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Lebron v. Barnhart

July 8, 2008

JOSE LEBRON, PLAINTIFF,
v.
JO ANNE B. BARNHART, COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Honorable Paul A. Crotty, United States District Judge

ORDER

Plaintiff Jose Lebron ("Lebron") brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) and 42 U.S.C. § 1383(c)(3) seeking judicial review of the final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration ("SSA") denying his 1982 and 1985 applications for Supplemental Security Income ("SSI") benefits, which were reconsidered in 2001 following the Dixon and Stieberger class action decisions.*fn1 Lebron moves for judgment on the pleadings pursuant to Rule 12(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, seeking an order: (1) reversing the final decision of the Commissioner, and (2) remanding the matter for a benefits calculation. The Commissioner cross-moves for judgment affirming the final decision that Lebron was not disabled during the periods in question on the grounds that substantial evidence supports such a finding.

The case was assigned to Magistrate Judge Kevin Nathaniel Fox, who issued a Report and Recommendation ("R&R") on April 30, 2007. Both parties filed objections to the R&R.

PROCEDURAL HISTORY

Between 1977 and 1998, Lebron filed five applications for SSI benefits.*fn2 In each application, Lebron claimed that he was disabled due to mental retardation and congenital foot and hand deformities. After the first three applications were denied, Lebron's fourth application, filed in 1996, was approved and he was awarded benefits.*fn3 In 2001, pursuant to the Dixon and Stieberger class action decisions, the SSA began the process of reopening Lebron's 1982 and 1985 applications for SSI benefits. On September 26, 2001, the Commissioner found that Lebron was not disabled during the established readjudication periods and denied his claims again. Lebron requested a hearing one week later on October 2, 2001. On February 13, 2003, a hearing was held before Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") Kenneth G. Levin. On July 13, 2003, the ALJ issued a final decision finding Lebron was not disabled during the readjudication periods. The Appeals Council denied Lebron's request for review on July 16, 2004, thereby rendering the Commissioner's decision final.

On September 16, 2004, the Plaintiff initiated the instant action seeking review of the Commissioner's decision. He moved for judgment on the pleadings pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(c), and the Commissioner cross-moved for judgment on the pleadings.

FACTUAL BACKGROUND*fn4

I. Personal History

Jose Lebron was born in Puerto Rico on June 12, 1936, with congenital deformities of the hands, feet and face, and mental impairments. Lebron did not learn to walk until the age of nine. He attended four years of school in Puerto Rico but never learned to read or write in Spanish and has limited English-language proficiency. Lebron moved to New York when he was twenty-three years old and has always lived with his mother (now deceased) or his sister. He has never had a romantic relationship, and does not have any long-lasting friendships. Due to his mental condition, Lebron cannot shop for his own food or make his own meals. Lebron has held several jobs throughout his life and, although he traveled on public transportation to and from those jobs, he always traveled with a co-worker and/or after his sister took several months to teach him the route.

II. Work History

From 1970 to 1974, Lebron worked full-time at a factory in New Jersey packing small items (such as clothing hangers and perfume) into boxes. The job entailed standing, but no significant lifting or carrying, and he commuted to the factory with a friend via public bus. The factory eventually closed down, and Lebron found work at a bodega owned by another friend. Lebron worked there from 1974 to1978, stocking shelves and making nearby deliveries of non-heavy items. The bodega eventually went out of business and Lebron found another job in the Welfare Employment Program, a job which he worked as a condition of receiving public assistance benefits. He worked forty-two hours every other week (one week on, one week off), removing garbage from public spaces, and sweeping and cleaning restrooms.

III. Medical History

a. Medical Conditions

At the February 2003 hearing before ALJ Levin, Lebron testified that he has experienced problems with his hands and feet since birth. (Administrative Record ("AR")*fn5 395-97, 399.) He explained that he has always experienced "numbness" in his hands and pain in his feet. (AR 16.) When he worked, Lebron's hands would "hurt." (AR 396.)

After complaining of pain in his hand in July 1982, an X-Ray confirmed a deformity of the distal radius with an overgrowth of the radial aspect of the radius. (AR 150-51.) In October 1982 and then again in February 1983, Lebron had surgery on his left wrist, but continued to experience pain. (AR 172, 174, 219.) In March 1990, Lebron complained of right arm weakness and also reported experiencing difficulty when trying to grip objects. (AR 326.)

After complaining of pain in his feet in August 1982, an X-Ray revealed halux valgus, commonly known as bunions, and an abnormal talus bone. (AR 154, 237.) To address this condition, Lebron was prescribed orthopedic shoes, as well as the medications Tylenol and Naprosyn. (AR 243, 252, 301-03, 329.) In addition to reporting problems with his hands and feet, Lebron sought treatment for ailments including gastritis and perianal infections. (AR 17.)

i. Medical Diagnoses

On April 25, 1996, Dr. Stephen Rocker, a consultative physician, examined Lebron. (AR 430-31.) He noted that Lebron displayed decreased mobility with respect to his thumbs and had diminished range of motion at the joints in his hands. (AR 431.) Dr. Rocker opined that Lebron would be "unable to perform activity requiring strong grasping or fine dexterity or repetitive manipulation of the hands." (AR 431.) He also concluded that Lebron would be "unable to perform activities requiring repetitive strength or dexterity involving the feet." (AR 431.)

During the 2003 administrative hearing, expert witness Dr. Charles Plotz testified that Lebron "was born with brachy dactylus, short fingers, rather irregularly short fingers, and with a valgus [deformity] of both lower extremities." (AR 409.) Dr. Plotz further testified that during the relevant period (that is, the period of time for which Lebron was seeking disability benefits), Lebron did not have a medical ...


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