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Robert J. Knott v. Michael Astrue

August 17, 2012


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Neal P. McCURN, Senior District Court Judge


This action was filed by plaintiff Robert Knott ("plaintiff") pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) to review the final determination of the Commissioner ("the Commissioner") of the Social Security Administration ("SSA"), who denied his application for disability insurance benefits ("DIB"). Currently before the court is plaintiff's motion for judgment on the pleadings (Doc. No. ), seeking an order of remand for further administrative proceedings. Specifically, plaintiff states that the Appeals Council erred in not sending this case back to the Administrative Law Judge ("the ALJ") to consider the "new and material" evidence submitted. Doc. No. 11, p. 3. Also before the court is the Commissioner's motion for judgment on the pleadings (Doc. No. 15) seeking affirmation of the Commissioner's findings. For the reasons set forth below, the Commissioner's motion is granted, and plaintiff's motion is denied.

I. Procedural History and Facts

Plaintiff did not submit a comprehensive recitation of the procedural history and the facts of the case. Accordingly, the Commissioner provides the procedural history, adopts the ALJ's July 23, 2010 decision as his statement of the facts, and provides the new, allegedly material facts submitted by the plaintiff.

A. Procedural History

Plaintiff applied for SSI on September 18, 2008 (Tr. 103--06), claiming the following impairments: affective disorder, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, post traumatic stress disorder, personality disorder, depression, substance abuse disorder and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease ("COPD"). This claim was initially denied on April 17, 2009 (Tr. 50, 55--60). On May 19, 2009, plaintiff requested a hearing before an ALJ (Tr. 63). Plaintiff appeared with his representative before ALJ John J. Pickett on June 10, 2010 (Tr. 29--49). After considering the evidence, the ALJ issued a decision on July 23, 2010, denying plaintiff's claims (Tr. 12--24). Plaintiff requested review of this decision on August 24, 2010 (Tr. 10). On August 11, 2011, the Appeals Council Case denied plaintiff's request for review, making the ALJ's decision the Commissioner's final decision for judicial review (Tr. 1--3).

B. Statement of the Alleged New and Material Facts On November 22, 2010, plaintiff submitted records dated August 20, 2010 -nearly one month after the ALJ's decision - showing that plaintiff sought treatment at the emergency department of Columbia Memorial Hospital for right hand pain (Tr. 360--64). Plaintiff claimed that, for several months, he had pain in his right hand after painting for four to five hours (Tr. 361). Review of his systems revealed no other complaints (Tr. 351--52). On examination, plaintiff had normal range of motion in all extremities (Tr. 352). His right hand was swollen at the second and third metacarpal, without tenderness, ecchymosis, erythema, or induration. He had no pain with passive range of motion of the right second and third digits. Plaintiff had sensation to light touch in the right hand, and his forearm and wrist were not tender to palpation. He had no peripheral edema. Id. X-rays of plaintiff's hand revealed no fracture or dislocation (Tr. 352--53). Physician's Assistant Jeffrey Wadler diagnosed pain in the right hand and discharged plaintiff with a prescription for Motrin 600 mg (Tr. 352, 353). Plaintiff followed up with Illya Szilak, D.O. ("Dr. Szilak"), on August 24, 2010, with complaints of locking in his right hand and fingers and numbness in his wrist and arm (Tr. 355). Plaintiff indicated that he was a house painter. Id. Physical and neurologic examination yielded normal results. Id. Dr. Szilak assessed unspecified polyarthropathy or polyarthritis of the hand and unspecified neuralgia, neuritis, and radiculitis (Tr. 356). Dr. Szilak indicated that arthritis was not clearly delineated on the x-ray and that plaintiff may need magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) of his hand. Id. He added that numbness was suggestive of radiculopathy. Id. Robert P. Mantica, M.D. ("Dr. Mantica"), examined plaintiff on September 14, 2010 (Tr. 357--59). The date of injury was listed as August 14, 2010 (Tr. 357). Plaintiff claimed to have pain in the right hand, radiating to his right elbow. Plaintiff claimed that he felt clicking and popping in his right knuckles, and he stated that his right fingers occasionally "locked up." Plaintiff stated that he was a painter and had been very busy during the spring and summer and that he now had pain in his hand. Plaintiff reported stiffness in flexion; there was no weakness with extension in the radial digits. In addition, plaintiff reported that he was not dropping things. While he had difficulty straightening his fingers, he reported no numbness or tingling. On physical examination, plaintiff was healthy and well developed, with no signs of acute distress. Id.

Examination of his cervical spine showed normal contour and full range of motion without pain (Tr. 358). His wrists exhibited normal alignment with unrestricted range of motion. His right hand had no obvious swelling, and plaintiff was able to flex and extend his fingers with pain. Plaintiff had tenderness over the flexor pulleys of the second and third digits and the thumb. X-rays of plaintiff's cervical spine and right hand were normal except for a lunate--triquetral coalition. Plaintiff had a negative Phalen test and a negative Tinel sign at the wrist.*fn1 He had good pinch and grip strength, as well as good sensation and intact radial, median, and ulnar nerve function. Plaintiff's shoulders and elbows had no deformities and had unrestricted range of motion. Dr. Mantica assessed carpal tunnel syndrome, and ordered lidocaine injections for each finger. Dr. Mantica also planned electromyography tests and nerve conduction studies, which were not included in plaintiff's submission to the Appeals Council. Id.

II. Discussion

Plaintiff submits that the Appeals Council erred in not sending this case back to the ALJ to consider the "new and material" evidence submitted.

The Commissioner argues that the ALJ's decision, finding that plaintiff was not disabled, is supported by substantial evidence and therefore must be affirmed.

A. Standard of Review

This court does not review a final decision of the Commissioner de novo, but instead "must determine whether the correct legal standards were applied and whether substantial evidence supports the decision." Butts v. Barnhart, 388 F.3d 377, 384 (2d Cir. 2004) (internal citations omitted). See also Halloran v. Barnhart, 362 F.3d 28, 31 (2d Cir. 2004); Balsamo v. Chater, 142 F.3d 75, 79 (2d Cir. 1998). "Substantial evidence" is evidence that amounts to "more than a mere scintilla. It means such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Halloran, 362 F.3d at 31 (quoting Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401, 91 S.Ct. 1420 (1971)). "An ALJ must set forth the crucial factors justifying his findings with sufficient specificity to allow a court to determine whether substantial evidence supports the decision." Gravel v. Barnhart, 360 F.Supp.2d 442, 444-45 (N.D.N.Y. 2005) (citing Ferraris v. Heckler, 728 F.2d 582, 587 (2d Cir. 1984)). When reviewing a determination by the Commissioner, a district court, in ...

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