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Coia v. Astrue

August 6, 2010


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Honorable Richard J. Arcara United States District Judge


Plaintiff Rose C. Coia commenced the current action on March 13, 2009, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), seeking review of a final determination made by the Defendant, Michael J. Astrue, the Commissioner of Social Security (Commissioner). Plaintiff claims disability due to depression, a learning disability, and left wrist pain. The Commissioner and plaintiff filed motions for judgment on the pleadings, pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(c), on July 28, 2009 and November 30, 2009, respectively.

For the reasons herein, the Commissioner's motion for judgment on the pleadings is granted and plaintiff's motion for judgment on the pleadings is denied.


Plaintiff first filed an application for supplemental security income (SSI) benefits on April 11, 2002. This application was denied and a hearing was requested before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ), which was granted. The ALJ submitted a final decision on May 27, 2004 that denied SSI benefits to plaintiff.

Plaintiff, who was fifty-four years old at the time, again filed for SSI benefits on January 18, 2006, with a modified onset date of March 14, 2005. The application was initially denied and a hearing before an ALJ was requested. The hearing was held on May 21, 2008 and the ALJ issued a decision denying plaintiff SSI benefits on July 15, 2008. The Appeals Council denied plaintiff's request for review and the ALJ's decision became final. Plaintiff then timely commenced this action.

Plaintiff seeks SSI benefits due to depression, a learning disability, and pain in her left wrist. Her left wrist injury was caused by a slip on ice on March 8, 2005, which resulted in a fracture in her left wrist and left ring finger. Plaintiff was examined by a number of physicians relating to her wrist and hand injury. First, plaintiff saw James Kelly, D.O. on May 17, 2005 (Tr. 332). Dr. Kelly estimated that she would be able to return to work within two months. Plaintiff returned to Dr. Kelly on October 11, 2005, who remarked that she was not recovering as quickly as he had originally hoped. Dr. Kelly opined that she remained "totally disabled," due to her left wrist injury, and estimated that plaintiff could return to work in five to seven weeks (Tr. 337). Plaintiff saw Christine Holland, M.D. for her hand. Dr. Holland opined that plaintiff would have problems with heavy lifting and moderate limitations regarding repetitive or prolonged use of her left hand. Plaintiff was examined by Mohammad Jaffri, M.D. on March 14, 2006 (Tr. 358-61). Dr. Jaffri reported that plaintiff's finger and hand dexterity were intact and only slightly reduced grip strength was noticed. Dr. Jaffri noted that she would have moderate limitations with lifting and carrying weights, as well as pulling and pushing activities.

Plaintiff underwent an x-ray and diagnostic testing on July 18, 2007 and March 27, 2006, respectively (Tr. 567, 525-30). These tests suggested that plaintiff was afflicted with scoliosis, mild degenerative discogenic changes, and degenerative joint changes of the right facet at L3-L4. The bone density in her spine, hips, and right forearm all appeared normal.

Plaintiff has an extensive history of illegal drug and alcohol abuse. She began drinking alcohol and using marijuana when she was twelve years old (Tr. 297). She began to use cocaine in 1996. Currently, plaintiff claims that she has ceased using marijuana and cocaine, but will occasionally drink alcohol to excess on weekends (Tr. 609-10). In 2006, plaintiff attended a drug treatment program at Horizon Health Services (Tr. 421-67). She had five times previously been in outpatient chemical dependency treatment programs (Tr. 424).

Plaintiff has a sparse work record and little formal education. She attended high school through ninth grade, when she left due to attendance and tardiness problems (Tr. 289). Plaintiff received some vocational training in 2000, but has not made an attempt to return to any vocational program since that time (Tr. 613). When questioned by the ALJ, plaintiff said that she did not know whether she wanted to get a job (Tr. 613). She was last employed as a laborer in 2005, until leaving due to her hand injury (Tr. 211).*fn1

In addition to little formal education, plaintiff suffers from a history of depression and below average intelligence. In 1997, she was prescribed Desipramine, an antidepressant, but has failed to take the medication regularly (Tr. 248). She attempted suicide on one occasion in 2005 (Tr. 353-54).

Plaintiff was extensively examined by mental health professionals. An IQ test performed in 2002 revealed that plaintiff has a verbal IQ of 72, performance IQ of 68, and full scale IQ of 67, which classifies her as mildly mentally retarded (Tr. 116). Plaintiff was examined by Dr. Thomas Dickinson on September 13, 2005, who concluded that plaintiff is able to understand and remember basic job directions and specific job duties and perform repetitious tasks with mild supervision (Tr. 289-96). Next, plaintiff was examined by Dr. M. Totin on October 12, 2005 (Tr. 311-324). Dr. Totin's notes indicate that plaintiff has only mild limitations in her daily living activities and maintaining concentration and moderate limitations in social functions. Then, plaintiff was given a psychiatric evaluation by Dr. Renee Baskin on March 14, 2006 (Tr. 353-58). In Dr. Baskin's opinion, plaintiff can follow and understand simple directions and instructions and perform simple tasks with supervision, but has some difficulty maintaining concentration, attention, learning new tasks, and making a schedule. Finally, non-examining psychiatric consultant Dr. Cheryl Butensky assessed plaintiff on May 11, 2006 (Tr. 392-410). Dr. Butensky's notes report that plaintiff could work in a low stress and low contact environment and that plaintiff is not significantly limited in her ability to maintain socially appropriate behavior.

The ALJ, in his July 15, 2008 decision, found that plaintiff has severe impairments: mental retardation, an affective disorder, and degenerative joint disease (Tr. 20). Despite these impairments, the ALJ determined that plaintiff had the residual functional capacity to perform light work, with only a few limitations (Tr. 22). Based on plaintiff's residual function capacity, and taking into account her limitations, the ALJ found that plaintiff could perform work that exists in significant numbers in the national ...

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