LINDA M. YOUNGMAN, Plaintiff,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.
MICHAEL A. TELESCA, District Judge.
Plaintiff, Linda M. Youngman ("Youngman" or "Plaintiff"), brings this action pursuant to the Social Security Act § 216(i) and § 223, seeking review of the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner") denying her applications for Disability Insurance Benefits ("DIB") and Supplemental Security Income Benefits ("SSI"). Plaintiff alleges that the decision of the Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") is not supported by substantial evidence in the record and is contrary to applicable legal standards. On July 24, 2013, the Commissioner moved for judgment on the pleadings pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405 (g) on the grounds that the findings of the Commissioner are supported by substantial evidence. On July 27, 2013, Plaintiff cross-moved for summary judgment seeking to reverse the Commissioner's decision.
For the reasons set forth below, this Court finds that there is substantial evidence to support the Commissioner's decision. Therefore, the Commissioner's motion for judgment on the pleadings is granted and the Plaintiff's motion is denied.
On February 25, 2009, Plaintiff filed an application for DIB and SSI under Title II, § 216(i) and § 223 of the Social Security Act, alleging a disability since March 20, 2007 arising from abdominal problems, shoulder and back pain and headaches. T. 159-193. Plaintiff's claim was denied on May 14, 2009. T. 83-88. At Plaintiff's request, an administrative hearing was conducted on July 14, 2010 before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") at which Youngman testified and was represented by counsel. A vocational expert also testified. T. 46-81.
On August 27, 2010, the ALJ issued a Decision finding that Youngman was not disabled. T. 19-35. On June 9, 2011, Plaintiff filed a subsequent application for SSI which was granted by decision after a hearing on November 29, 2012 granting benefits as of the application date of June 9, 2011. On July 25, 2012, the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review of her first application, making the ALJ's Decision the final decision of the Commissioner. T. 1-3. This action followed seeking review of the denial of the first application and awarding Plaintiff DIB from March 20, 2007 until June 9, 2011.
Plaintiff is a 48 year old high school graduate. T. 180, 192. She worked most recently as a stocker at a dollar store until 2005. T. 185. Youngman worked in assembly at a box factory, a cashier at a grocery store and as a custodian in a school after working for seven years from 1993 through 2000 owning and operating a bar/restaurant. T. 185, 205. As owner/manager of the bar/restaurant, Plaintiff cooked, cleaned, waitressed, tended bar, did books and payroll. T. 206.
At the time of the hearing, Youngman spent a typical day taking her medications, washing dishes and running the dishwasher, doing laundry, watching television and going to medical appointments. T. 195, 197. Youngman was able to cook dinner for her son at times and shopped for groceries twice a week. T. 195, 198.
A. Medical History
Plaintiff began treatment for a "sharp stabbing" pain in her stomach in March, 2007. T. 202. She also had pain in her back and experienced frequent headaches. T. 202. At the time of her application for disability, Youngman was taking Flexoril, Vicodin, Gabapentin, and Tylenol for pain. T. 203.
In 2004 Plaintiff was treated for pain along her rib cage and shoulders. T. 272. Youngman presented to the emergency room in February, 2005 for knee pain. She was given Motrin, Flexeril and Viocodin. T. 271, 273. Upon follow up with her primary care physician, Dr. Arif Choudhury of Wayne Medical Group, no numbness or tingling was noted. She was diagnosed with lumbar strain and continued on medications. T. 273.
In March, 2007, Youngman underwent exploratory laparotomy for abdominal pain and vomiting. T. 453. She had presented to the emergency room with complaints of nausea, vomiting and abdominal pain. T. 917. A CT scan showed a very large stomach and a duodenum with a possible herniation. T. 917. The laparotomy showed no herniation but there was a mass in the head of the pancreas as well as a mass in the body of the pancreas. T. 917. Her family indicated that Plaintiff was a heavy drinker and had difficulty with nausea, vomiting and abdominal pain for many months to years prior to this episode. T. 917. The appendix was removed and gastrojejunostomy performed. T. 453.
In September, 2007, Plaintiff had some pain in the upper abdomen with occasional nausea. T. 453. Plaintiff had an endoscopy performed in November, 2007 which found possible gastritis, and possible marginal ulcer. T. 446. She was prescribed Nexium. An MMRI of the abdomen conducted in December, 2007 showed a normal scan with some fat containing umbilical hernia. T. 469.
