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Brown v. Commissioner of Social Security

May 3, 2010

KENNETH A. BROWN, PLAINTIFF,
v.
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Gabriel W. Gorenstein, United States Magistrate Judge

OPINION AND ORDER

Kenneth A. Brown brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) to obtain judicial review of the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security denying his claim for Supplemental Security Income ("SSI") disability benefits. The parties have consented to this matter being determined by a United States Magistrate Judge pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c). Both the Commissioner and Brown have moved for judgment on the pleadings pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(c). For the reasons stated below, the Commissioner's motion is granted.

I. BACKGROUND

A. Administrative History

Brown applied for SSI benefits on March 28, 2003, alleging that he suffered from "chest pains [and] breathing problems due to sarcoidosis" as well as pain in his arms, shoulders, and stomach, and breathing problems, see Administrative Record (annexed to Answer, filed Dec. 16, 2008 (Docket # 6)) ("R."), at 71, since May 24, 2001, R. 63, and as a result was unable to work,*fn1 R. 71. Prior to applying for disability benefits, Brown was employed as a delivery person for various employers from 1988 until May 24, 2001, and again on a part time basis at a clothing store beginning in 2004, working about three days a week. R. 81, 218, 223-24. As part of his application for SSI benefits, Brown submitted records from several doctor's visits, including records from visits to his treating physician, Dr. Reynaldo Alonso, from June 11, 2001 through February 14, 2003. See R. 110-37. He also underwent medical evaluations by two consultative physicians hired by the agency, Dr. Peter E. Graham, R. 138-49, and Dr. Kautilya Puri, R. 193-99.

On May 6, 2003, Brown's application was denied by the SSA. R. 27-30. He then requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"), R. 31-32, which was held on July 25, 2005, R. 215-25. On December 16, 2005, the ALJ found that Brown was not disabled. R. 15-26. The Appeals Council denied Brown's request for review on February 12, 2008. R. 7-10. Brown then timely filed the instant action.

1. Brown's Medical Records and Reports

On July 11, 2001, Brown sought treatment from Dr. Alonso, complaining of left-side chest pain, particularly with deep breathing. R. 128, 136-37. Dr. Alonso's examination revealed that Brown was not in distress, that his lungs were clear to auscultation, and that his heart rate and rhythm were regular. R. 128. In addition, Brown's abdomen was found to be "non-tender" and "non-distended," and his extremities were normal. Id. Dr. Alonso diagnosed Brown with benign essential hypertension, possibly as a result of alcohol abuse, and prescribed Altace. Id.

He also advised Brown to continue taking Prilosec for peptic ulcer symptoms. Id.

On August 22, 2001, after an x-ray was taken, a radiologist, Dr. Michael Shapiro, indicated that Brown's heart size was within normal limits, but that there was interstitial disease in his chest with nodular change, and diagnosed Brown with "mild degenerative disease of the thoracic spine" and "enlargement of the right hilum suggesting adenopathy with interstitial disease," which may have been related to sarcoidosis. R. 159. Dr. Shapiro also noted that his findings were unchanged when compared with an x-ray taken in July 1996. Id. On this same day, Brown was also seen by Dr. Alonso. R. 127. Brown complained of epigastric pain, which was exacerbated by alcohol. Id. Dr. Alonso instructed Brown to stop drinking and to continue taking Prilosec. Id. Brown indicated that he had stopped taking Altace at this time. Id. Brown's lung, heart, and abdomen functions were normal. Id. Finally, test results taken to assess Brown's sarcoidosis were normal, and Dr. Alonso found that his sarcoidosis was "unlikely active." Id.

On September 19, 2001, Brown saw Dr. Alonso again and complained of sinus congestion. R. 125. Brown's ears, lungs, heart, and abdomen were clear and normal. Id. Dr. Alonso diagnosed Brown with allergic rhinitis due to pollen and instructed him to take Claritin. Id.

Brown returned to Dr. Alonso on October 25, 2001, complaining that he had experienced intermittent diarrhea, cramping, and a fever for the previous three days. R. 123. Dr. Alonso diagnosed Brown with colitis, enteritis, and gastroenteritis caused by a viral infection and prescribed no treatment. Id. Brown saw Dr. Alonso for a follow-up examination on December 21, 2001, where he complained of having anxiety and sleep problems. R. 122. Brown was prescribed Paxil. Id. In addition, Dr. Alonso noted that Brown's colitis, enteritis, and gastroentiritis had improved. Id.

On February 26, 2002, Brown returned to Dr. Alonso, presenting signs of intermittent wheezing. R. 120. An examination revealed that Brown's lungs were clear, and he was not in any respiratory distress. Id. In addition, Dr. Alonso noted that Brown's gastrointestinal problems and his anxiety had been resolved. Id. During the examination, Brown's blood pressure was elevated, which Dr. Alonso attributed to Brown's continued drinking. Id.

On June 5, 2002, Brown sought treatment for shortness of breath. R. 118. The shortness of breath was intermittent and was not accompanied by wheezing. Id. A physical examination did not reveal any significant findings for the nose, throat, or lungs, and Brown's extremities were normal. Id. Dr. Alonso also ordered a chest x-ray to see whether there were any signs of active sarcoid. Id. Brown returned on June 24, 2002 because he was having upper back pain, as well as intermittent radiating pain to his neck and left arm. R. 116. Dr. Alonso noted that Tylenol 4 relieved Brown's pain completely, but also referred him to a cardiologist for evaluation. Id. A follow up on August 28, 2002 revealed that Brown was doing well, with pain "at times," but that he had not seen a cardiologist. R. 114.

On October 25, 2002, Brown complained that he felt epigastric pain and tasted blood. R. 112. Brown also stated that he had stopped drinking and that he was taking Prilosec daily. Id. An examination of Brown's lungs, heart, and abdomen revealed no changes from prior examinations, and Dr. Alonso recommended that Brown continue to use the Prilosec. Id.

On July 29, 2003, Dr. Alonso performed an assessment of Brown's ability to do work-related physical activities. R. 151-54. Dr. Alonso found that Brown was able to lift and carry twenty pounds, and that his walking, standing, sitting, pushing, and/or pulling were unaffected by the musculoskeletal chest pain from sarcoidosis. R. 151-52. At the assessment, Brown was found to be able to occasionally climb ramps, stairs, ladders, ropes, and/or scaffolding; kneel; crouch; crawl; and stoop. R. 152. However, Brown was unable to balance. Id. Brown's manipulative functions, including reaching, handling, fingering, and feeling, as well as his visual and communicative functions were not limited. R. 153. In addition, he was not limited by environmental factors, including dust, vibration, temperature, fumes, odors, chemicals, and gases. R. 154.

On February 22, 2005, Dr. Alonso completed a "Return to Work or School" certification indicating that Brown was under his care from January 26, 2005 until February 22, 2005 for sarcoidosis and severe pain. R. 186. Dr. Alonso stated that Brown was able to return to work as of February 23, 2005. Id.

The record also contains reports from the two consulting physicians. On April 11, 2003, the Office of Disability Determinations referred Brown for evaluation to Dr. Graham, a board-certified doctor of internal medicine. R. 138-49. Brown told Dr. Graham that he last worked the previous year delivering tuxedos, that he spent the day doing "light activities," and that he "ha[d] no difficulty dressing, bathing, toileting or grooming." R. 138. Brown stated that he has had constant joint pain described as an "ache" in both knees and in his left shoulder, elbow, and hand, which caused him some difficulty in buttoning clothing and grasping objects. Id. He took Tylenol with Codeine which provided "some relief" from the pain. Id. Brown also related his history of ...


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