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Mulrain v. Astrue

April 29, 2010


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


Junior Mulrain brings this action to challenge the decision of the Commissioner of Social Security that he is not disabled under the Social Security Act and therefore not entitled to disability benefits. Based on the administrative record, the Commissioner now moves for judgment on the pleadings affirming the decision. Oral argument was heard on April 27, 2010. For the reasons stated below, I grant the Commissioner's motion for judgment on the pleadings.


A. The Plaintiff's History

Mulrain was born in 1971. He speaks English, and completed two years of college in 1996. He has had various jobs, with duties that include operating heavy machinery, working as a maintenance worker, and working as a warehouse supervisor for a printing company. At the administrative hearing on his claim for benefits, Mulrain testified that he was participating in a welfare program to assist him in finding jobs. Between March 2009 and June 2009, Mulrain worked for four hours a day moving supplies at a medical supply company, but had to stop working because the vehicle he used broke down. According to Mulrain, he liked that job and could do it. R. 35.*fn1

Mulrain contends that he is disabled as a result of pain and muscle cramping caused by old injuries to right leg and foot. He states that he was involved in two work accidents, one in January 28, 1994 and another on June 20, 1998. Comp. 1. In one of these incidents, Mulrain accidentally shot himself in the leg with a nail gun. In the other, a heavy piece of metal fell on his foot, fracturing it in two places. R. 145. Mulrain's complaint also mentions a May 16, 2002 car accident. Comp. 1.

The medical evidence before the agency included reports from the Woodhull Medical and Mental Health Center, where Mulrain sought treatment for pain in his right ankle. Dr. Vujovic examined Mulrain in January 2008 and found limited movement of the ankle, but otherwise the findings were normal. In addition, an orthopedic evaluation by Dr. Louis Tranese, dated February 4, 2008, stated that Mulrain "may have mild limitations in ambulating extended distances and standing long periods," and "mild to moderate limitations for frequent stair climbing," but "no other physical functional deficits." R. 179. An x-ray report dated the next day "demonstrate[d] no evidence of acute fracture, dislocation or destructive bony lesion." R. 180. Further, Mulrain visited Montefiore Medical Center in August 2008. There, Dr. Panozzo diagnosed arthritis in Mulrain's right ankle and foot. R. 215. Back at Woodhull in September 2008, Dr. Talluri diagnosed mild degenerative joint disease of the right foot and advised icing and elevating the foot. R. 281. At the administrative hearing, Mulrain testified that he could lift twenty-five to thirty pounds, that he could stand for forty-five minutes to an hour, that he could walk for about a mile and a half, and that he could sit for an hour and a half before feeling numbness in his foot. R. 34-35.

The medical evidence before the agency also included reports from physicians who treated Mulrain for dizziness and headaches. Mulrain was prescribed medications, including Nortriptyline, which Mulrain told doctors improved the headaches.

B. Procedural History

On January 4, 2008, Mulrain applied for disability insurance benefits and Supplemental Security Income, claiming that he was disabled as of December 19, 2007 due to injuries to his right foot. After his applications were denied, he requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"), and the hearing commenced on July 1, 2009. Mulrain testified at the hearing before ALJ Jane Polisar. He stated that he was "not 100 percent," and that he was getting "severe headaches" and "dizziness," and that he was getting "headaches maybe twice a day." R. 26. Mulrain reported that the muscles in his foot often felt tense, but that when he rotated the foot -- as directed by a doctor -- it felt better. R. 28. In addition to Mulrain's testimony, the ALJ considered the medical records noted above.

ALJ Polisar issued a decision denying Mulrain's claims on July 21, 2009. Mulrain sought review of the ALJ's decision, but the Appeals Council denied that request on September 18, 2009. Mulrain filed this action on October 29, 2009.


In order to be found eligible for disability benefits, Mulrain needed to prove before the Commissioner that, "by reason of [a] medically determined physical or mental impairment ... which has lasted ... for a continuous period of not less than 12 months," 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A), he "is not only unable to do his previous work but cannot, considering his age, education, and work experience, engage in any other kind of substantial gainful work which exists in the national economy ... ." 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(2)(A).*fn2

The Commissioner employs a five-step analysis in evaluating disability claims. See DeChirico v. Callahan, 134 F.3d 1177, 1179-80 (2d Cir. 1998); see also 20 C.F.R. ยง 404.1520 (2005). First, the Commissioner considers whether the claimant is currently engaged in substantial gainful activity. If he is not, the Commissioner next considers whether the claimant has a "severe impairment" that significantly limits his physical or mental ability to do basic work activities. If the claimant suffers from a severe impairment, the third inquiry is whether, based solely on medical evidence, the claimant has an impairment listed in Appendix 1 of the regulations. If the claimant has a listed impairment, the Commissioner will consider him disabled without considering vocational factors such as age, education, and work experience; the Commissioner presumes that a claimant who is afflicted with a "listed" impairment is unable to perform substantial gainful activity. Assuming the claimant does not have a listed impairment, the fourth question is whether, despite the claimant's severe impairment, he has the residual functional capacity to perform past work. Finally, if the claimant is ...

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