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Stern v. Astrue

May 14, 2008

LAURIE STERN, PLAINTIFF,
v.
MICHAEL J. ASTRUE,*FN1 COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Scullin, Senior Judge

MEMORANDUM-DECISION AND ORDER

I. INTRODUCTION

In October of 1980, February of 1984, and October of 1985, respectively, Plaintiff applied for supplemental security income ("SSI"), alleging disability as of August, 1980. See Administrative Transcript ("Tr.") at 14, 35, 117. Plaintiff appealed the denial of her October 1985 application and was awarded benefits based on that application. See id. at 14, 117. Since Plaintiff was a member of the Stieberger*fn2 class action settlement, her previous applications were reconsidered but denied. See id. at 20-24, 59, 69. Plaintiff timely requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") to consider the pre-1985 applications, which hearing was held on April 23, 2002. See id. at 84, 156-60, 161-82. ALJ Stephan issued an unfavorable decision on May 20, 2002. See id. at 11-19. This decision became the final decision of the Commissioner when the Appeals Council denied review on April 4, 2005. See id. at 3-6. This action followed.

II. BACKGROUND

A. Personal History

Plaintiff was forty-one years old at the time of the administrative hearing in 2002. See Tr. at 35. She took special education classes and completed high school. See id. at 32. Plaintiff alleges disability due to cerebral palsy, a club foot, and a seizure disorder. See id. at 81, 102, 169. She has had some work experience at sheltered workshop settings in the Menands Workshop and the Cerebral Palsy Center, but her earnings have not risen above the substantial gainful activity level. See id. at 14, 27, 169-71.

B. Medical Evidence in the Record

1. Medical Evidence Before the ALJ

As Plaintiff points out, the bulk of the medical evidence in the record covers treatment that occurred after the relevant time period of October 1980 through September 1985. See Plaintiff's Brief, Dkt. No. 9, at 4. It appears that the Social Security Administration was unable to locate Plaintiff's original file and as much medical evidence as possible has been compiled in its absence. Nevertheless, the evidence in the transcript sheds light on Plaintiff's impairments as they existed during the relevant time frame.

A diagnosis of cerebral palsy and seizure disorder is repeated throughout the record. See id. at 73-75, 78, 102, 104, 106-07, 122. On July 30, 1986, a report from Albany Medical College Department of Neurology indicated that Plaintiff presented with a long-term seizure disorder, including loss of consciousness and tonic clonic convulsions. See Tr. at 103-04. Her last "big seizure" was noted to have occurred two to three years prior to the examination, which would place it around 1983 or 1984. See id. at 103. Under developmental history, the report noted that Plaintiff suffered from cerebral palsy, a condition which has its onset at birth, affecting her left arm and right leg. See id. at 104.

In an August 11, 1986 letter, Dr. Venkat Ramani, a neurologist, noted that Plaintiff had suffered from cerebral palsy since birth. See id. at 102. He also noted that her last serious seizure had been about three years prior. See id. Dr. Ramani noted abnormalities on an EEG taken August 5, 1986. See id. He stated that Plaintiff's seizure disorder had existed since Plaintiff was fifteen years old. See id.

Records from the Cerebral Palsy Center dated July 30, 1992, indicate that Plaintiff suffered from right spastic hemiplegia, or total or partial paralysis of one side of the body that results from disease of or injury to the motor centers of the brain. See id. at 121. A treatment note dated March 22, 1994, indicates that Plaintiff's developmental disability had existed since birth and that she had a history of surgeries on her right foot as well as seizure disorder. See id. at 122. Physical examination showed right leg stiffness and clubbing, partial left arm paresis, and decreased function in the left arm and right leg. See id. at 124. An April 5, 2000 treatment note from Dr. Matthew Murnane at the Albany Medical College indicated that Plaintiff required use of a wheelchair, had dysarthric speech (difficulty with speech due to central nervous system dysfunction), spasticity worse on her left side as compared to the right, and mild asymmetric left-sided weakness. See id. at 75. A treatment note from Center Health Care dated December 19, 2000, noted a diagnosis of cerebral palsy with right hemiparesis, seizure disorder, and hearing loss. See id. at 78.

Plaintiff's treating physician for thirty years, Dr. Brian Quinn, noted on April 9, 2002, that Plaintiff suffered from cerebral palsy with right hemiparesis and was born with a right club foot. See id. at 127. He further noted that Plaintiff had limited use of her left arm, had had numerous surgical procedures on the right foot, and had always needed an assistive device to ambulate. See id. Dr. Quinn stated that he had reviewed ...


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