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Dennis R. Ellett v. Commissioner of Social Security

March 29, 2011

DENNIS R. ELLETT, 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 his application for Disability Insurance Benefits ("DIB"). Plaintiff requests that the Court reverse the Administrative Law Judge's ("ALJ's") 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. 7, 13.

II. BACKGROUND

A. Procedural history

Plaintiff, then forty, filed an application for DIB on or about November 5, 1999. See Supplemental Administrative Record ("SAR") at 43-45. In a disability report dated March 29, 2001, Plaintiff cited migraine headaches, vertigo, and severe neck pain as his disabling conditions. See id. at 233, 247. The Social Security Administration denied Plaintiff's request on August 27, 2001. See id. at 38.

In a disability report dated December 3, 2002, Plaintiff cited headaches, dizziness, loss of balance, blurred vision, and ringing in his left ear as his disabling conditions. See SAR at 268, 276. Plaintiff again filed for DIB on or about December 20, 2002, when he was forty-three. See id. at 228-30. The Social Security Administration denied Plaintiff's request on April 17, 2003. See id. at 208. Plaintiff filed a timely request for a hearing on June 4, 2003, which was held before ALJ Thomas Zolezzi in Albany, New York, on January 9, 2004. See id. at 215, 402. Attorney Peter M. Margolius represented Plaintiff, who appeared and testified. See id. at 402, 404.

ALJ Zolezzi considered the case de novo and issued a written decision denying Plaintiff's application on April 19, 2004. See SAR at 18-26. In that decision, ALJ Zolezzi stated that he considered all of the evidence in the record and made the following findings:

1) Plaintiff met the non-disability requirements for a period of disability and DIB set forth in Section 216(i) of the Act and was insured for benefits through the date of the ALJ's decision.

2) Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity ("SGA") since his alleged onset date.

3) Plaintiff suffered from a severe impairment.

4) Plaintiff's impairment did not meet or medically equal one of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 (the "Listings").

5) Plaintiff's allegations regarding his limitations were not entirely credible.

6) The ALJ carefully considered all of the medical opinions in the record regarding the severity of Plaintiff's impairment.

7) Plaintiff was unable to perform any of his past relevant work.

8) Plaintiff retained the residual functional capacity ("RFC") to perform the full range of light work, as contemplated by 20 CFR §§ 404.1567 and/or 416.967.

9) Based on an exertional capacity for a wide range of light work and Plaintiff's then age of forty-five, his high school education, and semi-skilled and skilled work experience, Medical-Vocational Rule 202.21 directed a finding of "not disabled."

See SAR at 25-26.

The ALJ's decision became the Commissioner's final decision on July 7, 2006, when the Appeals Council of the Social Security Administration denied Plaintiff's request for review. See SAR at 4.

Plaintiff commenced this action on September 7, 2006, see Dkt. No. 1, and filed a supporting brief on August 6, 2007, see Dkt. No. 7. Defendant filed his reply brief on October 30, 2007. See Dkt. No. 13.

B. Plaintiff's medical history

Plaintiff was involved in a motor vehicle accident on March 30, 1999. See SAR at 191-93.

Although he went home following the accident, he went to the emergency room at St. Peter's Hospital later that day, complaining of a headache and tightness in his neck. See id. at 191. Plaintiff received Ultram*fn1 to treat his pain, and St. Peter's discharged him. See id. at 193.

Plaintiff saw Dr. Teresa Sirico on April 19, 1999. See SAR 203. Plaintiff complained of headaches and pain in the back left side of his skull since the accident. See id. at 203. Dr. Sirico found that Plaintiff experienced tenderness in his neck and in the back left side of his head but also noted that his range of motion was fairly well preserved. See id. She diagnosed Plaintiff with neck strain, prescribed several pain medications, and referred him to physical therapy. See id. Plaintiff attended several sessions of physical therapy, where he demonstrated "more or less full" ...


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