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Adamik v. Commissioner of Social Security

United States District Court, Second Circuit

July 31, 2013

ROBERT C. ADAMIK, Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.

OPINION & ORDER

KATHERINE B. FORREST, District Judge.

Plaintiff Robert C. Adamik seeks review of the Social Security Administration's ("SSA") 1996 denial of his claim for Social Security Disability ("SSD") benefits for the period January 1996 through December 31, 1999.[1] Plaintiff claims SSD benefits based upon cervical and lumbar spine conditions. This matter comes before this Court for the third time; two prior appeals resulted in orders of remand to the SSA.

Now before the Court are plaintiffs motion for judgment on the pleadings filed November 15, 2012, (ECF No, 12), and the cross-motion filed by defendant Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner") filed January 18, 2013 (ECF No. 15).

For the reasons set forth below, plaintiffs motion is DENIED and defendant's cross-motion is GRANTED.

I. PROCEDURAL AND FACTUAL BACKGROUND

A. Factual Background

The record in this case is voluminous. In the 17 years this claim has been pending, Adamik was evaluated or treated by at least ten doctors and testified at four SSA hearings. The Court recites only those facts relevant to its review here; a more thorough summary of Adamik's medical history can be found in Magistrate Judge Pitman's Report and Recommendation (R. at 155-57), in the parties' briefing (ECF Nos. 13, 16), and in the extensive administrative record.

1. Adamik's Spinal Conditions

In early 1996, Adamik began to suffer from a variety of neck and back conditions that he claims have prevented him from working. Prior to the onset of these ailments, Adamik attained a high school diploma, and had worked for eight years stocking shelves in a grocery store, for three years as an employee for a floor refinishing business, and then for seven years as a self-employed floor sander. (Admin R. ("R.") at 167, 540, 556, ECF No. 6.) He claims that chest pains, bilateral carpel tunnel syndrome, and numerous pinched spinal nerves in January 1996, forced him to abandon his sanding business. (R. at 163.)

These neck issues persisted, though they were substantially alleviated by a surgical procedure in February 1998. At the same time, however, Adamik began to experience pain in his lower back, which radiated around his waist. (R. at 559-60). Adamik claims that this pain intensified from late 1998 into early 1999. Thus, Adamik asserts that, as of December 31, 1999 - the last date he was insured under the Social Security Act - he suffered from two distinct conditions, lumbar pain and cervical pain.

2. Adamik's Testimony

Adamik's testimony as regards his symptoms has evolved. In October 1997, Adamik testified the pain first originated in his left shoulder and radiated to his left hand. (R. at 543.) He stated that the pain was continuous, but ranged from "numbness and tingling" to "a sharp stabbing pain." (R. at 543-44.) He claimed that these symptoms prevented him from sitting for more than an hour at a time, and from standing for more than 45 minutes at a time before needing to move. He could only alleviate the pain by lying down (R. at 544-45) and could not lift more than five pounds (R. at 545).

At a subsequent hearing in 1999, Adamik testified that, in addition to the pain originating in his neck, he also experienced pain in his lower back that radiated around his waist. (R. at 559-60.) Later in the proceeding, he acknowledged that the February 1998 neck fusion procedure had eliminated the most serious of these symptoms, but stated that this neck pain still "ranges about a six." (R. at 564.) He testified that he could lift the equivalent of a half-gallon of milk (R. at 568) and could only sit or stand in half-hour increments. (R. at 567-68.)

At a third hearing in December 2005, Adamik testified that his lower back condition became "[v]ery troublesome" between late 1998 and early 1999. (R. at 581-82.) He testified that he could only sit in a normal chair for periods of two hours before experiencing lower back pain. (R. at 581-82.) He indicated that he could descend the three flights of stairs outside his apartment and walk two blocks, as well as go fly fishing nearby for 30 minutes at a time. (R. at 582-83.) However, he claimed that between late 1999 and 2000 his lower back pain began radiating to his legs, preventing him from going fishing more than once or twice a month. (R. at 587, 594.)

At the December 2005 hearing, Adamik's testimony clearly differed from his prior testimony. At that hearing he testified that he only experienced occasional pain in his neck, that the February 2008 operation had made a difference, and that the pain after that point was focused in his lower back. (R. at 588.) When asked why he did not pursue sedentary work during the "best period of time" between the surgery and the worsening of his lower back pain in early 1999, Adamik stated that (1) he lacked the proper training, and (2) the pain from sitting for long periods of time prevented him from maintaining concentration. (R. at 597-98.)

B. Procedural Background

Adamik first applied for disability benefits on March 29, 1996. (R. at 155-57.) The application was denied on June 6, 1996. (R. at 120-22.) Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") Jerome Feiner held a review hearing ("Hearing I") on October 7, 1997. (R. at 531-51.) ALJ Feiner found Adamik not disabled, but the Appeals Council remanded the case for further proceedings on November 3, 1998. (R. at 130-38.)

ALJ Frank Borda held a second hearing on October 5, 1999 ("Hearing II"). (R. at 93-117, 552-74.) The ALJ and Appeals Council denied Adamik's requests for review. (R. at 55-64.) Adamik then filed a civil action in this court, Adamik v. Barnhart, 02 Civ. 6908 (RMB)(HBP)(S.D.N.Y. 2000); the Commissioner agreed to a voluntary remand of that action for further record development. (R. at 391-92.)

ALJ Dennis Katz held a third hearing on December 6, 2005 ("Hearing III"), after which he denied Adamik's claim. (R. at 278-90, 365-68, 575-603.) After the Appeals Council denied review, Adamik once again appealed to this Court. See Adamik v. Astrue, No. 07 Civ. 10278 (JSR)(HBP)(S.D.N.Y. 2009). Magistrate Judge Henry B. Pitman issued an exhaustive Report and Recommendation on August 3, 2009, recommending that the claim be remanded for further proceedings.[2] Adamik v. Astrue, No. 07 CIV 10283 (JSR)(HBP), 2009 WL 6337910 (S.D.N.Y. Aug. 3, 2009) report and recommendation adopted, 07 CIV. 10283 (JSR), 2010 WL 1428121 (S.D.N.Y. Apr. 8, 2010). District Judge Jed Rakoff adopted the Report and Recommendation on April 6, 2010. Id.

Following remand of the claim by the Appeals Council, a fourth hearing was held, again before ALJ Katz, on October 20, 2010 ("Hearing IV") and Katz again found Adamik not disabled. (R. at 617-39, 905-11.)

This action was filed on May 7, 2012. Adamik moved for judgment on the pleadings on November 15, 2012. The Commissioner opposed plaintiffs motion and cross-moved on ...


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