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Mieczkowski v. Astrue

March 31, 2008


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Joseph F. Bianco, District Judge


Plaintiff Kathleen M. Mieczkowski (hereinafter, "Mieczkowski" or "plaintiff") brings the above-captioned action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) of the Social Security Act, seeking review of the Commissioner of Social Security's decision to deny her application for disability insurance benefits ("DIB"). Presently before the Court are the parties' motions for judgment on the pleadings pursuant to Rule 12(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.

For the reasons that follow, the case is remanded to the Administrative Law Judge for further proceedings in accordance with this Memorandum and Order.


A. Facts

1. Vocational and Other Evidence

Plaintiff was born in 1968, and was 35 years old at the time of the alleged onset of disability and 38 at the time of the Administrative Law Judge's ("ALJ") decision. (Tr. 33, 194.) She completed college. (Tr. 52, 61, 194.) She met the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act through December 31, 2006. (Tr. 36.)

At the time of the hearing on July 13, 2006, plaintiff lived with her husband and two children, who were four years old and nine months old, respectively. (Tr. 194.) Plaintiff took care of the needs of her two children during the day, while her husband worked. (Tr. 88, 194, 207-08.) Her four year-old went to nursery school and was home by 11:30 a.m. (Tr. 207.) Her husband worked and generally arrived home around 6:00 p.m. (Id.) She testified that she would never cook. (Tr. 208.)

Plaintiff had worked as a project manager, administrative/office manager, market researcher, and cashier/salesperson. (Tr. 47, 56-57, 63, 72, 105-06, 195.) She last worked on March 15, 2001. (Tr. 37, 46, 195.) Plaintiff reported that she stopped working in 2001 because she was laid off due to economic reasons. (Tr. 46, 56.) She had her first child in May 2002, and the second child in September 2005. (Tr. 201.)

In a report dated April 26, 2004, plaintiff stated that she made simple meals and did some household chores. (Tr. 89, 90, 97.) At the time of the report, she primarily cared for her one child, then 23 months old. (Tr. 88.) Plaintiff handled the shopping. (Tr. 91.) She was able to drive and ride in a car. (Tr. 90.) She enjoyed visiting with family and friends. (Tr. 92.) She was unable to lift objects heavier than her 26-pound child. (Id.) Plaintiff said that she had problems with attention, could not stand for prolonged periods of time, climb more than one flight of stairs without resting, or walk for more than 10 minutes or one quarter-mile continuously. (Tr. 92, 93.) She claimed that stress caused her headaches and pain. (Tr. 94.) Plaintiff testified that her symptoms worsened in May 2003 and that she could not work after that time. (Tr. 196.) Her main symptom was headaches which made her unable to sleep and left her exhausted. (Tr. 197.)

2. Medical Evidence

a. Treating Physicians

On April 12, 2001, Dr. Karen Schorn, a rheumatologist, examined plaintiff for chronic pain complaints upon referral by Dr. Richard Federbush. (Tr. 114-16.) Plaintiff, then an unemployed market researcher (Tr. 115), told Dr. Schorn that she had ankle and hip joint pain for over 20 years, since age 12. (Tr. 114.) For the past week, she had been experiencing knee, lower back, shoulder and ankle pain, which was associated with low grade fevers. (Id.) Plaintiff was taking Elavil, Methocarbamol, Proventil, Celebrex, Benadryl, and Sudafed. (Id.) A rheumatologic exam revealed multiple tender points and Reynaud's of her feet. (Tr. 115.) Dr. Schorn believed that plaintiff had fibromyalgia, but further testing was planned to rule out underlying connective tissue disease. (Id.) Dr. Schorn stated that if her laboratory tests were normal, plaintiff should be treated as a fibromyalgia*fn1 patient, provided sleep medications, and prescribed exercise. (Tr. 116.)

Upon examination on May 21, 2003, Dr. Schorn recorded that plaintiff was not depressed, but was not sleeping well, complained of dry mouth, and multiple tender points were present. (Tr. 118.) She prescribed Pamelor. (Id.) Upon examination on October 21, 2003, Dr. Schorn noted that plaintiff recently had a baby. (Tr. 119.) Plaintiff complained of generalized body aches, joint pain, fatigue, and a red rash on her face. (Tr. 119.) Dr. Schorn found that plaintiff's joints were hyper-flexible and that she had multiple tender points, but there were no signs of active inflammation in her joints. (Tr. 119.) Plaintiff next saw Dr. Schorn on February 11, 2004. Dr. Schorn noted multiple tender points and prescribed Effexor. (Tr. 117, duplicated at Tr. 190.) During a visit on March 2, 2004 (Tr. 120), Dr. Schorn stated that plaintiff's condition was essentially unchanged since October 2003. (Id.)

