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Coscia v. Astrue

September 29, 2010


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Dora L. Irizarry, U.S. District Judge


Plaintiff Robert Coscia filed an application for disability insurance benefits under the Social Security Act (the "Act"), 42 U.S.C. § 301 et seq, on February 8, 2006, alleging a continuous disability beginning September 29, 2005. (Administrative Record ("A.R.") 58--60.) In a decision dated May 2, 2006, the Commissioner of Social Security (the "Commissioner") denied Plaintiff's application. (Id. at 32--35.) Plaintiff requested and received a hearing, which was held before an administrative law judge ("ALJ") on February 6, 2007. (Id. at 131, 399--425.) In a decision dated March 26, 2007, the ALJ concluded Plaintiff was not disabled within the meaning of the Act. (Id. at 14--24.) On June 19, 2008, the ALJ's decision became the Commissioner's final decision when the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review.

On July 25, 2008, Plaintiff brought the instant action challenging the Commissioner's decision. (See generally Compl. 1-2.) Pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(c), the Commissioner moves for judgment on the pleadings, seeking affirmation of his determination that Plaintiff was not disabled. (See generally Docket Entry No. 11("Def. Mem.").) Plaintiff cross-moves for judgment on the pleadings, seeking remand solely for the calculation of benefits, or, alternatively, remand for further evidentiary proceedings. (See generally Docket Entry No. 12 ("Pl.'s Mem.").) For the reasons set forth below, Defendant's motion is denied, Plaintiff's motion is granted in part and denied in part, and the case is remanded to the Commissioner for further evidentiary proceedings.


A. Non-Medical and Testimonial Evidence

Plaintiff was born on January 12, 1953 in Flushing, New York, and has a high school degree. (A.R. 403--04.) Beginning in 1973, he worked in an orange juice warehouse, first as a utility worker and later as a forklift operator. (Id. at 404--08.) The former involved transporting juice orders and performing maintenance and electrical work. (Id. at 409--11.) The latter, according to Plaintiff's testimony, involved between five and seven hours a day of forklift driving, with the remaining hours spent moving heavy items by hand. (Id. at 406--08.) Plaintiff further testified that the forklifts required constant gear shifting. (Id. at 407.)

On September 29, 2005, Plaintiff injured his back and neck after the forklift he was driving backed over a block of wood. (A.R. 408--09.) Plaintiff stopped working and applied for social security benefits, stating that he was disabled and unable to work due to his injuries. (Id. at 58--62.) At the hearing, Plaintiff testified that he could not turn his head to the right, making it difficult for him to drive, and that he soaks his fingers in hot water because they are stiff in the mornings. (Id. at 412, 420.) He claimed that the heaviest amount he can pick up and carry a short distance is between five and ten pounds, and that he cannot sit or stand for more than fifteen to twenty minutes due to back pain and stiffness. (A.R. 412, 419.) Additionally, Plaintiff stated that if he sits for more than twenty minutes, he has to get up to walk around. (Id. at 412.) Finally, he testified he has trouble hearing in both ears. (Id. at 423.)

With respect to his daily routine, Plaintiff testified that after waking, he dresses himself and washes with difficulty, makes himself breakfast, walks a block to the deli, reads the paper, calls his parents, watches television, and does "light dusting." (A.R. 415--16.) He does laundry once or twice a week and has his girlfriend over to help clean and carry items he is unable to carry himself. (Id.) Plaintiff stated that: his grocery shopping is limited to daily needs; his girlfriend and mother cook for him; he lives by himself; he attends church occasionally; and he goes to the movies but has difficulty sitting for the full length of a movie. (Id. at 403, 416--18.) Plaintiff also testified that he used to enjoy woodworking and car mechanics but can no longer do either, and he swims in the ocean for exercise in the summer. (Id. at 418--19.)

B. Medical Evidence

1. Treating Examiners

On February 17, 1998, Dr. Phillip Abessinio ordered a Magnetic Resonance Image ("MRI") of Plaintiff's cervical spine. (A.R. 141.) The MRI revealed central disc herniations at C3-C4, C4-5 and C5-6 with a "narrowing [of] the subarachnoid space*fn2 but without impingement upon the cord." (Id. at 140.)

On December 20, 1999, Plaintiff sustained an injury at work "while pulling a case [of orange juice] off a pallet" and complained of pain in the neck, right arm and shoulder region. (A.R. 182.) On December 30, 1999, he saw Dr. Raymond Shebairo, an orthopedic surgeon, who assessed a cervical radiculopathy*fn3 and rotator cuff*fn4 tendonitis with impingement.*fn5 (Id.) On March 30, 2000, plaintiff began physical therapy for his shoulder. (Id. at 178.) On April 4, 2000, Dr. Shebairo recommended that Plaintiff continue physical therapy and reported that Plaintiff "has persistent discomfort in his neck and shoulder region." (Id. at 181.)

On June 1, 2000, Dr. Lewis Lane, an orthopedist, examined plaintiff for "constant pain" and inability to close the long and ring fingers in both hands. (A.R. 179--80.) Dr. Lane found tenderness over Plaintiff's A-1 pulley*fn6 of the long and ring fingers bilaterally. He diagnosed a "[b]ilateral chronic trigger finger*fn7 of [the] right long and ring [fingers] and [the] left long and ring [fingers], disabling." (Id. at 180.) Dr. Lane recommended surgery for both hands. (Id.) On August 30, 2000, Plaintiff had the recommended surgery at North Shore University Hospital. (A.R. 349--51.)

On February 27, 2002 and March 13, 2002, Plaintiff saw Dr. Stephen Huish for his shoulder injury. (A.R. 168--70.) Dr. Huish reviewed an MRI and found hypertrophy*fn8 of the acromioclavicular joint*fn9 with degenerative changes resulting in impingement of the rotator cuff tendon. (Id. at 168.) He noted tenderness over the bicipital groove*fn10 and over the acromioclavicular joint. (Id.) Dr. ...

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