An endoscopy conducted on January 21, 2008 showed no evidence of a marginal ulcer but she was diagnosed with gastritis and prescribed Nexium. T. 477. Medical notes from Dr. Dana Miller of January 21, 2008, note that Plaintiff's pain was related to gastritis and marginal ulcerations. Dr. Miller advised Plaintiff to stop smoking and drinking. T. 486. Although Plaintiff claimed she only drank one to two times a week, Dr. Miller noted that Plaintiff smelled of alcohol. T. 486. Plaintiff was treated in March, 2008 for pelvic pain of unknown origin. T. 267. Youngman was referred to the pain clinic and advised to watch her food habits. T. 267-68.
Images done in May, 2008, showed no obstruction in the digestive tract. T. 557. Dr. Stephen Ettinghausen, a surgeon from Rochester General Hospital, first examined Plaintiff on July 18, 2008 for abdominal pain and vomiting. T. 376. CT scans in August, 2008 also showed no evidence of obstruction nor inflammatory changes. Plaintiff had a follow up examination in September, 2008 for epigastric pain. T. 265. She was diagnosed with diffuse gastritis, was advised to limit acid producing foods and prescribed neurontin. T. 265. In October, 2008, Plaintiff was seen by Dr. Effinghausen and had bowel resection surgery on October 21, 2008 to prevent bile reflux. T. 266. The surgery went as planned with a normal post-operative course. T. 360. She was diagnosed with "alkaline gastritis" and "possible duodenal obstruction." T. 362. In November, 2008, Plaintiff was treated for restless leg syndrome and assistance with cessation of smoking. T. 264. Youngman reported to have a sharp pain in the right upper back of the thoracic area since she had surgery. T. 264. She was taking Percocet prescribed by Dr. Ettinghausen which was helping with easing the pain. T. 264. In the medical notes of November 6, 2008, Plaintiff reported to Dr. Ettinghausen that she felt the best she has in a long time and spoke of returning to work. T. 373. She weighed 149 pounds and was taking Protonix and Percocet for postoperative pain. T. 373. In a post-surgical follow-up appointment, Dr. Ettinghausen noted that Plaintiff was doing "very well" and no longer had the abdominal pain that she had preoperatively. T. 370. However, he noted that Plaintiff still had a focal area of tenderness in her abdominal wall that could still be detected. He directed an abdominal CT scan over the area of tenderness. T. 370.
In January, 2009, Dr. Choudhury's medical notes indicate that Plaintiff complained of headaches and that she did not sleep due to gastritis pain. T. 257. Dr. Choudhury increased the Ambien prescription to assist with sleeping. T. 257. Also in January, 2009, Plaintiff was treated at Wayne Medical Group for restless leg syndrome and her left ankle pain. An x-ray was taken of the ankle which showed no breakage nor any other degenerative changes or evidence of acute trauma or destructive lesions. T. 263, 316. On January 12, 2009, Plaintiff was treated with physical rehabilitation for mid-thoracic pain and low cervical area pain. T. 693. Youngman was treated with manual therapy to decrease sensitivity followed with a graded approach to exercise, education in an attempt to resolve pain and promote good posture. T. 693. Plaintiff contined with therapy through May, 2009 with some success. T. 693-713, 751-777. Her therapist noted that Plaintiff gained "good functional" range of motion of "bilateral UE, C-T-L spine without pain." T. 777.
In February, 2009, Plaintiff called Dr. Choudhury's office complaining of severe headaches. She was taking Nicopraflex for back pain with the residual benefit of better headache control. But when she returned to Vicodin, it was not as effective in controlling the headache pain. T. 260. Dr. Choudhury advised Plaintiff to lose weight and quit smoking. He also referred her to a pain clinic. T. 260. On March 30, 2009, Dr. Choudhury treated Plaintiff for ongoing pain of her right side and for pain in her back. T. 255. He prescribed nicotine patches to help her quit smoking and continued her medication regiment. T. 255.
