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Frederick Edward v. Michael J. Astrue

September 13, 2011

FREDERICK EDWARD, PLAINTIFF,
v.
MICHAEL J. ASTRUE, COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: John Gleeson, United States District Judge:

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

Plaintiff Frederick Edward seeks review, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and 1383(c)(3), of the Commissioner of Social Security's denial of his application for disability benefits. The parties have cross-moved for judgment on the pleadings; the Commissioner seeks a judgment upholding his determination and Edward seeks a remand for further proceedings or for the calculation of benefits. I heard oral argument on July 8, 2011. Because the Commissioner's decision is not supported by substantial evidence in the record, I deny his motion. The cross-motion is granted, and the case is remanded to the Commissioner solely for the calculation of benefits.

BACKGROUND

A. The Plaintiff's Statements and Testimony

Edward, a 67-year-old naturalized citizen, completed high school and college in his native India, working there as a seaman for three years prior to his emigrating to the United States in 1974. Shortly thereafter, he met and married his wife, and the couple had two sons.

From 1974 until 1988, Edward was employed as a "ship visitor" by the Seamen's Church Institute, providing social worker and/or community worker services to seamen from third-world countries whose ships were anchored in New York Harbor. From approximately 1988 to 1995, he was self-employed as an "exporter," handling business and logistical tasks related to exporting construction materials to the Middle East. In his capacity as an exporter he performed inspections of materials at manufacturers' facilities across the country and internationally, bookkeeping and accounting, supervision of manual laborers, and general office duties.

In or prior to 1993, Edward developed severe hypertension, diabetes, and back pain. He underwent physical therapy for the back pain in 1993. By 1995, he regularly took various medications, including medication for his hypertension. He also smoked approximately ten cigarettes per day, as he had for nearly 35 years. On May 8, 9, and 10, 1995, Edward skipped his hypertension medication; on May 11, 1995, he suffered a stroke.

Although the stroke initially caused only a slight limp and some numbness on the right side of Edward's body, his symptoms became more severe as time went on. In August of 1995 he made the first of several complaints to his physician of "forgetting abruptly," R. 431; he also made such complaints on May 21, 1996 and June 11, 1996, and on July 10, 1996, he reported that he was growing more forgetful. Although in January of 1996 he was able to do light cooking, cleaning, writing, and occasional shopping, as well as undergo physical therapy, by September 1996 he suffered chronic pain and his right arm was nearly useless. He could not drive, stand, or walk for long, and could not climb steps at all. In December 1996, he reported pain that had become more severe in his left shoulder, arm, and hand. By August of 1997 he could not perform any household chores because his right side was entirely numb, and he could not lift more than five pounds with his right hand. R. 497-99.

B. The Medical Evidence

1. The Treating Physicians

From December 1989 through at least October 1999, Edward was treated by Dr. Antonio Vinluan, an internist, for conditions including broken ribs, high triglycerides, hypertension, and diabetes mellitus. R. 123-33. In July 1993, after MRI testing, Vinluan diagnosed Edward with a diffuse posterior spondylotic ridge at C3-C4,*fn1 left-sided posterior spondylotic ridge at C5-C6, a small focal central disc protrusion at C4-C5, and moderately severe right foraminal stenosis at C4-C5 with mild right-side stenosis at C5-C6 and C3-C4.*fn2 R. 113. He also diagnosed right-side radiculopathy.*fn3 R. 154-55.

In October 1993 Dr. Vinluan referred Edward to Dr. Raul P. Sala, who diagnosed him with a C5-C6 radiculopathy due to a herniated disc of the cervical spine. Sala referred Edward to physical therapy in November 1993, and apparently did not see him again until May 1995.

On May 11, 1995, the day of his stroke, Edward was admitted to the Doctor's Hospital of Staten Island with sudden-onset symptoms including right-sided weakness and numbness. Medical records note hyperesthesia and atrophy in his right arm, as well as a slight decrease in muscle power in his right arm and leg. He was treated with medication and physical therapy and discharged five days later with diagnoses of hypertension, diabetic neuropathy,*fn4 sciatica,*fn5 and left cerebral infarction,*fn6 all controlled. Dr. Vinluan's follow-up notes indicate that by October 1995 Edward's hypertension was better and his diabetes had improved, and that by the following month the hypertension had improved so much that Vinluan discontinued at least one of Edward's hypertension medications.

On May 23, 1995, in a post-stroke follow-up appointment, Dr. Sala observed that cervical range of motion was decreased by approximately 20 degrees and that paracervical tenderness and right extremity hemiparesis*fn7 were present. He also noted that the plaintiff was oriented and in no apparent distress. R. 169. He again prescribed physical therapy, which apparently succeeded to some extent, based on progress notes from August and November 1995.

In progress notes from July through December of 1995 Sala recorded Edward's complaints that he was unable to write properly or to lift or move his right hand properly. He was also unable to drive or climb stairs, and he had difficulty walking and numbness in his right arm and right leg. R. 165-67. In a letter written on November 18, 1999, Sala wrote that, in his opinion, "Edward is disabled due to his multiple medical problems." R. 257.

In a letter dated October 19, 1995, treating neurologist Dr. Lourdes Esteban noted that Edward suffered from a history of cerebral infarction, cervical disc protrusion with stenosis, cervical radiculopathy, and peripheral neuropathy. She also noted his non-neurological diagnoses of hypertension, diabetes, and heart disease. At some point, Esteban also prescribed Prozac to treat a diagnosis of dysthymia. As a result of all of these diagnoses, she concluded that Edward was disabled as of October 19, 1995. R. 148.

In January 1996 Dr. Vinluan noted that Edward suffered from a "very mild residual hemiparesis right side . . . [and] a very mild residual motor and sensory deficit on the right side." R. 149. In April 1996 Vinluan diagnosed radiculopathy and restricted strenuous mental and physical activities; he also noted right-sided weakness and well-controlled blood pressure. R. 140, 190. In May, June, and July 1996, Vinluan noted Edward's complaints of forgetfulness, and in September, October, and November 1996 he noted Edward's complaints of confusion. See R. 142-143, 203-05.

On November 5, 1999, Dr. Srinivas Duvvuri, a cardiologist, summarized Edward's various physical ailments in a letter. Edward was diagnosed with hypertension, diabetes mellitus, and severe coronary artery disease, the latter of which required repeated medical intervention and coronary bypass surgery in late 1998. Edward also suffered residual right hemiparesis from his stroke, as well as radiculopathy from his cervical disc herniation. In ...


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