of Law in (1) Support of Her Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings and Remanding her Application for Calculation and Payment of Benefits and (2) Opposition to Defendant's Motion for Remand ("Pl. Mem.") at 3.

  1. Diagnostic Testing

  The record includes the following results of diagnostic testing. X-rays of plaintiff's cervical spine taken in June 1999 were normal. See Tr. at 156. An MRI of plaintiff's lumbrosacral spine taken in August 1999 showed disc space narrowing and a disc bulge. Id. at 153. A March 2000 MRI of plaintiff's cervical spine showed a herniated disc and "neuroforaminal narrowing" but no evidence of Page 5 atrophy, compression, or other abnormalities. Id. at 150. Plaintiff was diagnosed `with carpel tunnel syndrome in April 2000 after undergoing an electromyogram ("EMG"). Id. at 142. X-rays taken in August 2000 revealed mild degenerative'

  joint narrowing of plaintiff's right hip and left ankle and degenerative osteoarthritic changes of her ankle. Id. at 151, 154.

  2. Treating Physicians

  a. Dr. Claude-Edouard Parola

  Dr. Claude-Edouard Parola, plaintiff's, primary physician at UHP, began treating plaintiff in November 1999. See Pl. Mem. at 3. On May 11, 2001, Parola reported: "[Plaintiff] suffers from . . . disc herniation which produce [sic]' severe neck pain and parasthesia of both upper extremities. She also suffers from carpel tunnel syndrome, L-spine disc bulging which is causing her to have severe low back pain. [H]er condition now is [causing] her to be depressed. She is referred to psychiatry for evaluation. It is my opinion that Miss Medina is unable to work due to her current medical problems." Tr. at 162.

  In an united Employability Report, Parola wrote that plaintiff should "avoid heavy lifting, prolong [sic] sitting, standing." Id. at 210.

  On July 27, 2001, Parola reported that plaintiff "suffers from herniated disc, carpal tunnel syndrome, depression, anxiety" and that "[s]he should Page 6 refrain from work that requires prolonged standing, sitting, heavy lifting, and high stress level situation." Id. at 212.

  In an August 23, 2001 form report, Parola diagnosed plaintiff with chronic back pain, carpal tunnel syndrome, depression, and anxiety. See id. at 205. He also indicated that plaintiff had a "bilateral tingling sensation" in both hands. Id. at 204. In the report, Parola checked off boxes characterizing plaintiff's disability as "slowly progressive" and indicating that plaintiff experienced limitations in walking, standing, stooping, kneeling, reaching, pushing, and pulling, and that she should avoid lifting. Id. at 203.

  Finally, in a March 5, 2002 disability report admitted to the record after the hearing, Parola diagnosed plaintiff with chronic back pain, peripheral neuropathy, carpel tunnel syndrome, depression, and shoulder pain. See id. at 225. He reported that plaintiff was lying down two to three times a day due to pain. Id. at 227. In a section of the form report about the patient's ability to do sustained work activities in an ordinary work setting during an eight-hour day, Parola indicated that plaintiff could: sit continuously in a normal seated position for 15 minutes and a total of eight hours; stand continuously at a work station for 15 minutes at a time and a total of eight hours; and walk continuously for 10 minutes and a total of eight hours. Id. at 228. In the same section, he reported that Page 7 plaintiff could frequently lift and carry up to five pounds during an eight-hour `workday and occasionally up to 10 pounds but never more than 10 pounds. Id. at 228-29. Parola also reported that plaintiff could ...


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