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Caffrey v. Astrue

July 6, 2009

KEVIN CAFFREY,*FN1 PLAINTIFF,
v.
MICHAEL J. ASTRUE,*FN2 COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Wood, U.S.D.J.

Opinion and Order

Plaintiff Kevin Caffrey ("Caffrey") brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), seeking review of a determination of the Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner") that Caffrey is ineligible for Social Security Disability Insurance ("SSDI") benefits.

Both Caffrey and the Commissioner have moved for judgment on the pleadings pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(c).

Caffrey argues that the Court should vacate or reverse the Commissioner's decision below; the Commissioner argues that his decision below should be affirmed.

Magistrate Judge Freeman has issued a report and recommendation (the "Report"), familiarity with which is assumed, addressing these motions. The Report recommends that the Court

(1) deny Caffrey's motion; and (2) grant the Commissioner's motion.

Caffrey objects, arguing that the Report fails to recognize that the Commissioner committed legal error. Specifically, Caffrey argues that the Commissioner violated 20 C.F.R. § 404.1529 ("§ 404.1529") by discrediting Caffrey's allegations of pain solely because objective medical evidence did not substantiate them.

Caffrey's objection has merit. The Court therefore does not adopt the Report. Rather, for the reasons stated below, the Court (1) grants Caffrey's motion; (2) denies the Commissioner's motion; (3) vacates the decision below; and (4) remands this case, pursuant to the fourth sentence of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

I. Background

The Court summarizes here the facts and procedural history most relevant to the Court's instant decision.

A. Caffrey's Disability

Caffrey is a former New York City police officer and firefighter,*fn3 who alleges that he is disabled, and unable to work, because of an injury to his right ankle, and pain in both feet. (R. 124-25.) Specifically, Caffrey alleges that the pain in his right ankle and feet is so severe that he cannot stand or walk for any prolonged period of time, precluding him from any substantial gainful activity. (R. 124, 280.)

1. Injury and Resultant Surgeries

Caffrey's alleged disability stems from an April 1998 rupture of his right Achilles tendon, and the three resultant surgeries that followed.

First, on April 15, 1998, Caffrey underwent surgery to repair his ruptured tendon, and to re-establish appropriate tension therein. (R. 201-02.)

Approximately six months later, an MRI detected that a dense band of painful scar tissue had formed in Caffrey's ankle, near the surgery site. (R. 204.) On December 9, 1998, Caffrey underwent a second surgery to excise the scar tissue. (R. 207-08.)

Ten days layer, Caffrey's wound spontaneously reopened. (R. 209-10.) On December 22, 1998, Caffrey underwent a third surgery to remove necrotic tissue, and to properly re-close his wound. (Id.)

2. Caffrey's Allegations of Pain

Following his three surgeries, Caffrey continued to report severe pain in his right ankle. (R. 236.) Caffrey also began reporting severe pain in the bottom of both feet. (Id.) Caffrey alleges that, as of June 2001, the pain in his ankle and feet became so severe that he could no longer work. (R. 124.)

3. Medical Tests

Numerous examinations of Caffrey by his treating physicians over the years have failed to identify an exact cause of, or treatment for, Caffrey's ongoing pain. In January 2001, an MRI of Caffrey's right ankle showed that although Caffrey's Achilles tendon was "diffusely enlarged," it had an "excellent appearance post repair." (R. 166.) An MRI in January 2002 similarly revealed no "definite abnormality" in Caffrey's right heel. (R. 234.) A March 2002 scan of Caffrey' right ankle showed no osseous or soft tissue abnormality. (R. 189.) The results of an April 2002 bone scan were "unremarkable." (R. 187.)

4. Opinions of Caffrey's Treating Physician

In April 2002, Dr. Small, one of Caffrey's treating physicians, concluded that he could not "totally explain all of [Caffrey's] pain," and that Caffrey would likely have to "live with [it]." (R. 165.) Dr. Small opined that, because of this pain, Caffrey was disabled from any type of labor ...


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