Dr. Richard Federbush completed a report on April 8, 2004. (Tr. 122-28, duplicated at 165-71.) He had treated plaintiff since 1998 and last examined her in December 2003. (Tr. 122.) Plaintiff complained of recurrent headaches, fatigue, joint and muscle pain, and muscle weakness. (Id.) Dr. Federbush diagnosed plaintiff with fibromyalgia and headaches. (Id.) He opined that plaintiff had not displayed any behavior consistent with a significant mental disorder. (Tr. 123.) Clinical findings consisted of multiple tender trigger points. (Tr. 123.) All serological tests had been negative. (Tr. 124.) Plaintiff had no significant gait abnormality and did not need any assistive devices. (Tr. 124-25.) Dr. Federbush assessed that plaintiff was able to lift and carry up to five pounds occasionally, stand and walk up to two hours, and sit less than six hours in a workday. (Tr. 127.) She was not limited in her ability to push and pull and had no other limitations. (Tr. 128.) Dr. Federbush did not indicate any restrictions to joint ranges of motion. (Tr. 129-30.)

Plaintiff saw Dr. Schorn on August 12, 2004. (Tr. 189.) Plaintiff complained of muscle tenderness, neck and shoulder pain, and some left hand numbness. (Id.) She had discontinued the Effexor because it had a bad taste. (Id.) Dr. Schorn suspected that plaintiff was menopausal. (Id.)

On January 29, 2005, Dr. Federbush signed an affirmation prepared by plaintiff's attorney stating that plaintiff's condition was unchanged and she was unable to return to any gainful employment at that time. (Tr. 164.)

On February 7, 2005, plaintiff saw Dr. Schorn and stated that she recently had fallen down stairs, and that she was five weeks pregnant and had discontinued all medications except multivitamins. (Tr. 188.) Plaintiff was willing to try physical therapy. (Id.) The only other information for that visit is that Dr. Schorn noted that plaintiff was "here to help me complete disability questionnaire." (Id.) That same day, Dr. Schorn completed a fibromyalgia residual functional capacity questionnaire. (Tr. 172-75.) Dr. Schorn stated that she had seen plaintiff two to three times annually since April 2001. (Tr. 172.) Her only diagnosis was fibromyalgia. (Id.) Dr. Schorn stated that plaintiff was capable of handling low stress jobs, could lift/carry less than 10 pounds, and could sit, stand, and/or walk less than two hours in a workday, and would be absent from work due to symptoms more than four days monthly. (Tr. 173-75.)

Plaintiff next saw Dr. Schorn one year later, on February 1, 2006. Plaintiff said that she was not on any medications ("med 0"). (Tr. 188.) She had given birth four months earlier. (Id.) She complained of daily headaches, joint pain, night sweats, hair loss, and difficulty losing weight. (Id.) Dr. Schorn noted that plaintiff had a receding hairline (id.), and multiple tender points, but no rash (Tr. 187-88). She ordered laboratory tests, prescribed Mobic, and recommended therapy and anti-depressants. (Tr. 187.)

On February 23, 2006, plaintiff saw Dr. Schorn and complained of headaches. (Tr. 187). Dr. Schorn noted that an MRI of the brain was done two years earlier, and had been negative. (Id.) She adjusted the Effexor dosage. (Id.) Plaintiff returned to Dr. Schorn on June 21, 2006. (Tr. 186.) Tenderpoints were present. Plaintiff stated that she had headaches and planned to see a neurologist. (Id.) That same day, Dr. Schorn signed an affirmation prepared by plaintiff's attorney stating that plaintiffs condition was unchanged since February 7, 2005. (Tr. 185.) The doctor reported that she had not treated plaintiff from February 2005 to February 2006 because plaintiff had been pregnant and gave birth. Dr. Schorn asserted that plaintiff was unable to return to any gainful employment at that time. (Id.)

b. Consulting Physicians

On May 13, 2004, Dr. Samir Dutta conducted a consultative examination of plaintiff. (Tr. 131-33.) Plaintiff told Dr. Dutta that she performed household chores, such as cooking, laundry, cleaning, and shopping. (Tr. 132.) She was responsible for the care of her young child. (Id.) Plaintiff took care of her personal needs and was able to shower, bathe, and dress herself. (Id.) She watched television, listened to the radio, and read. (Id.) She was able to go to the park and stores occasionally. (Id.) She socialized with friends. ...

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