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BLAYLOCK-TAYLOR v. BARNHART

June 6, 2005.

DOROTHEA BLAYLOCK-TAYLOR, Plaintiff,
v.
JO ANNE BARNHART Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: JOHN KOELTL, District Judge

OPINION AND ORDER

The plaintiff, Dorothea Blaylock-Taylor, brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), seeking disability insurance benefits ("DIB") because of alleged physical and mental impairments. In response, the Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner") moves for judgment on the pleadings pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(c) to affirm the Commissioner's decision that the plaintiff is not entitled to DIB under the Social Security Act ("the Act").

The plaintiff failed to respond to the motion for judgment on the pleadings, despite two extensions of time granted by the Court, which included warnings that, in the event of failure to respond, the Court would decide the motions on the papers already submitted. In view of the plaintiff's pro se status, the Court has carefully reviewed the papers and the administrative record to determine if there is any merit to the plaintiff's complaint. The Commissioner's motion should be granted because the papers reveal that the Commissioner is entitled to judgment on the pleadings.

  The issue on this motion is whether substantial evidence supports the Commissioner's finding that the plaintiff is not "disabled" as the term is defined in the Act for the period for which she seeks DIB, namely June 17, 1994, the initial onset date of the plaintiff's alleged disability, through December 9, 1999, the date of the Administrative Law Judge's ("ALJ") decision denying DIB.*fn1 See 42 U.S.C. § 423(d) (1) (A) (defining disability as an "inability 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."); see also Garvin v. Barnhart, 254 F. Supp. 2d 404, 405 (S.D.N.Y. 2003).

  The plaintiff filed an application for DIB on August 4, 1998.*fn2 (R. at 10, 71, 74.) This application was initially denied on October 27, 1998. (See R. at 49-52.) The application was denied again upon reconsideration on February 11, 1999. (R. at 55-57.) The plaintiff subsequently filed a request for a hearing on February 24, 1999. (R. at 10.)

  On October 7, 1999, a hearing was held on the plaintiff's claim before ALJ Hastings Morse. (R. at 21-45.) The plaintiff appeared at the hearing with her attorney Carol Goldstein. (R. at 10.) The plaintiff's mother, Diane M. Gearhart, was also present and testified on the plaintiff's behalf. (R. at 10, 25.) The plaintiff alleged that she was disabled "due to multiple joint aches and pain, depression, anxiety, asthma, and multiple sclerosis." (R. at 11.)

  The ALJ considered the case de novo, and on December 9, 1999, issued a decision that the plaintiff was not disabled under the Act. (R. at 16-17.) The ALJ's decision became the final decision of the Commissioner on February 26, 2003, when the Appeals Council denied the plaintiff's request for review. (R. at 2-3.)

  I.

  The administrative record contains the following facts. The plaintiff was born in New York on April 29, 1962. (R. at 27, 71.) The plaintiff graduated from high school (R. at 29, 83), spent two years in the Army (from 1981 to 1983), and was trained as a teletype operator. (R. at 29, 30, 35, 83, 85, 96.) The plaintiff testified that her knees began to cause her "problems" during her time in the Army and that she was receiving Veterans' Benefits for a twenty percent disability as a result of her knee problems. (R. at 30, 36.) The plaintiff also worked as a nurse's aide in a nursing home for approximately ten years, from December 1983 to June 1994. (R. at 29, 34-35, 83, 86, 96.)

  The plaintiff lives with her husband and her two children in Poughkeepsie, New York. (R. at 73, 95.) At the hearing in October 1999, the plaintiff indicated that she has a driver's license and can drive short distances. (R. at 28-29; see also 82, 96.) At the hearing, the plaintiff stated that she is able to dress herself but no longer does any household chores. (R. at 41.) In a form submitted to the New York State Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance, Division of Disability Determination, the plaintiff noted that she shopped for groceries with assistance, and that she spent her time writing letters, talking on the telephone, and watching television. (R. at 95, 96.) The plaintiff also reported that she "exercise[s] as tolerated." (R. at 95.) At the hearing in October 1999, the plaintiff testified that she exercised on a treadmill for five minutes at a time. (R. at 40.)

  According to the plaintiff, she had a "high-risk" pregnancy in 1994 and was on bed rest for the entire nine-month period. (R. at 36.) The plaintiff allegedly experienced back pain, extreme fatigue, and difficulties in concentrating during the pregnancy. (Id.) The plaintiff noted that these symptoms continued after her child's birth in 1994. (R. at 37.) During that time a close friend named Chris lived with her and often cared for the plaintiff's youngest child. (R. at 43.) The plaintiff's mother also helped with the youngest child. (R. at 43.)

  The plaintiff testified that she had gained about twenty-five pounds since she had last worked in June 1994 and claimed that, after the initial use of a wheelchair, she had been on crutches "pretty much" the entire time since June 1994. (R. at 27.) The plaintiff testified that in 1994 she used knee braces, and in fact, had used knee braces for the ten years that she worked as a nurse's aide. (R. at 33, 35.) The plaintiff allegedly uses a wheelchair to travel long distances and to carry things. (R. at 31, 34.) The plaintiff lives in a townhouse and reported difficulty using the stairs. (R. at 28.)

  The plaintiff also testified at the October 1999 hearing that, in 1995, she was suddenly unable to walk (R. at 33), and that in or around 1997, she was diagnosed with "probable" multiple sclerosis. (R. at 30.) The plaintiff described her condition as "probable MS, but very strong probability." (R. at 30.) The plaintiff noted that her neurologist, Dr. Allen Gerber (see R. at 80, 273), could not confirm this condition nor rule it out. (Id.) The record reveals that in April 1997, the plaintiff was examined by a VA doctor, whose diagnosis was questionable multiple sclerosis and dysthymia.*fn3 (See R. at 237.)

  At the time of the hearing, the plaintiff testified that she could only walk one-half block with a crutch. (R. at 39.) The plaintiff said that she could stand for ten to fifteen minutes and sit for fifteen to twenty minutes. (R. at 39-40.) The plaintiff claimed that she could lift and carry about five pounds and that her hands were very shaky. (R. at 40.) She also reported that she had difficulty sleeping due to stress (R. at 41), and that she found it necessary to take a nap every day. (R. at 44-45.) The plaintiff complained of asthma, which was allegedly controlled with medication, except on damp and rainy days. (R. at 37.) The plaintiff also noted that she suffered migraine headaches, especially in the morning, and she testified that these headaches had worsened over time. (R. at 37-38.) The plaintiff also complained of suffering from lightheadedness, anxiety, and depression. (R. at 38.)

  The plaintiff's mother testified at the October 1999 hearing before the ALJ. (See R. at 25, 42-44.) Mrs. Gearhart stated that the plaintiff had testified truthfully, and noted that her daughter often told her that she was experiencing "a lot of stress in her life." (R. at 42.) Mrs. Gearhart testified that the plaintiff's then fifteen year-old son was handicapped and was "a handful," and the plaintiff added that she needed to watch him carefully. (Id.)

  II.

  The plaintiff's relevant medical history begins in January 1997, when doctors at the Veterans Administrative ("VA") Hudson Valley Health Care System's Castle Point and Montrose facilities examined the plaintiff. (R. at 112-276, 372-450.) The plaintiff's primary physician is Dr. Chitti Charistseree at the VA Castle Point campus. (R. at 38, 80, 101, 273.) According to the plaintiff, Dr. ...


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