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Collins v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec.

United States District Court, S.D. New York

August 16, 2013


Decided August 15, 2013.

Page 488

Darryl Collins, Plaintiff, Pro se, New York, NY.

For Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant: Susan Colleen Branagan, LEAD ATTORNEY, U.S. Attorney Office SDNY, New York, NY.

Page 489


GABRIEL W. GORENSTEIN, United States Magistrate Judge.

Plaintiff Darryl Collins, proceeding pro se, brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) to obtain judicial review of the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security denying his claim for disability insurance benefits under the Social Security Act. The Commissioner has moved for judgment on the pleadings pursuant to Rule 12(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, which Collins opposes.[1] The parties consented to having this matter

Page 490

decided by a United States Magistrate Judge pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c). For the reasons stated below, the Commissioner's motion is granted.


A. Administrative Proceedings and Procedural History

Collins applied for social security insurance benefits on December 15, 2008, see Administrative Record, filed Nov. 27, 2012 (Docket # 13) (" R." ), 53, alleging that he became disabled on June 3, 2008, R. 135. Collins was insured through December 31, 2012. R. 10, 135.

Collins's application was denied on May 6, 2009. R. 54-57. After requesting a review of the denial, R. 60, Collins appeared pro se before an Administrative Law Judge (" ALJ" ) on August 25, 2010, R. 20-52. On September 9, 2010, the ALJ upheld the denial of the application, finding that Collins was not disabled from the alleged onset date through the date of his decision. R. 8-16. The decision became final on January 27, 2012 when the Appeals Council denied Collins's request for review. R. 1-4. On March 23, 2012, Collins filed this lawsuit pro se seeking review of the ALJ's decision. See Complaint, filed Mar. 23, 2012 (Docket # 2).

B. The Administrative Record Before the ALJ

1. Background

Collins was born on September 14, 1960. R. 30. He completed high school and one and a half years of college. R. 31, 144. From 1984 to 2007, he worked as a service manager at a car dealership. R. 140. In this position, he greeted customers, oversaw mechanics working on cars, and ensured that safety regulations were observed. Id. In a form completed as part of his application for benefits, Collins represented that this position required him to sit six hours per day, to stand and walk for one hour each per day, and to lift less than 10 pounds. R. 161. He testified that his position was eliminated when the dealership closed down in 2007. R. 49-50. Starting in 2008, he worked part-time as a temporary employee. R. 34-35, 38, 189. He claimed to be disabled due to " calcified hips, [a] pinched nerve in [the] lower back, [and] alcoholism," and alleged that he was in constant pain which prevented him from sitting, standing, walking, bending, or lifting for any length of time. R. 139. While the pain began prior to 2008, it became so intense by June 3, 2008, that he purportedly could no longer work a full-time job. R. 38.

2. Treatment Records Prior to June 3, 2008

On May 11, 2006, Collins arrived at Mercy Medical Center (" Mercy" ) with complaints of abdominal pain, nausea, and vomiting. R. 223-24. A CT scan and an ultrasound revealed diverticulitis,[2] a calcified or " porcelain" gallbladder, and a mass on the right lobe in the interior-most aspect of the liver. R. 224, 227-29. Collins was admitted as a patient. R. 224. On May 19, 2006, he underwent a diagnostic laproscopic surgery, a cholecystectomy,[3] and a ventral hernia repair. R. 220-21. Collins was found to have a large hemangioma[4] on the right lobe ofhis liver. R. 220.

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On September 3, 2007, New York Presbyterian Hospital admitted Collins with complaints of lower abdominal pain. R. 233, 235. He reported that the pain started in his lower back and traveled to his lower abdomen. R. 235. The pain worsened with movement, but was relieved slightly when he lay down. Id. An MRI showed that Collins had hemangiomas and possibly mild pancreatitis. R. 237. A CT scan revealed hepatomegaly[5] with multiple non-enhancing lesions. R. 240. Hospital records suggested that Collins's abdominal pain was the result of alcoholic gastritis rather than liver disease. R. 243. He had a history of alcohol abuse and had been recently released from an inpatient detoxification program. R. 235. The hospital records also noted that Collins had worked as a service representative for Chrysler for 28 years, but had lost his job three months earlier due to alcohol dependence. R. 236. At the time of his admittance, he was working as a temporary employee. Id. Collins was discharged on September 5, 2007. R. 242.

On September 25, 2007, x-rays of Collins's lumbar spine were taken after he reportedly fell down stairs and complained of back pain. R. 239. The x-rays showed " [e]arly productive changes," but " [n]o definite acute fracture[s]." Id. Collins had straightening of his lordotic curve, mild narrowing of the L4-L5 disc space with productive changes, mild productive changes in his facet joints, and grade 1 spondylolisthesis[6] at L5-S1. Id.

