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Primiani v. Astrue

February 5, 2010

LYNN MARIE PRIMIANI, PLAINTIFF,
v.
MICHAEL J. ASTRUE, COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: John Gleeson, United States District Judge

ONLINE PUBLICATION ONLY

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

Lynn Marie Primiani has brought this action against Commissioner of Social Security Michael Astrue under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), seeking review of Astrue's decision that she is not entitled to a period of Social Security Disability Insurance ("DDI") benefits under the Social Security Act ("the Act"). The parties have cross-moved for judgment on the pleadings,*fn1 the Commissioner seeking affirmation of his final decision that Primiani is not disabled, and therefore not eligible for DDI benefits, and Primiani seeking a reversal and remand for the sole purpose of awarding benefits. Oral argument on the cross-motions was held on January 29, 2010. For the reasons that follow, Primiani's motion is granted, and the Commissioner's motion is denied.

BACKGROUND

A. Primiani's Claim of Disability

Primiani was born on December 23, 1960 and is now 49 years old. She graduated from high school and completed one year of college. For 27 years, from 1977 until the onset of her disability in June 2004, Primiani worked as a secretary.

On February 9, 2000, Primiani was hit as a pedestrian by a truck, causing numerous physical injuries. She could not work for six months following the accident. As a result of the accident, her left tibia was completely dislocated. The injury required surgery, during which screws were placed in her knee and ankle. Primiani testified that her knee has not improved in the years since the accident. She continues to feel pain in her left leg after about an hour of sitting down. Her knee swells, which requires her to stand so that the fluid retained in her leg dissipates.

In addition to her left knee and leg pain, Primiani has long suffered from rheumatoid arthritis, which worsened after her accident. Her neck, back and arms swell as a result of the arthritis. It causes her to feel fatigued and very weak; specifically, she stated that her "body feels very heavy from all the swelling." R. 489.*fn2 Primiani takes three different medications (Sulfasalazin, Prednisone and Methotrexate) to treat her pain. The side effects of these medicines include dizziness, fatigue and disorientation. In addition, Primiani must take a fourth medication to combat the nausea caused by the medications. She also takes medication to treat her panic attacks and prevent future attacks. In total, Primiani testified that she takes 200 pills a month.

Primiani also suffers from carpal tunnel syndrome. In 2003, she had two surgeries -- one on each of her wrists -- to address the effects of her carpal tunnel syndrome. She still feels severe pain in both wrists and as a result is unable to type for long periods of time.

Primiani lives with her sixteen year-old daughter, who she drives ten miles to school each morning and who she picks up from the train station at the end of the school day. On the weekends, Primiani takes her daughter to sports practice and games. During the day, while her daughter is at school, Primiani cooks and cleans a little. She washes dishes and makes the beds, but sends the laundry out to be washed. She can go grocery shopping, but she must have the groceries delivered because she cannot carry them up the one and one-half flights of stairs to her apartment. She attends church once a month, travels eight miles to see her parents once a week and can walk approximately eight blocks. Primiani testified that she cannot carry heavy objects for long periods of time; at times she even drops drinks while trying to pour them. She can lift a gallon of milk and a ten-pound bag of potatoes, but carrying the bag of potatoes through the grocery store is too difficult for her. She cannot raise anything heavy above her head and she cannot walk for long periods. She can stand or sit for only about 15 to 20 minutes before having to change positions.

B. Procedural History

Primiani filed an application for benefits on February 2, 2006, alleging disability beginning on June 13, 2004.*fn3 Her application was denied by the Social Security Administration on May 9, 2006. On March 11, 2008, Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") Hazel C. Strauss held a hearing on Primiani's disability claims. On October 14, 2008, ALJ Strauss found Primiani not to be disabled. On May 6, 2009, the Appeals Council denied Primiani's request for review of the ALJ's unfavorable decision. Primiani filed the complaint in this case on June 8, 2009, alleging that the Commissioner's decision is not supported by substantial evidence and that she is disabled.

C. The Medical Evidence

1. Dr. Richard Crane -- Treating Physician

Dr. Richard Crane, a rheumatologist, has been treating Primiani for her rheumatoid arthritis for more than ten years.*fn4 In an assessment submitted to the New York State Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance ("disability assessment"), dated February 1, 2006, Crane noted that Primiani suffers from severe joint pain and limited movement of her hand and wrists. He stated that she experiences chronic fatigue as well as stiffness and numbness in the hand. He characterized her condition as a "chronic progressive disease." Crane stated that Primiani could stand or walk less than two hours a day and sit less than six hours a day.

In February 2008, Crane repeated many of his medical observations about Primiani in a Residual Functional Capacity ("RFC") assessment. He stated that rheumatoid arthritis is a chronic disease, which causes Primiani to suffer from severe pain in her joints, reduced grip strength and chronic fatigue. According to Crane, Primiani's symptoms frequently interfere with her concentration and she is incapable of performing even "low stress jobs" because of her chronic pain. He also stated that she cannot grasp, turn or twist objects and cannot complete fine manipulations with her fingers or reach overhead frequently.

2. Dr. Baruch Toledano

Dr. Baruch Toledano, an orthopedist, performed surgery on Primiani following her February 2000 accident. Although he advised Dr. Crane that the surgery was a success, Toledano indicated that Primiani would need therapy to regain full motion of her left lower extremity. Two years following the surgery, Toledano noted that Primiani was recovering well, but in November 2002 she twisted her ankle while running, and, thereafter she again began experiencing pain in her ankle.

During a visit to Toledano in December 2002, Primiani complained of bilateral hand numbness, which Toledano attributed to bilateral carpal tunnel syndrome. In June and August 2003, he performed carpal tunnel release surgery on each of Primiani's wrists. In December 2003, he wrote a letter explaining that, despite the two surgeries, Primiani was still experiencing pain and difficulty in her wrists, which was caused by her constant typing during the workday.

Toledano saw Primiani several times in 2004 and again in May 2005. During visits in October 2004 and May 2005, Primiani complained of persistent pain in both of her hands and stated that she had not been able to return to work due to her pain. In his notes from the visits, Toledano noted that Primiani had a full range of motion in both hands. In October 2004, he advised Primiani that she may have residual carpal tunnel syndrome that was ...


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