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Pardee v. Astrue

July 7, 2009

BRENDA F. PARDEE, PLAINTIFF,
v.
MICHAEL J. ASTRUE*FN1, COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Norman A. Mordue, Chief U.S. District Judge

MEMORANDUM-DECISION AND ORDER

I. INTRODUCTION

Plaintiff Brenda Pardee brings the above-captioned action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) of the Social Security Act, seeking a review of the Commissioner of Social Security's decision to deny her application for disability benefits. This matter was referred to United States Magistrate Judge David E. Peebles for a Report and Recommendation pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §636(b)(1)(B) and Local Rule 72.3(d). Magistrate Judge Peebles recommended that this Court enter judgment on the pleadings affirming the Commissioner's decision denying disability and dismissing plaintiff's claims. Presently before the Court is plaintiff's objection to the Report and Recommendation.*fn2

II. FACTUAL BACKGROUND

Plaintiff has not objected to the Magistrate Judge's recitation of the background in this case. Accordingly, the Court adopts the portion of the Report and Recommendation entitled "Background" in its entirety:

Plaintiff was born on March 5, 1952; at the time of the hearing in this matter she was fifty-one years old.*fn3 Administrative Transcript at pp. 108, 462. Plaintiff is married and lives together with her husband in a home which is located in Bloomville, New York. AT 110, 462-63. While the plaintiff and her husband have children, none currently reside with them. AT 462.

Plaintiff holds a high school general equivalency diploma ("GED"), and additionally is certified as a nursing assistant. AT 111, 148, 226, 463-64. Beyond this plaintiff has had no further specialized educational training, and in particular has taken no college courses. AT 463-64.

For several years prior to March of 1999, plaintiff was employed as a certified nurses aide in the Delaware County Countryside Care Center, a facility apparently funded by Delaware County. AT 111, 148, 224, 465. Plaintiff stopped working in that position, however, after suffering a work related injury on March 26, 1999 caused when a sheet being used by her to lift a patient gave way and ripped. AT 192, 224. As a result of the incident she experienced both a re-injury of her right shoulder, resulting in renewed pain which progressively worsened over time, as well as a sudden onset of pain on the right side of her neck.*fn4 AT 200.

Following her injury, plaintiff was initially seen by Dr. Hermon Peiris on April 5, 1999, and again three days later. AT 191. In a report submitted in connection with plaintiff's workers' compensation claim stemming from the incident, Dr. Peiris noted that plaintiff demonstrated "[m]arked limitation of movement" and that Darvocet and Flexeril were prescribed. AT 191.

Plaintiff was also seen by Dr. William Reiter, beginning on or about May 4, 1999, based upon her complaints of persistent right shoulder pain. AT 198-200. In a report of that first visit, Dr. Reiter notes that x-rays were taken at O'Connor Hospital on April 9, 1999, revealing the residuals of previous arthroscopic and open subacromial decompression and rotator cuff repair, as well as "[d]egenerative changes... about the right acromioclavicular joint[,]" and "some narrowing of humeral head to acromion space." AT 200. Based upon his examination Dr. Reiter noted plaintiff's history of rotator cuff repair, but indicated that it did not appear to symptomatic, and recorded clinical findings suggesting "a thoracic outlet type syndrome, right." Id. X-rays taken on that day of plaintiff's cervical spine area yielded normal results. AT 201. Dr. Reiter initially prescribed a conservative course of treatment which included physical therapy and use of analgesic, muscle relaxant, and anti-inflammatory medications. AT 199.

After determining that the treatment initially prescribed had not yielded improvement in plaintiff's condition, Dr. Reiter referred her to Dr. Anthony Cicoria for a second opinion.*fn5 AT 255-58. Plaintiff was seen by Dr. Cicoria on March 1, 2000, May 17, 2000, July 18, 2000, and September 13, 2000. AT 255-258. In a chart note of the July 18, 2000 visit, Dr. Cicoria observed that a functional capacity evaluation of the plaintiff had been completed, revealing that at the time she was capable of engaging in "full time of employment in a sedentary work capacity", as well as recording a belief that vocational rehabilitation was required. AT 256; see AT 228-242. In the report of the last visit, which occurred on September 13, 2000, Dr. Cicoria noted that plaintiff had completed vocational rehabilitation and was working three days a week in a "sedentary light duty capacity", additionally reporting that with acupuncture, she had obtained significant pain relief. AT 255.

