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Susan Beylo v. Michael J. Astrue

September 27, 2012


The opinion of the court was delivered by: William G. Young, United States District Judge*fn1



Susan Beylo ("Beylo") brings this action pursuant to section 205(g) of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), seeking judicial review of the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security (the "Commissioner"). Beylo challenges the decision of the Administrative Law Judge (the "hearing officer") denying her application for Social Security Disability Insurance ("SSDI") benefits. Beylo requests this Court grant her application for SSDI benefits or remand this case to the Commissioner for further proceedings. Compl. 2, ECF No. 1; Mem. Facts Law Behalf Susan M. Beylo Pl. ("Beylo's Mem.") 13, ECF No. 8. The Commissioner requests this Court affirm the hearing officer's decision and grant his motion for judgment on the pleadings. Def.'s Br. Opp'n Pl.'s Br. Under General Order No. 18 ("Commissioner's Mem.") 1, 25, ECF No. 10.

A. Procedural Posture

On April 3, 2007, Beylo filed a Title II application for SSDI benefits, Beylo's Mem. 3, alleging disability for a period beginning on March 30, 2007, Admin. R. 92, 105, ECF No. 6. Beylo's application was initially denied on October 19, 2007, id. at 10, and she filed a timely written request for a hearing on November 13, 2007, Beylo's Mem. 3. Beylo testified at the hearing held on June 11, 2009, via videoconference and was represented by an attorney. Admin. R. 61-79. The hearing officer issued an unfavorable decision on July 10, 2009, finding that Beylo was not disabled. Id. at 7-21. Beylo subsequently filed a timely request for review, id. at 6, 80-81, which was denied by the Appeals Council on February 3, 2010, id. at 1-5. On March 26, 2010, Beylo filed the present action with this Court to review the decision of the Commissioner pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). See Compl. The Commissioner filed an answer, Def.'s Answer, ECF No. 5, and both parties filed briefs, Beylo's Mem.; Commissioner's Mem.

B. Factual Background

Beylo was born in 1960 and was forty-six years old when she applied for benefits. Admin. R. 20, 65. She has an eleventh grade education and no general equivalency diploma, id. at 65, although she has also reported completing the twelfth grade, id. at 98. Beylo's prior employments were as a food-service worker for approximately fifteen years, and then, as a psychiatric hospital aide, a light to medium exertion occupation which she had for seven years. See id. at 65-68, 120-21. As a therapy aide, she had to stand and walk for four to six hours in an eight-hour work day, and regularly lifted thirty-five to forty pounds. Id. at 121. Beylo stopped working on March 30, 2007. Id. at 12, 92. She has a history of numerous physical impairments.

1. Physical Impairments

Beylo exhibits degenerative disc disease, internal derangement and osteoarthritis of the knees, residuals from a left ankle injury, heel spurs, plantar fasciitis, varicose veins, obesity, an umbilical hernia, and other ailments. Id. at 199-200, 209-10.

a. Degenerative Disc Disease

Dr. Kamlesh S. Desai, M.D. ("Dr. Desai"), a podiatrist, is Beylo's treating physician since March 30, 2007. Id. at 75-76, 276-79. Dr. Desai diagnosed her with lumbar syndrome secondary to a work-related injury which occurred in 1989. Id. at 277. Beylo reported having difficulties working due to lower-back pain which radiated into both legs and was aggravated by prolonged standing, walking, bending, lifting, and twisting activities.

Id. On physical examination, Beylo had lumbar spine tenderness at the L4-L5 and L5-S1 segments, and the pain "markedly limited" the range of her motion. Id. Dr. Desai recommended Beylo cease work, use local modalities and medications at home, and obtain authorization for additional investigation regarding her lumbar-spine. Id.

On April 13, 2007, Beylo reported to Dr. Desai that her back pain persisted despite her decrease in activity. Id. at 274. On June 7, 2007, Beylo reported that rest, medications, and local modalities had improved her back symptoms. Id. at 270. She also reported that exercise helped relieve her lumbar pain up to a point. Id. Her back pain, however, persisted limiting her ability to engage in activity requiring prolonged sitting, bending, driving, lifting, and twisting. Id. At this point, Dr. Desai described Beylo as "temporarily totally disabled." Id.

