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Elizabeth K. Vroman v. Commissioner of Social Security

March 11, 2011

ELIZABETH K. VROMAN, PLAINTIFF,
v.
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Scullin, Senior Judge

MEMORANDUM-DECISION AND ORDER

I. INTRODUCTION

Plaintiff brought this action pursuant to the Social Security Act ("the Act"), 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and 1383(c)(3), seeking judicial review of a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security (the "Commissioner"), denying her application for Supplemental Security Income ("SSI"). Plaintiff requests that the Court reverse the Administrative Law Judge's ("ALJ") decision or remand the case to the ALJ for further evaluation of the evidence.

Currently before this Court are Plaintiff's and Defendant's cross-motions for judgment on the pleadings or, in the alternative, for summary judgment. See generally Dkt. Nos. 12, 15.

II. BACKGROUND

A. Procedural history

Plaintiff, then thirty-eight, filed an application for SSI on April 24, 2001. See Administrative Record ("AR") at 84. In her disability report, Plaintiff cited scoliosis, chronic pain, sinus problems, an inability to close her right hand, diarrhea, nerve damage, and acid reflux ("GERD"). See id. at 98. The Social Security Administration denied Plaintiff's application for SSI on September 6, 2001. See id. at 45. Plaintiff filed a timely request for a hearing on September 26, 2001, which was held before ALJ Robert Wright in Albany, New York, on June 3, 2003. See id. at 49, 19. Attorney Susan Bentley represented Plaintiff, who appeared and testified. See id. at 19, 22.

ALJ Wright considered the case de novo and issued a written decision denying Plaintiff's claim on July 14, 2003. See AR at 12-18. The ALJ's decision became the Commissioner's final decision on December 30, 2003, when the Appeals Council of the Social Security Administration denied Plaintiff's request for review. See id. at 3-6. Plaintiff then filed an action in this Court, which resulted in a stipulation and order of remand on December 9, 2004. See Vroman v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., No. 1:04-CV-227, Dkt. No. 13. The Appeals Council issued an order on February 25, 2005, that vacated the decision of ALJ Wright and remanded the case to develop the record further, to obtain further information regarding Plaintiff's orthopedic and mental impairments, to address Plaintiff's subjective complaints further, to obtain testimony from a medical expert, to obtain testimony from a vocational expert, and to evaluate all medical opinions in the record pursuant to 20 C.F.R. § 416.927. See AR at 507-09.

Plaintiff, then forty-four, filed for SSI again on July 23, 2004. See AR at 360. In her disability report, Plaintiff cited arthritis, tendinitis, carpal tunnel syndrome, irritable bowel syndrome, depression, acid reflux ("GERD"), chronic sinus problems, migraine headaches, neuropathy, kyphosis,*fn1 fibromyalgia, anxiety attacks, sleeplessness, and chronic fatigue. See id. at 375. The Social Security Administration denied Plaintiff's claim.*fn2 See id. at 354. Plaintiff filed a request for a hearing on February 8, 2005. See id. at 358.

Another hearing occurred on March 9, 2006, in Albany, New York. See id. at 631. ALJ Joseph Gibbons presided over this hearing. See id. Attorney Peter M. Margolius represented Plaintiff, who appeared and testified. See id. at 631, 633. ALJ Gibbons considered the case de novo and issued a written decision denying Plaintiff's claim on July 21, 2006. See id. at 343-49. In his decision, ALJ Gibbons stated that he had carefully reviewed all testimony, arguments, and documentary evidence regarding Plaintiff's alleged impairments and made the following findings:

1) Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since filing her application for SSI on April 24, 2001.

2) Since April 24, 2001, Plaintiff had suffered from severe musculoskeletal impairments; these impairments failed to meet or medically equal one of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 (the "Listings").

3) Since April 24, 2001, Plaintiff retained the RFC to perform light work activity but possessed a limited ability to engage in strenuous physical exertion or lift overhead.

4) Plaintiff had no past relevant work experience.

5) Plaintiff was forty-four years old and had an eleventh-grade education.

6) In light of Plaintiff's RFC and vocational background, Rule 202.17 of Appendix 2, Subpart P of Social Security Regulations No. 4, in conjunction with vocational expert testimony, required a finding of not disabled.

See id. at 349.

The ALJ's decision became the Commissioner's final decision on February 14, 2007, when the Social Security Administration denied Plaintiff's request for review. See AR at 326-28.

Plaintiff commenced this action on April 13, 2007, see Dkt. No. 1, and filed a supporting brief on September 10, 2007, see Dkt. No. 12. Defendant filed a response brief on November 26, 2007. See Dkt. No. 15.

B. Plaintiff's medical history

Plaintiff's medical records with Dr. William Browne reveal that, between 1999 and 2003, Plaintiff experienced anxiety, chronic diarrhea, sinus problems, GERD, numbness in various places, mild tendinitis, and problems with concentration and speech. See AR at 165-74, 198-211. During this time, Dr. Browne prescribed to Plaintiff Clidinium,*fn3 Celexa,*fn4 Protonix,*fn5 Zyrtec,*fn6 Ultram,*fn7 Zithromax,*fn8 and ...


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