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Claudette Brooks v. Michael J. Astrue

May 17, 2012

CLAUDETTE BROOKS, PLAINTIFF,
v.
MICHAEL J. ASTRUE, COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, DEFENDANT.



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

MEMORANDUM AND OPINION

Plaintiff Claudette Brooks filed an application for disability insurance benefits ("DIB") under the Social Security Act (the "Act") on December 6, 2006, alleging a disability that began on November 3, 2007. Plaintiff's application was denied initially and on reconsideration. Plaintiff appeared with counsel and testified at a hearing held before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") on November 14, 2009. By a decision dated December 10, 2009, the ALJ concluded that plaintiff was not disabled within the meaning of the Act. On September 23, 2010, the ALJ's decision became the Commissioner's final decision when the Appeals Council denied plaintiff's request for review.

Plaintiff filed the instant appeal seeking judicial review of the denial of benefits, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). The Commissioner now moves for judgment on the pleadings, pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(c), seeking affirmation of the denial of benefits. (See Gov't Mot. for Judg., Doc. Entry No. 14.) Plaintiff cross-moves for judgment on the pleadings, seeking reversal of the Commissioner's decision, or alternatively, remand. Plaintiff contends that the ALJ failed to meet his burden of showing that plaintiff could perform work that exists in significant numbers in the national economy. (See Pl. Mot. for Judg., Doc. Entry No. 16.)

For the reasons set forth more fully below, the Commissioner's motion is granted, and plaintiff's motion is denied. The instant action is dismissed with prejudice.

BACKGROUND*fn1

A. Non-medical and Testimonial Evidence

On November 14, 2009, plaintiff appeared with counsel and testified before ALJ Richard L. DeSteno. (R. 25-48.)*fn2 Plaintiff testified that she was born on August 19, 1958 in Jamaica and became a citizen of the United States ten years ago. (R. 29-30.) Plaintiff worked until September 1, 2006 as a Certified Nurse's Aide. (R. 31, 134.) On November 3, 2007,*fn3 plaintiff suffered an extensive burn to her right arm and hand during a cooking accident at home. (R. 32-33.) Her right hand is her dominant hand. (R. 36.) Plaintiff was taken to the hospital in an ambulance and as of the date of her hearing, she had residual arm and finger pain. (R. 35.) Occasionally, her hand and arm would tighten up incapacitating her for up to two hours. (R. 35-36.) She is unable to write more than a half-page with a pen and has some difficulty using a keyboard. (R. 43.) Her husband does the cooking, cleaning, and shopping for their household. (R. 36-37.) She reported no problems with standing, walking, or sitting. (R. 37.) Recently, a neurologist diagnosed her right arm and hand with carpal tunnel syndrome. (R. 43.)

On March 6, 2008, plaintiff was riding as a passenger in a friend's vehicle when their vehicle was hit from behind by a van. (R. 38.) She was taken to the hospital and treated for neck and back injuries. (R. 38-39.) Plaintiff attends therapy and has treated with pain management techniques, such as epidural injections. (R. 39.) She has never had surgery, nor discussed it with her treating physicians. (Id.) After the accident, she experienced difficulty with sitting, standing, and walking. (Id.) She clarified that she cannot sit or stand for more than two hours at a time and spends most of her day lying down due to back pain. (R.42.) She passes time by reading, taking short walks, and occasionally drives her car for basic errands such as trips to the post office or grocery store. (R. 40-41.)

She takes medications for high blood pressure and diabetes. (R. 42, 134.) Both of these conditions are unrelated to her two prior injuries. Her medical records indicate that she had several surgeries including a hysterectomy, four surgeries for ovarian cysts, and two surgeries to her bowels for obstructions. (R. 255.)

B. Medical Evidence

1. Medical Evidence Prior to Alleged Onset Date of November 3, 2007

Plaintiff treated with Dr. Thomas Alapatt from August 2004 to March 2005 for uncontrolled high blood pressure. (R. 186-91.) On October 16, 2007, plaintiff's blood pressure was 140/98 and she was diagnosed with uncontrolled hypertension, anemia, hyperlipidemia, and carpel tunnel syndrome. (R. 186.) On October 29, 2007, plaintiff complained of pain in both of her shoulders and numbness in her fingers. (R. 307-10.) She underwent electromyogram ("EMG") and nerve conduction velocity ("NCV") tests, which suggested moderate right carpel tunnel syndrome. (R. 308.)

2. Medical Evidence on or after Alleged Onset Date of November 3, 2007

On November 3, 2007, plaintiff was taken via ambulance to the Saint Barnabas Medical Center emergency department with second degree burns to her right forearm, hand, and fingers caused by spilling hot cooking oil. (R. 202, 172-75.) Plaintiff was treated with a tetanus vaccine and her wounds were dressed with bandages and an application of one percent silver sulfadiazine. (Id.) On November 7, 2007, the Burn Surgeons of Saint Barnabas evaluated plaintiff's injuries. (R. 231.) The Burn Surgeons concluded that she suffered from second degree and possibly third degree burns and redressed her wounds. (Id.) On November 9, 2007, she returned to the Burn Surgeons complaining of continued pain and decreased range of mobility. (R. 230.) The treating physician indicated that her disability was expected to last two months. (Id.) On November 12, 2007, she began occupational therapy and continued with follow-up appointments with the Burn Surgeons. (R. 206-11, 212-14, 216-17, 226-28.) On December 4, 2007, the Burn Surgeons assessed plaintiff's wounds and determined that her disability would last three months. (R. 225.) Plaintiff's activities were restricted as she was required to keep her arm elevated while sitting or lying down. (R. 224.)

On January 11, 2008, plaintiff returned to the Burn Surgeons. (R. 219.) Her condition had improved and it was anticipated that she would return to work in four weeks. (Id.) She continued to visit the Burn Surgeons regularly.

On March 6, 2008, plaintiff suffered back and neck injuries during a motor vehicle accident. On May 12, 2008, she saw Dr. Frances M. Rispoli, complaining of low back pain. (R. 316-18.) She described herself as being in good health, other than experiencing low back pain, and she denied having any pre-existing conditions, including neurological conditions. (R. 316.) Dr. Rispoli diagnosed her with vertebral derangement due to an acceleration/deceleration injury, post-traumatic myofascitis, lumbago, and myospasm. (R. 317.) He recommended chiropractic care and restricting daily activities to a tolerable limit. (Id.) On September 24, 2008, plaintiff saw Dr. Jidong Sun, complaining of continued back pain. (R. 312-15.) Dr. Sun indicated that a MRI revealed bulging discs in her cervical and lumbar spinal regions. (R. 313.) He diagnosed her with vertebral derangement due to an acceleration/deceleration injury, post-traumatic myofascitis, bilateral carpel tunnel syndrome, bilateral ulnar neuropathy, cervical disc syndrome, right ...


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