Beylo's symptoms remained the same throughout 2007 and she reported to Dr. Desai that the "[b]ack pain is significantly worse than the leg pain." Id. at 262. The follow-up consultations during the following year showed no improvement in Beylo's condition and on May 20, 2008, Dr. Desai opined that Beylo's conditions seemed to be permanent. Id. at 245. On April 7, 2009, Dr. Desai's final diagnosis was "[c]hronic lumbar syndrome with intermittent radiculopathy secondary to disc degeneration and disc herniation, L4/5 and L5-S1." Id. at 376.

b. Internal Derangement and Osteoarthritis of the Knees

On September 6, 2005, Beylo underwent an MRI of her left and right knees. Id. at 227-30. The MRI reports showed medial meniscus degeneration with small tears in both knees. Id. On March 30, 2007, Dr. Desai diagnosed Beylo with internal derangement of both knees with progressive traumatic osteoarthritis resulting from a work-related injury which occurred in 2002. Id. at 279. Beylo reported having pain in both knees and that it was aggravated by prolonged standing, walking, stair climbing, and other physical activities. Id. On physical examination, Beylo's ability to flex and rotate her knees was limited by pain, and her flexion was limited to 120 degrees. Id. An x-ray revealed evidence of medial compartment and patellofemoral osteoarthritis. Id. Dr. Desai recommended leg exercising, over-the-counter medications, and weight loss. Id. at 278. Dr. Dersai also noted that surgical treatment would be necessary in the future. Id.

On June 7, 2007, Beylo reported continued pain, but rest, heating pads, and medication helped relieve it to a point. Id. at 271. On that occasion, Beylo could extend her knees fully and flex to approximately 130 degrees. Id. In August 2007, Dr. Desai observed that although some days the pain "somewhat" improved, Beylo continued showing significant symptoms, thus he noted that Beylo "remain[ed] temporarily totally disabled." Id. at 266, 268-69.

On November 19, 2007, Beylo saw Daria Lisick, RPA-C ("Lisick"), a physician's assistant in Dr. Desai's office, for pain and swelling in both her left knee and ankle. Id. at 260. Her left knee motion was limited to seventy-five degrees. Id. Lisick's impression was traumatic arthritis of the left knee. Id.

The follow-up consultations during the years 2007 and 2008 showed no improvement of Beylo's knee condition and on October 23, 2008, Dr. Desai opined that Beylo had reached her maximum medical improvement. Id. at 318. Beylo's final diagnosis was "[m]eniscal derangement with patellofemoral osteoarthritis and chondromalacia of the patella of both knees." Id. On February 24, 2009, Dr. Desai authorized surgery of her left knee. Id. at 314. During the hearing in June 2009, Beylo reported that her physicians were looking to schedule total knee replacements, one at a time. Id. at 69.

The record and the hearing officer's decision also contains Beylo's visit on October 12, 2007, to Dr. Justine Magurno ("Dr. Magurno"), a consultative examiner. Admin. R. 199-205. During the consultative examination Beylo claimed she could not flex her knee beyond 20 degrees, pain in right leg during straight-leg-raising test, and muscle weakness in upper and lower extremities. Id. at 199-204. These limitations somewhat contradict Dr. Desai's observations. Compare id. at 246, 264, 271, 314, 316 (noting that Beylo could flex her knee 120 to 130 degrees), and id. at 263 (examining Beylo a day before Dr. Magurno, the straight-leg-raising test was negative), and id. at 258, 262, 266 (observing that legs had full weightbearing capacity) with id. at 266 (noting that "[r]ange of motion of the knee as well as the lumbar spine is limited and painful").

c. Left Ankle

Beylo stated that she has ankle problems related to a knee injury sustained in 2002. Id. at 260. An x-ray taken in 2004 showed only some spurs on her left ankle, which were not a result of the injury. Id. at 167. On November 19, 2007, Lisick saw Beylo for pain and swelling in both her left knee and ankle. Id. at 260. An x-ray showed some mild spurring in her left ankle. Id. On December 14, 2007, Beylo reported continued pain in her ankle and Dr. Desai recommended an MRI. Id. at 258. She underwent an MRI on February 4, 2008, which showed ligament injuries, tears, fractures, and distended veins in her left ankle. Id. at 248-49, 225-26. On February 21, 2008, Beylo continued to complain of pain in her left ankle. Id. at 255.

d. Other Impairments

Beylo has obesity problems. Id. at 334-37. She weighed 281 pounds in April 2007, id. at 303, and over the next years her weight fluctuated around 265 pounds, id. at 299, 316, 334. Beylo was diagnosed with diabetes in 2004, id. at 163-64, and she has been "fairly non-complaint with her diabetes treatment plan," id. at 299, 301. Additionally, on May 2007, a CT scan revealed a small ...

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