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Daniels v. Astrue

March 15, 2009


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Dora L. Irizarry, United States District Judge


Plaintiff Carolyn Daniels, pro se, filed an application for supplemental security income ("SSI") under the Social Security Act (the "Act") on July 15, 2004. Plaintiff's application was denied initially and on reconsideration. Plaintiff appeared unrepresented and testified at a hearing held before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") on April 18, 2006. By a decision dated May 5, 2006, the ALJ concluded that plaintiff was not disabled within the meaning of the Act. On January 17, 2007, the ALJ's decision became the Commissioner's final decision when the Appeals Council denied plaintiff's request for review. Plaintiff filed the instant action seeking judicial review of the denial of benefits, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1383(c)(3). The Commissioner now moves for judgment on the pleadings, pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(c), seeking affirmation of his denial of benefits. Plaintiff, pro se, filed no opposition to the Commissioner's motion.*fn1 For the reasons set forth more fully below, the Commissioner's motion for judgment on the pleadings is granted.


A. Non-medical and Testimonial Evidence

On April 18, 2006, plaintiff appeared pro se and testified at a hearing conducted by ALJ Mary Shire ("ALJ"). At the time of the hearing, plaintiff was 44-years-old. (A.R. 224.) She has an eleventh grade education, and lives with her 15-year-old daughter. (A.R. 228.) Plaintiff indicated that she smokes and drinks. (A.R. 230.) Prior to the alleged date of onset, plaintiff worked as a home health aide, assisting home-bound patients with cooking, laundry, cleaning, and errands. She also accompanied them to appointments with doctors. (A.R. 230-31.) This position required her to lift up to 100 pounds on occasion and between 50-60 pounds regularly. (A.R. 232.) She typically worked eight hours per day, five days per week. (A.R. 233.) She asserted that her rheumatoid arthritis rendered her unable to perform her prior work; however, to pay her bills, she continued to work as a home health aide after the alleged onset date. (A.R. 234, 236.) She takes Naprosyn for pain relief. (A.R. 234.)

Melissa Fass-Karlin, a vocational expert, attended the hearing and testified as well. Ms. FassKarlin classified plaintiff's past relevant work as a home health aide as requiring a medium level of exertion. (A.R. 247.) Ms Fass-Karlin discussed the level of exertion required for two sedentary positions, order clerk and security surveillance monitor. (A.R. 248-50.) Plaintiff repeatedly indicated that she could perform the duties of both of these positions. (A.R. 250-51, 253.) These statements are consistent with her statements earlier in the hearing that she could perform some work, just not her past relevant work as that work required heavy lifting. (A.R. 223-25.)

B. Medical Evidence

Plaintiff's alleged onset date is June 23, 2004. (A.R. 38-40, 48.) The record contains progress reports and medical evidence from Dr. Allen Falescky, M.D. and other medical professionals at Central Brooklyn Medical Group dated from January 8, 2003 to March 2, 2006. (A.R. 105-50, 161-98, 203-17.) The records indicate that plaintiff was treated for a variety of ailments including a right upper eye lid sty, a work-related injury to the right shoulder and wrist, and hemorrhoids. (A.R. 141, 149-50, 205.) On June 23, 2004, plaintiff complained of multiple joint pain and swelling. (A.R. 116.) Her pain persisted and Dr. Falescky referred her to Rheumatologist Brian D. Golden, M.D. (A.R. 114-15.) On September 10, 2004, Dr. Golden diagnosed plaintiff with seropositive rheumatoid arthritis and prescribed Methotrexate, Prednisone, and a calcium supplement. (A.R. 201-02.)

Dr. E.B. Balinberg, M.D., an agency physician, examined plaintiff on September 29, 2004. (A.R. 151-53.) Dr. Balinberg diagnosed her with chronic rheumatoid arthritis and indicated that continued treatment was necessary. (A.R. 152.) Dr. Balinberg also evaluated her residual functional capacity. (A.R. 154-59.) He indicated that she could occasionally lift and/or carry twenty pounds, frequently lift and/or carry ten pounds, stand and/or walk about six hours in an eight hour day, sit about six hours in an eight hour day, push or pull with unlimited restrictions, and could climb, balance, stoop, kneel, crouch, and crawl occasionally. (A.R. 155-56.) He also reported that her subjective complaints were partially credible. (A.R. 157-58.)

Plaintiff then continued treatment with Dr. Felescky. On May 17, 2005, Dr. Felescky cleared plaintiff to return to work as a home health aide (A.R. 174); however, her symptoms persisted. Plaintiff's most up to date diagnosis is recurrent rheumatoid arthritis. (A.R.163.)


A. Standard of Review

Unsuccessful claimants for disability benefits under the Act may bring an action in federal district court seeking judicial review of the Commissioner's denial of their benefits "within sixty days after the mailing . . . of notice of such decision or within such further time as the Commissioner of Social Security may allow." 42 U.S.C. § 1383(c)(3). A district court reviewing the final determination of the Commissioner must determine whether the correct legal standards were applied and whether substantial evidence supports the decision. See Schaal v. Apfel, 134 F.3d 496, 504 (2d Cir. 1998). The former determination requires the court to ask whether "the claimant has had a full hearing under the [Commissioner's] regulations and in accordance with the beneficent purposes of the Act." Echevarria v. Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., 685 F.2d 751, 755 (2d Cir. 1982) (internal quotations omitted). The latter determination requires the court to ask whether the decision is supported by "such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971) (quoting Consol. Edison Co. v. N.L.R.B., 305 U.S. 197, 229 (1938)).

The district court is empowered "to enter, upon the pleadings and transcript of the record, a judgment affirming, modifying, or reversing the decision of the Commissioner of Social Security, with or without remanding the cause for a rehearing." 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). A remand by the court for further proceedings is appropriate when "the Commissioner has failed to provide a full and fair hearing, to make explicit findings, or to have correctly applied the . . . regulations."Manago v. Barnhart, 321 F. Supp. 2d 559, 568 (E.D.N.Y. 2004). A remand to the Commissioner is also appropriate "[w]here there are gaps in the administrative record." Rosa v. Callahan, 168 F.3d 72, 83 (2d Cir. 1999) (quoting Sobolewski v. Apfel, 985 F. Supp. 300, 314 (E.D.N.Y. 1997)). ALJs, ...

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