The opinion of the court was delivered by: SIDNEY STEIN, District Judge
Rosa Pareja brings this action pursuant to section 205(g) of the
Social Security Administration Act ("the Act"), 42 U.S.C. § 405(g),
to challenge the final determination of defendant Jo Anne Barnhart,
Commissioner of Social Security, denying Pareja Social Security
Disability Insurance ("SSDI") benefits. Plaintiff has moved for judgment
on the pleadings pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(c). In response, the
Commissioner has cross-moved for judgment on the pleadings to affirm the
decision of the Commissioner also pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(c).
Because there is substantial evidence to support the Commissioner's
determination, defendant's cross-motion is granted and plaintiff's motion
A. Administrative Proceedings
On February 24, 1998, Pareja filed an application with the Social
Security Administration ("SSA") for SSDI payments. (R. 72-75). The
application was denied initially on January 14, 1999 (R. 60-61) and again
upon reconsideration on July 12, 1999.
(R. 62). At Pareja's request, Administrative Law Judge Ruben
Rivera, Jr. (the "ALJ") reviewed that determination de novo at a hearing
on January 4, 2000, and he subsequently found that Pareja was not
disabled and thus not entitled to the benefits she sought. (R 19-26).
On October 25, 2002, the Appeals Council denied Pareja's request for
review of the ALJ's decision, which thereby became the final decision of
the Commissioner. (R 7-9). She brings this action to challenge that
The following facts are from Pareja's testimony. Pareja was fifty-six
years old at the time of the ALJ's hearing. She was born in Peru, where
she attended high school. Upon arrival in the United States, she was
employed for twenty-eight years as a cleaner in a commercial building.
Her job responsibilities included vacuuming, emptying trash, dusting,
washing the windows, and cleaning. (R. 40, 43, 90). These jobs required
her to be on her feet all day and involved constant bending, and frequent
weight lifting of up to twenty-five pounds. She last worked in February
1998. Pareja claims that she left her job because of her physical
impairments, which have disabled her, and that she is therefore entitled
to SSDI (benefits. (R. 41).
At the January 4, 2000 hearing, Pareja testified before the ALJ about
her arthritis and its symptoms. She described problems "most of the time
[with] her hands," and also "most of the time with [her] shoulders, [her]
arms, [her] upper arms, [her] neck sometimes, and [her] knees," and
visible inflammation causing areas to "get red and big" so that she
"[could] not move." (R. 44). She described shoulder pains that prevented
from raising her arm, combing her hair, or even dressing. She said
she could not lift her "hands over her head," could not walk, and could
not drive. (R. 45).
Pareja also testified that she could spend a "whole week without pain,
but some weeks [pains] come[s] week after another, day after another."
(R. 46). When she had a good day, increased activity would then cause her
to have more problems. On a bad day, she "just lies down on the couch."
With respect to her residual functional capacity ("RFC"), Pareja claims
that on a good day, she could sit for about an hour without feeling
discomfort, stand for an hour or two, and pour a gallon of milk with both
hands. She could also dust or vacuum her apartment and do light cooking,
although her husband assisted by cutting the food. (R. 53). On a bad day,
she could not sit, stand, lift anything, or grasp anything with her
fingers. (Id.) She could always shower without aid. (R. 53).
At the time of the hearing, Pareja used Prednisone, Methorex, Celebrex,
and codeine to treat her arthritic symptoms. She used Methorex every
week, and it "upset her stomach" about two or three weeks in a month. (R.
49). The codeine, which she only used "when [she was] very bad," caused
her to feel sleepy. At some time before the hearing, she also had two
injection shots of Bupivacaine and Triamcinolone into the caudal canal.
The medical evidence presented to the ALJ supports the conclusion that
Pareja suffered from rheumatoid arthritis. Pareja was treated by three
physicians and one physical therapist from 1998 until 2000. Two state
consultative physicians also reviewed
her health prior to the hearing before the ALJ. The ALJ considered
and evaluated testimony submitted by all of these medical authorities.
a. Treating Physicians' Reports
Dr. Mark Horowitz treated Pareja for rheumatoid arthritis on March
31, 1998 and July 27, 1998 and submitted reports of those two visits. Dr.
Horowitz's report dated March 31, 1998 indicates that "[Pareja's]
condition is severe and she requires permanent disability." (R. 107). He
specified that "[b]ecause of the extent and aggressiveness of her
disease, namely involvement of both hands, shoulders, and feet, she is
unable to return to the work force on a permanent basis" and that she
"failed therapy with both Methotrexate and Plaquenil." (R. 108). In the
report from the second visit, on July 27, 1998, Dr. Horowitz concluded
that Pareja is "unable to do basic activities of daily" life "including
dressing, grooming, and mail preparation." (R. 106).
Dr. Vincent LaSala treated Pareja for pain management from March to
July of 1998. His reports record the following treatment. On March
30, 1998, Pareja visited Dr. LaSala with pain in the low back with
radiation into the left back of the thigh. Based on a neuromuscular
examination, Dr. LaSala stated that Pareja had good mobility at the
torso, and was able to do side bends, toe touches, and back bends without
difficulty. Based on the physical exam and the distribution of pain, Dr.
LaSala assessed that Pareja had Lumbar Radiculopathy. (R. 143). On April
2, 1998, Dr. LaSala performed a Caudal Block injection. (R. 145). On
April 8, 1998, Dr. LaSala stated that Pareja experienced "90% relief
after the Caudal injection." (R. 146). Pareja returned to Dr. LaSala on
25, 1998 and reported an unchanged condition. She was given another
Caudal Block injection. (R. 150).
On June 19, Pareja began a course of physical therapy with Mr. Todd
Wilkowski that lasted from June 19, 1998 to July 17, 1998. Mr. Wilkowski
determined that "[t]his patient report[ed] a 70% relief of pain." (R.
148). On July 17, 1998, after ten physical therapy visits, Mr. Wilkowski
stated that Pareja "was pain-free at discharge." (R. 152). He did note
that there was a limitation in side bending and backward bending at the
L-spine. There was also a "mild decrease in muscle flexibility through
the piriformis." (Id.)
Dr. Robert Turner began treating Pareja on October 2, 1998 at the
Arthritis Center. At that time, Dr. Turner recorded that Pareja's
prescription regimen included Tylenol each day, Prednisone 8 milligrams
per day, Methotrexate four or five a week for about four years, Plaquenil
twice a day, Premarin and Provers. (R. 115). His impression was that she
had rheumatoid arthritis, musculoskeletal pain, kyphosis, and anemia, but
he noted that "she is doing quite well on her present regimen."
On October 23, 1998, Pareja returned to Dr. Turner because she had
"some problems on Sunday, but then she got better." (R. 113). He reported
that her arthritis was doing "quite well." On her follow-up visit on
December 4, 1998, Dr. Turner stated that "[h]er rheumatoid arthritis is
doing quite well on the present regimen. I believe she is disabled from
her problems, but is doing relatively well on her present medication."
On March 31, 1999, Pareja returned with complaints of pain and Dr.
Turner concluded again that her "rheumatoid arthritis is doing relatively
well today." (R. 110).
On May 11, 1999, he again assessed that she was doing "relatively
well." (R. 109). Dr. Turner noted that she was taking Tylenol with
Codeine, which was prescribed by her other doctors. On August 17, 1999,
Pareja returned to Dr. Turner to discuss her blood studies and X-Rays.