Based upon her complaints of persistent pain, plaintiff was referred by Dr. Reiter to Dr. Patrick Germain who, based upon his examination, diagnosed the plaintiff as suffering from myofascial pain syndrome, centered in the right upper trapezius, as well as right occipital neuralgia. AT 243-54. Plaintiff was seen by Dr. Germain on six occasions between March 2, 2000 and July 31, 2000, and underwent trigger point injections on those occasions. Id. By all accounts those treatments were successful in reducing plaintiff's pain levels, and notes of the last visit on July 31, 2000 reflect that plaintiff was directed to return to the clinic only as needed. AT 243. (Report and Recommendation, Dkt. No. 8, pp. 3-7).

III. ADMINISTRATIVE LAW JUDGE'S DECISION

To be eligible for Social Security disability benefits, a claimant must establish "inability to engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment... which has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than 12 months." 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A). There is a five-step analysis for evaluating disability claims:

"In essence, if the Commissioner determines (1) that the claimant is not working, (2) that he has a 'severe impairment,' (3) that the impairment is not one [listed in Appendix 1 of the regulations] that conclusively requires a determination of disability, and (4) that the claimant is not capable of continuing in his prior type of work, the Commissioner must find him disabled if (5) there is not another type of work the claimant can do." The claimant bears the burden of proof on the first four steps, while the Social Security Administration bears the burden on the last step.

Green-Younger v. Barnhart, 335 F.3d 99, 106 (2d Cir. 2003) (quoting Draegert v. Barnhart, 311 F.3d 468, 472 (2d Cir. 2002)); Shaw v. Chater, 221 F.3d 126, 132 (2d Cir. 2000) (internal citations omitted).

In this case, the ALJ found at step one that plaintiff has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since her alleged onset date. AT. 12. At step two, the ALJ determined that plaintiff's right shoulder pain, neck pain and migraine headaches were severe. AT. 12. At step three, the ALJ concluded that plaintiff's impairments neither met nor equaled any impairment listed in Appendix 1 of the Regulations. AT. 12. The ALJ next found that plaintiff retained the residual functional capacity ("RFC") to, "perform a wide limited range of light work in that impose [sic] no limitations on the claimant's ability to stand, sit and walk, and only requires her to occasionally lift up to 10 lbs., does not require climbing, ladders, scaffolds or any other activity that would require her to use her arms, no more than rare overhead reaching with the right dominant upper extremity, no more than occasional reaching in all directions with her right dominant upper extremity and no more than occasional frequent fine manipulations with the right, dominant upper extremity". AT. 17. Therefore, at step four, the ALJ concluded that plaintiff was not capable of meeting the exertional demands of her past relevant work as a certified nursing assistant. AT. 18. Since plaintiff's ability to perform all or substantially all of the requirements of light work was impeded by additional exertional and/or non exertional limitations, the ALJ obtained the testimony of a vocational expert to determine whether there were jobs plaintiff could perform. Based upon the vocational expert's testimony, the ALJ concluded at step five, that there were a significant number of jobs in the regional and national economy that plaintiff could perform, such as work as a counter clerk (photo-finishing), order clerk, furniture rental clerk, callout operator and surveillance systems monitor. AT. 21. The ALJ concluded that plaintiff was not disabled and denied her application for SSI benefits. The Appeals Council denied plaintiff's request for review, making the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner. This action followed.

IV. REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

In the Report and Recommendation, Magistrate Judge Peebles found that: (1) the ALJ's determination with regard to plaintiff's RFC was supported by substantial evidence including the opinion of one of plaintiff's treating physicians; (2) the ALJ properly rejected plaintiff's subjective complaints of pain and explained his rationale for doing so; and (3) the ALJ properly utilized the grids as a framework and supplemented with the testimony of a vocational expert to conclude ...


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