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Hunt v. Astrue

August 13, 2008




A. Procedural History

Plaintiff Adrienne Hunt ("Plaintiff") filed an application for Supplemental Security Income ("SSI") on January 14, 2004. Administrative Transcript ("AT") 42-45. The application was denied initially. AT 35. A request was made for a hearing. AT 39. A hearing was held before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") on April 28, 2005. AT 389-422. In a decision dated May 26, 2005, the ALJ found that Plaintiff is not disabled. AT 15-28. The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review on December 20, 2005. AT 5-10. Plaintiff commenced this action on January 25, 2006 pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), seeking review of the Commissioner's final decision. Dkt. No. 1.

B. Contentions

Plaintiff makes the following claims:

(1) The Secretary committed an error of law in determining that Plaintiff's mental impairments did not equal the impairment listed in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1, Part A § 12.04 and Part B § 112.04. Dkt. No. 9 at 6-13.

(2) The Secretary's decision is not supported by substantial evidence. Dkt. No. 9 at 13-15.

(3) The Secretary improperly evaluated and considered the limitations imposed by Plaintiff's mental impairments. Dkt. No. 9 at 16-18.

Defendant argues that the Commissioner's determination is supported by substantial evidence in the record, and must be affirmed. Dkt. No. 10.

C. Facts

Plaintiff was forty-five years old at the time of the hearing. AT 56, 392. Plaintiff completed the tenth grade. AT 394. Plaintiff's past work experience includes working as a textile laborer and a rental car attendant. AT 60, 394. Plaintiff alleges that she became unable to work on September 5, 1998. AT 47. Allegedly, while working as a textile worker that day, Plaintiff slipped and fell, injuring her lower back. AT 175, 394. Plaintiff previously injured her neck and hands in 1995. AT 175. She alleges disability due to carpal tunnel syndrome, depression, cervical-lumbar sprain, asthma, herniated discs, arthritis in her neck, and hepatitis C. AT 46. 1. Physical Condition

a. Slocum-Dickson Medical Group

From November 30, 1999 to January 16, 2004, Plaintiff was treated at Slocum-Dickson Medical Group. AT 107-54. During this time, Plaintiff was diagnosed as suffering from, inter alia, seropositive rheumatoid arthritis, low back pain, knee sprain, and hepatitis C. See id. She was prescribed various medications. Id.

b. Jose Lopez, M.D.

On August 27, 2001, Plaintiff was examined by Jose Lopez, M.D. for purposes of Plaintiff's workers' compensation claim. AT 185-86. Dr. Lopez noted that he previously evaluated Plaintiff on October 23, 2000. AT 185. After an examination, Dr. Lopez concluded that Plaintiff had no disability related to her work-place injury of September 5, 1998. AT 186.

c. Nameer Haider, M.D.

From June 5, 2002 to February 3, 2003, Plaintiff saw Nameer Haider, M.D. for pain management. AT 80-88, 181-84. An EMG showed moderate chronic peripheral neuropathy and mild acute right lumbar radiculitis. AT 84. Dr. Haider diagnosed Plaintiff as suffering from chronic low back pain and chronic neck pain. AT 82-88. Plaintiff was prescribed Ultracet, Neurontin, and Vioxx. AT 82, 84, 88. On February 3, 2003, Dr. Haider discontinued care of Plaintiff because Plaintiff "was [not] interested in any interventional management of her back and was only looking for pain medications." AT 80.

d. St. Elizabeth Family Medicine Center

On December 6, 2002, Plaintiff complained of upper back pain to Oleg Dulkin, M.D. of St. Elizabeth Family Medicine Center. AT 179-80. Dr. Dulkin reported that Plaintiff refused to answer any questions and left the office. Id.

Plaintiff returned to the office and was seen by Kevin Mathews, M.D. AT 177-78. On examination, Plaintiff was limited by pain from performing a full straight leg raise and knee flexes. AT 177. Dr. Mathews diagnosed Plaintiff as suffering from pain in her low back, cervical spine, and left shoulder. Id. Dr. Mathews noted that Plaintiff "was extremely difficult. She was angry, disrespectful and extremely vague in her answers . . . . I suggested that Ms. Hunt consider having her [p]rimary [c]are at another office because I do not believe that we can really establish a successful therapeutic relationship." AT 178.

e. Diane Cavallaro, M.D.

From December 23, 2002 to January 4, 2005, Plaintiff received treatment from Diane Cavallaro, M.D. AT 207-42, 287-320. Dr. Cavallaro treated Plaintiff for her back pain, neck pain, and asthma, hepatitis C, and leg edema. Id. She prescribed various medications. Id.

In a functional assessment completed on March 11, 2004, Dr. Cavallaro indicated that Plaintiff is able to stand and/or walk up to two hours per day; sit up to six hours per day; and was limited in her abilities to push and/or pull. AT 215.

f. John Toukatly, D.C.

From February 25, 2003 to August 29, 2005, Plaintiff treated with John Toukatly, D.C. AT 175-76, 267-76, 349-54, 358-76, 379-82. Dr. Toukatly treated Plaintiff's low back and neck. AT 267. An MRI of Plaintiff's lumbar spine performed on November 1, 2004 showed degenerative changes at L3, L4, and L5 and mild disc bulges at L3 and L4. AT 275-76.

On August 29, 2005, Dr. Toukatly indicated that Plaintiff's diagnoses included cervical strain, lumbar strain, right leg sciatica, and herniated disc at L5-S1. AT 349. Dr. Toukatly treated Plaintiff through a variety of methods, including ultrasound, hot packs, electrical muscle stimulation, and manipulation of the neck and lower back. Id. He indicated that Plaintiff's response to treatment was fair. Id. However, he stated that Plaintiff's prognosis is poor because Plaintiff remains with neck, lower back, and right leg pain. Id.

In a Medical Source Statement, Dr. Toukatly indicated that Plaintiff is able to lift and/or carry a maximum of less than ten pounds on an occasional basis and on a frequent basis; stand and/or walk less than two hours in an eight-hour workday; sit less than about six hours in an eight-hour workday; must periodically alternate sitting and standing; and is limited in her abilities to push and/or pull. AT 350-51.

g. Emergency Room - St. Elizabeth Medical Center

On July 23, 2003, Plaintiff presented to the emergency room of St. Elizabeth Medical Center. AT 93-101. Plaintiff was diagnosed as suffering from atypical chest pain. AT 95. ...

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