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Zavadil v. Astrue

September 29, 2010

MIROSLAV ZAVADIL, PLAINTIFF,
v.
MICHAEL J. ASTRUE, COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, DEFENDANT.



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

MEMORANDUM & ORDER

Plaintiff Miroslav Zavadil filed an application for disability insurance benefits under the Social Security Act ("Act") in January 1982, claiming disability since December 11, 1981 because of heart problems, chest pains and hypertension. (Tr. 108.) His application was denied initially and upon reconsideration. (Tr. 108.)

In March 1993, the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration ("Commissioner") advised Plaintiff that he could request review of its decision with respect to the period of alleged disability affected by Stieberger v. Sullivan, 792 F. Supp. 1376 (S.D.N.Y. 1992), as modified, 801 F. Supp. 1079 (S.D.N.Y. 1992) (the "Stieberger period").*fn1 In May 2000, the Commissioner advised Plaintiff that he could also request review of the period of alleged disability affected by New York v. Sullivan, 906 F.2d 910 (2d Cir. 1990) (the "SONY period").*fn2

Plaintiff requested review of both periods, and in September 2000, the Commissioner affirmed its original decision to deny him disability benefits. (Tr. 28--31.)

Plaintiff requested a hearing (Tr. 32), which was held on August 21, 2001 before an administrative law judge ("ALJ"). (Tr. 108.) In a decision dated November 29, 2001, the ALJ found Plaintiff not disabled during either of the two periods of review. (Tr. 108--11.) Plaintiff requested further review (Tr.114--17), and the Appeals Council subsequently remanded his case for further proceedings before the ALJ. (Tr. 119--22.) Specifically, the Appeals Council ordered the ALJ to: (1) consider both periods subject to readjudication; (2) obtain evidence from a medical expert to clarify the nature and severity of the alleged impairments; (3) obtain additional evidence from Elmhurst Hospital, Gary Zabarsky, M.D., and Jiri Bodany, M.D. concerning the impairments, in order to complete the administrative record; (4) further evaluate Plaintiff's subjective complaints; and (5) give further consideration to Plaintiff's maximum Residual Functional Capacity ("RFC") and provide appropriate rationale and evidence in support of the assessed limitations. (Tr. 121--22.)

Pursuant to this remand order, the ALJ held a second hearing on November 14, 2005. (Tr. 437.) In a decision dated May 24, 2006, the ALJ again held that Plaintiff was not disabled during either period. (Tr. 8--18.) The Appeals Council declined to review the ALJ's second decision on August 22, 2008, and the determination that Plaintiff was not disabled during either of the relevant periods thus became the final decision of the Commissioner. (Tr. 3--6.)

On October 17, 2008, Plaintiff brought the instant action challenging the Commissioner's decision. (Compl. 1.) On May 6, 2009, Plaintiff moved for judgment on the pleadings pursuant to FED. R. CIV. P. 12(c), requesting "that the decision of the Commissioner be reversed and remanded solely for the calculation of benefits." (Docket No. 8 ("Pl.'s Mem.") at 18.) On May 12, 2009, the Commissioner cross-moved for judgment on the pleadings, seeking affirmation of his final decision that Plaintiff was not entitled to disability benefits. (See generally Docket Entry No. 10 ("Def.'s Mem.").) For the reasons stated below, both motions are denied, and the case is remanded to the Commissioner for further proceedings.

I. BACKGROUND

Plaintiff, who was born on May 21, 1925, was fifty-six years old at the time of the alleged disability onset. (Tr. 28.) He completed the equivalent of a high school education in what was then Czechoslovakia. (Tr. 52.) After moving to the United States, he worked as an aircraft mechanic from 1961 to 1981.*fn3 (Tr.41.) Plaintiff's duties included changing tires, brakes and generators, which required him to walk, stand, and climb for eight hours. (Tr. 47, 443--44.) He testified that he frequently lifted equipment that weighed fifty pounds, occasionally lifted equipment that weighed over one hundred pounds, and sometimes lifted up to three hundred pounds with the help of another worker. (Tr. 47, 443.)

The first reference in the record to Plaintiff's alleged disability was when he visited the emergency room at Elmhurst Hospital on January 23, 1981 complaining of chest pain and palpitations. (Tr. 130.) At that time, he was not taking any medications and his blood pressure was 170/130. (Id.) He was diagnosed with angina pectoris and referred to the hospital's cardiology clinic. (Id.)

On February 12, 1982, Dr. J. Schifferdecker completed a "Notice and Proof of Claim for Disability Benefits." (Tr. 90.) He reported that Plaintiff was hospitalized for chest pain and blurred vision at Physician's Hospital from December 11, 1981 through December 17, 1981, and his last date of treatment was on February 12, 1981. (Id.) Dr. Schifferdecker noted that Plaintiff's blood pressure was 190/120, with high pressure in the left eye. (Id.) His diagnosis was severe hypertension and glaucoma in the left eye. (Id.) He indicated that Plaintiff was "unable to work because of this disability" from December 11, 1981 until March 15, 1981. (Id.)

Dr. Karel Steinbach completed an insurance form for Plaintiff's employer regarding his hospital stay at Physician's Hospital on February 13, 1982. (Tr. 86.) The form indicated Plaintiff was diagnosed with rheumatic heart disease*fn4 and infarction.*fn5 (Id.) The form also noted December 10, 1981 as the date of Plaintiff's total disability. (Id.) Dr. Steinbach saw Plaintiff for a follow-up examination on January 9, 1982. (Id.)

On August 9, 1982, Plaintiff visited the diagnostic clinic at Elmhurst Hospital. (Tr. 140.) His blood pressure was 140/90. (Id.) He was diagnosed with hypertension, arteriosclerotic heart disease,*fn6 and dizziness of unknown etiology. (Tr. 86, 141.) He was referred to the hospital's cardiac clinic for a stress test. (Id.) At the cardiac clinic, on August 31, 1982, Plaintiff complained of dizziness, chest pain and palpitations not related to exercise. (Tr.144.) He felt tired and weak, and was told to undergo testing and follow-up in one month. (Tr. 145.)

Plaintiff returned to the cardiac clinic on September 29, 1982. (Tr. 150.) An echocardiogram (EKG) revealed no evidence of mitral stenosis.*fn7 Additionally, a stress test performed that day was terminated after five minutes due to elevated and hypertensive blood pressure, and was considered incomplete, non-diagnostic, and suboptimal. (Id.) The next day, Plaintiff again visited the cardiac clinic, complaining of dizziness and chest pain over the left ...


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