Collins returned to New York Presbyterian on April 26, 2008 complaining of right lower chest and right upper quadrant abdominal pain. R. 238. Records noted that Collins had chronic alcohol dependence. Id. A lateral chest x-ray revealed no abnormalities, id., and an EKG showed no significant changes since a previous test performed on September 3, 2007, R. 241.

3. Treatment Records After June 3, 2008

On July 1, 2008, Collins was treated at the emergency room of St. Luke's Cornwall Hospital (" St. Luke's" ) for a hip injury and pain. R. 287. Collins complained of chronic bilateral hip pain, which had bothered him for the past month and was worse in his left hip. Id. He had no injury, weakness, numbness, or paresthesias, but had a history of arthritis. Id. He had not taken medication for pain and had a full range of motion in his hips. R. 287-88. Dr. Jessica Kirstein's clinical impression was that Collins had chronic arthritic hip pain. R. 287. She prescribed Naproxen and Vicodin. Id.

Collins appeared at the Greater Hudson Valley Family Health Center (" GHVFHC" ) on July 3, 2008 complaining of hip pain that shot down his legs. R. 255. On physical examination, Collins's lungs and cardiovascular system were within normal limits. Id. He was diagnosed with sciatica,[7] was prescribed Ultracet and Flexeril, and was instructed to return following an MRI. Id. On July 22, 2008, Collins returned to GHVFHC with complaints of a burning sensation in his penis. R. 254. He was diagnosed with a urinary tract infection and prescribed medication. Id. He returned to GHVFHC

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again on August 12, 2008 for a follow up appointment, during which he had no symptoms of a urinary tract infection. R. 251. An open MRI of Collins's lumbar spine was ordered. Id.

On December 11, 2008, Collins appeared at St. Luke's emergency room complaining of sharp pain on the left side of his chest for the previous four days. R. 275, 279. He rated the pain as an eight out of 10 and claimed that the pain was unaffected by activities. R. 275. He denied fatigue, chills, vomiting, weight loss, or other symptoms. R. 279. An examination generated normal results. R. 284. Collins was admitted for observation to rule out acute coronary artery syndrome. R. 275. Dr. Christian Castro-Nunez examined Collins. R. 279-82. He noted that Collins complained of suffering 10 to 15 episodes of chest pain a day, each lasting for approximately one minute and accompanied by excessive sweating. R. 279. Collins's chest pain improved after taking sublingual nitroglycerine. Id. He informed Dr. Castro-Nunez of his history of chronic low back pain, chronic hip pain, heavy smoking, and substance abuse including the use of cocaine. Id. Dr. Castro-Nunez reported normal examination results, including unremarkable cardiovascular and lung examinations. R. 280. His impression was atypical chest pain, heavy smoking, cocaine use, obesity, and chronic hip pain. R. 281.

Dr. William Lee also examined Collins on December 11, 2008. R. 277-78. Dr. Lee found that Collins's blood pressure and heart rate were in normal ranges. R. 277. His impression was that Collins had atypical chest pain and a history of tobacco use. R. 278. An exercise stress test showed normal left ventricular systolic function and no evidence of angina or ischemia.[8] R. 290. An EKG revealed normal chamber sizes, normal left ventricular systolic function, and mild mitral and tricuspid valve regurgitation. R. 291. A chest x-ray showed that Collins's heart was slightly enlarged, but revealed no evidence of active pulmonary heart disease. R. 292. When Collins was discharged on December 12, 2008, he was instructed to consume a diet low in fat and sodium and to resume normal activities as tolerated. R. 276.

On January 15, 2009, GHVFHC treated Collins for complaints of hip pain. R. 250. An MRI showed no evidence of a disc herniation, but did reveal neural foraminal narrowing. Id. Collins had a decreased range of motion in his hips and was diagnosed with degenerative joint disease in the hips, lumbar spine radiculopathy, and arthritic changes. Id. He was prescribed Nabumetone and Gabopentin, x-rays were ordered, and he was referred for physical therapy. Id. On January 17, 2009, x-rays of Collins's hips showed normal results. R. 289.

On March 11, 2010, Collins went to St. Luke's with symptoms of asthma. R. 332. Dr. Daviesh Doshi diagnosed adult asthma. Id. He prescribed a Proventil inhaler, recommended that Collins take one day off work, and instructed Collins to follow up in two to three days. Id. Collins returned to St. Luke's on April 19, 2010 with asthma symptoms. R. 334-35. Dr. Jean-Paul Menoscal prescribed Albuterol MDI and Prednisone and instructed Collins to quit smoking. R. 334.

On May 6, 2010, Collins arrived at St. Luke's with complaints of chest pain and swelling of the legs and ankles.[9] R. 88. ...

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