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Kimberly J. Swan v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec

September 12, 2012


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Glenn T. Suddaby, United States District Judge


Currently before the Court, in this action for Supplemental Security Income ("SSI") disability benefits filed by Kimberly J. Swan ("Plaintiff") against the Commissioner of Social Security ("Defendant"), are the parties' cross-motions for judgment on the pleadings. (Dkt. Nos. 1, 11, 15.) For the reasons set forth below, Plaintiff's motion is granted in part and denied in part; Defendant's cross-motion is granted in part and denied in part; and this matter is remanded to Defendant for further proceedings consistent with this Memorandum-Decision and Order.


A. Plaintiff's Claim and Medical History

Generally, Plaintiff claims she is disabled and has been unable to work since September 2007 due to degenerative disc disease ("DDD") in her neck with radiation of pain and range of motion limitations, DDD in her lumbosacral spine with pain radiation, internal derangement of both knees, internal derangement of her left shoulder, status post-surgical rotator cuff repair in her right shoulder, and carpal tunnel syndrome in her wrists. (Dkt. No. 16, at 4 [Plf.'s Brief]; Dkt. No. 10 at 18 [attaching page "12" of Admin. Transcript (hereinafter cited as "T. at 12")].) Plaintiff also claims that she suffers from the effects of alcoholism that has been in remission for several years. (T. at 12.)

The parities do not dispute the basic medical evidence in this case. (Compare Dkt. No. 16, at 4-8 [Plf.'s Brief] with Dkt. No. 18, at 2 [Def.'s Brief, generally adopting Plaintiff's Statement of Facts].) As a result, the Court will not recite Plaintiff's lengthy medical history in this Memorandum-Decision and Order, which is intended primarily for the review of the parties. Rather, the Court will only make the following brief comments about the medical evidence in this case.

The record contains four comprehensive medical evaluations of Plaintiff's alleged disabilities that are at issue in this appeal. Plaintiff's primary treating physician, Dr. Rebecca Tam-Alberto, concluded in a report dated November 19, 2009, that Plaintiff is unable to work because she cannot lift or carry any significant weight and that Plaintiff cannot sit, stand or walk for more than an hour at a time, nor more than two hours in a given work day. (T. at 537-38.) Dr. Tam-Alberto made these clinical findings after a review of Plaintiff's medical records, including examinations and MRIs performed by North Country Orthopaedic Group and other medical professionals. (Id.; see also Dkt. No. 16, at 8.)

Over the course of her application for SSI, Plaintiff was also evaluated by three consulting examiners. Dr. Kalyani Ganesh examined Plaintiff on August 14, 2007, and found no limitations in Plaintiff's ability to sit, stand, or walk and only minor limitations in Plaintiff's ability to lift, carry, push, or pull. (T. at 234.) Dr. Brij Sinha evaluated Plaintiff on May 12, 2008, and found that Plaintiff would have mild to moderate limitations on those activities. (Id. at 317.) Dr. Charles Mohes examined Plaintiff on August, 28, 2008, and concluded that Plaintiff would be able to do light clerical or counter work with lift limitations of 10-15 pounds and had the ability to sit and stand periodically, up to six hours a day. (Id. at 334.)

Familiarity with the remaining details of Plaintiff's medical history and the other factual allegations supporting Plaintiff's claim is assumed in this Memorandum-Decision and Order, which again is intended primarily for review by the parties.

B. Procedural History

Plaintiff filed her application for SSI benefits on April 16, 2008. (T. at 95.) In a report dated May 22, 2008, a disability examiner determined that Plaintiff was not disabled and denied her claim for benefits. (Id. at 46.) On July 9, 2008, Plaintiff requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"), which was done by video conference before ALJ John P. Ramos on November 20, 2009. (Id. at 23-44, 64.) ALJ Ramos issued his unfavorable decision on January 5, 2010. (Id. at 7-18.) In his decision, ALJ Ramos found as follows: (1) Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since the application date; (2) Plaintiff had severe impairments, specifically those impairments described in Part I.A. of the Memorandum-Decision and Order; (3) Plaintiff does not have a "listed" impairment that would entitle her to a conclusive finding of disability; (4) Plaintiff has the residual functional capacity to perform light work; and (5) there are jobs in significant numbers in the national economy that Plaintiff can perform. (Id. at 12-17.)

Plaintiff filed a timely request for review of ALJ Ramos's decision with the Appeals Council. (Id. at 6.) The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review on October 24, 2010. (Id. at 1-5.) Plaintiff subsequently commenced this action appealing ALJ Ramos's decision on November 4, 2010. (Dkt. No. 1.)

C. Plaintiff's Appeal

Generally, in support of her appeal, Plaintiff argues as follows: (1) Defendant erroneously failed to find that Plaintiff's neck impairment meets the requirements under Listing 1.04(A), which would entitle Plaintiff to a conclusive finding that she is disabled; (2) Defendant incorrectly failed to assign controlling weight, or in the alternative extra weight, to the medical conclusions of Plaintiff's treating physician; (3) Defendant incorrectly calculated Plaintiff's residual functional capacity; (4) Defendant failed to properly assess Plaintiff's subjective allegations of pain and disabling symptoms; (5) Defendant misread significant evidence; and (6) Defendant improperly used the Medical-Vocation guidelines to conclude there was substantial work in the national economy that Plaintiff can perform. (See generally Dkt. No. 16 [Plf.'s Brief].)

Generally, in Defendant's response to Plaintiff's appeal, he argues as follows: (1) ALJ Ramos properly found that Plaintiff's impairments do not meet the requirements under Listing 1.04(A); (2) ALJ Ramos properly evaluated the medical evidence in the record and accorded it the appropriate weight when reaching his decision, including the evidence from Plaintiff's treating physician; and (3) ALJ properly used the Medical-Vocational guidelines to conclude that Plaintiff is not disabled.. (See generally Dkt. No. 18 [Def.'s Brief].)


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