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Aldrich v. Astrue

September 28, 2009


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Thomas J. McAVOY, Senior United States District Judge


Debbie L. Aldrich ("Plaintiff"), brought this action pursuant to the Social Security Act ("Act"), 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g), 1383(c)(3), to review a final determination of the Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner") denying Plaintiff's application for Supplemental Security Income ("SSI") benefits. Presently before the Court are the parties' motions for judgment on the pleadings pursuant to Rule 12(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.

I. Facts

a. Procedural History

Plaintiff applied for SSI on January 21, 1998, October 2, 1998, and October 29, 2001. (Tr. at 14.)*fn1 On all three occasions, the claim was denied at the initial determination level. On the first instance the claim was also denied at the reconsideration determination level and was not appealed. On the second date a request for hearing was filed but a hearing was never held, and in 2001, the claimant did not appeal the determination. (Tr. at 14.)

In May 2003, Plaintiff filed for disability insurance benefits, but the claim was denied and she did not appeal the determination. (Tr. at 14.) Plaintiff then filed another application for SSI on May 20, 2003. (Tr. at 14.) She was denied benefits on July 30, 2003 and filed a request for a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"). (Tr. at 14.) Plaintiff was represented by a representative from the Department of Social Services (Tr. at 687), a non-attorney, at the hearing held on December 10, 2003 (Tr. at 15). On January 12, 2004, ALJ Richard Maddigan (Tr. at 459) denied Plaintiff's request for Social Security benefits (Tr. at 486). A request for review by the Appeals Council was submitted on behalf of Plaintiff and was subsequently denied. (Tr. at 486.)

Plaintiff then filed a new application for SSI on August 14, 2004, which was denied. (Tr. at 496-499.) Plaintiff then requested a hearing by an ALJ (Tr. at 500) which occurred on July 12, 2005 (Tr. at 699-720) and this time Plaintiff was represented by an attorney (Tr. at 699). ALJ Robert Gale found that the Plaintiff was not disabled under the Act and denied the request for SSI on January 26, 2006. (Tr. at 483, 494.) The decision of the ALJ became the Commissioner's final decision in the case when Plaintiff's request for review was denied on April 4, 2008. (Tr. at 478-480.) Plaintiff commenced this civil action on April 10, 2008 requesting review of the Commissioner's decision. (See Complaint.)

b. Educational and Vocational History

Plaintiff was born on February 7, 1961. (Tr. at 703.) She has an eighth grade education and had two unsuccessful attempts at obtaining her General Equivalency diploma ("GED"). (Tr. at 705.) She received no vocational training (Tr. at 705) and has no computer skills (Tr. at 705). Her past work experience includes a job as a waitress for three years, a cashier at a fast food restaurant for two years, a home aide for two years, and a house aide at a motel for a few months. (Tr. at 146.)

Plaintiff's most recent employment was as a housekeeper, for which she earned $270.00 a month in 2001, and a total of $1,608.36 in 2002. (Tr. at 61, 72, 76.) She worked as a babysitter in 2003, but substantial gainful employment did not arise from this. (Tr. at 16.) Plaintiff worked afterwards as a dishwasher in order to be eligible for social services/public assistance, but she terminated that employment due to pain, and has not held a job since.*fn2 (Tr. at 706, 707.)

c. Medical History

Plaintiff fell on ice in 1996 while on her way to work (Tr. at 77), and has since complained of problems and pain in her lower back, hips, spine, and bone spurs in her feet (Tr. at 17). Furthermore, plaintiff has arthritis in her hands, fingers, arms and shoulders. (Tr. at 89.) Plaintiff also has depression and anxiety attacks, which bring about difficulty in breathing. (Tr. at 89.)

The Plaintiff visited Dr. Miriam Ragab at the Pulaski Health Center in October of 2000, complaining of pain to her legs which was radiating from pain in her lower back. (Tr. at 17.) By way of x-rays, Dr. Ragab later diagnosed Plaintiff with arthritis of the sacroiliac joints and prescribed Ultram and Motrin for her pain. (Tr. at 17.) During Plaintiff's treatment, she was prescribed Acetaminophen, Ibuprofen and Propoxy for pain, and Paxil for depression. (Tr. at 148-49.)

On October 8, 2001, during an examination at Pulaski Health Center, Plaintiff was diagnosed with degenerative joint disease of the lumbar spine and was prescribed Relafen. (Tr. at 17.) Then, on October 16, 2001, Plaintiff was assessed with bilateral hip pain due to degenerative joint disease of the lumbar spine. An examination on November 17, 2001 revealed tenderness of the lumbar region and the left hip. (Tr. at 17.)

Dr. Ganesh examined Plaintiff on December 27, 2001. (Tr. at 395.) Plaintiff was complaining of pain in her lower back, spine, hips, and feet. (Tr. at 395.) Dr. Ganesh's evaluation revealed that Plaintiff could squat and walk on her heels and toes without difficulty, that she had full flexion and extension movements with no spinal or joint tenderness, and that she had full motion of her hips. (Tr. at 397.) X-rays of the hips were normal and also revealed that the vertebral body heights and disc spaces of the spine were maintained at all levels. (Tr. at 397.) Plaintiff was diagnosed with chronic lower back and hip pain. (Tr. at 397.)

Plaintiff underwent a psychological evaluation by Dr. Shapiro on January 18, 2002. (Tr. at 220.) Plaintiff complained of loss of appetite, sleep disturbance and worries over her financial situation. (Tr. at 221.) Dr. Shapiro noted that Plaintiff was well-groomed, her mood was appropriate, and her attention and concentration were intact. (Tr. at 221, 222.) Plaintiff was diagnosed with adjustment disorder and mixed anxiety and depression. (Tr. at 223.)

On February 8, 2002, Upstate Medical University of New York wrote an orthopedic clinic note that found a diagnosis of likely Fibromayalgia and possible lumbar disc disease. (Tr. at 17.) On August 1, 2002, a state agency consultant, Dr. Shayevitz, examined Plaintiff and found lumbar tenderness and right and left SI notch tenderness, as well as tenderness in the hips and heels on pressure. (Tr. at 232, 233.) She also found that Plaintiff could flex down and touch her toes and that leg raises caused no back pain but did cause slight pelvic and knee pain. (Tr. at 232.) Dr. Shayevitz ...

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