Dr. Ajai Nemani of Interventional Pain Management treated Youngman from February through May 2009 for left sided abdominal pain and right sided shoulder blade pain since her surgery in October, 2008. T. 330-40. A CT scan of Youngman's abdomen was negative. The pain emanated from an area where a tube was placed after her bypass surgery in March, 2007. T. 338. Plaintiff was taking Vicodin, Ambien, Ropinirole, Gabapentin, Rantidine and Prevacid at this time. The medical records indicate that Plaintiff was not working, smoked and took recreational drugs. T. 339. Dr. Namani observed that Plaintiff's range of motion of the knees was normal but flexion and extension of the back was painful. T. 339. Dr. Nemani treated the abdominal pain with a trigger point injection at the site of the drain incision. T. 340. A week later, Youngman returned to Dr. Nemani for treatment of ankle pain. T. 336. She was able to transfer and walk about the room and appeared in "no acute distress." T. 337. Dr. Nemani opined that the ankle symptoms were resolving and no further treatment was necessary but he would proceed with injections for abdominal pain. T. 337. After two nerve blocks, Youngman reported that the first did not work but the second helped relieve pain temporarily in that region. T. 330. Dr. Nemani ordered x-rays for thoracic and lumbar spine and recommended physical therapy for the pain. T.331 The x-rays were "normal studies" except showing "mild osteophyte formation at L3-L4." T. 334. Dr. Nemani recommended physical therapy to treat Youngman's pain. T. 335.
Plaintiff was treated by a gastroenterologist, Dr. Craig Weise, on April 10, 2009 for her continued abdominal pain. T. 341-344. Dr. Weise noted Youngman's history of gastric bypass surgery, as well as appendectomy and cholecystectomy. T. 341. Dr. Weise noted that Plaintiff walked with a normal gait and range of motion and had no significant abnormalities with her abdomen. T. 343. He counseled Plaintiff on the possibility of her pain being neuropathic. T. 343. He continued Plaintiff on Prevacid and recommended discussing neuropathic pain with the pain specialist as well as conducting an Esophagogastroduodenoscopy ("EGD") to examine the lining of the esophagus and first part of small intestine. T. 344. The EGD found two small polyps and internal hemorrhoids but otherwise the endoscopy was "normal". T. 347, 352, 1063.
Dr. Sandra Boehlert conducted an independent medical examination of Plaintiff on April 29, 2009. T. 354-358. She noted that Plaintiff complained of pain in the right side of her stomach, right shoulder and right back which began after an appendectomy and gastric bypass surgery in 2007. T. 354. Plaintiff did not lose weight after the surgeries and had a subsequent surgery to drain her bowel in 2008 that did not bring her relief from pain. T. 354. Youngman told Dr. Boehlert that she walked a quarter of a mile daily. T. 354. Youngman claimed that she had intermittent dizziness and chronic headaches. T. 354. Dr. Boehlert inquired whether Youngman's primary doctor knew that she was on Cyclobenzaprine, Gabapentin and Amitriptylilne at the same time which could cause dizziness as a side effect. In addition to these medications, Plaintiff was also taking Ropinirole, Ranitidine, Prevacid, Lovaza, Ambien, Hydrocodone, Acetaminophen and Nicotine patch. T. 355. Plaintiff also noted that she was forgetful and had memory loss. T. 355. Youngman told Dr. Boehlert that she smoked half a pack of cigarettes each day but took no street drugs and drank little alcohol. T. 355. She could cook, clean, do laundry, and shop as long as she has a cart to hold onto. T. 355. She cooked six or seven days of the week, cleaned six times a week and was able to shower and dress herself. T. 355. Plaintiff visited her aunt or grandmother's house down the road and socialized with friends. She weighed 209 pounds at five feet tall. T. 356. Dr. Boehlert diagnosed Plaintiff with chronic severe abdominal pain, chronic headaches, dizziness and unsteadiness possibly caused by medications, right shoulder pain and low back pain. T. 357. Dr. Boehlert found Plaintiff to have "moderate to marked limitation to repetitive twisting, bending, and heavy lifting due to abdominal pain and market abdominal surgeries." T. 358.
A Physical Residual Functional Capacity Assessment was prepared on May 12, 2009 by S. Putcha. T. 715-720. Plaintiff was found to be able to occasionally lift or carry 10 pounds, could frequently lift or carry less than 10 pounds, could stand or walk at least two hours of an 8 hour day, could sit about 6 hours in an 8 hour day, and had unlimited ability to push or pull. T. 716. Plaintiff was described as a 43 year old woman who had abdominal surgery for gastric bypass and Roux-en Y procedure which relieved alkaline gastritis and nausea. T. 716. Plaintiff still had abdominal pain and dizziness. She has no musculoskeletal issues. T. 716. No other limitations were noted in the report. T. 716-718.
Plaintiff was treated in the emergency room on May 13, 2009 for a swollen ankle. T. 1074-1078. After fracture and sprain were ruled out, she was diagnosed with edema, prescribed Naproyn and advised to keep her ankle elevated and iced. T. 1078.
On August 38, 2009, Dr. Ettinghausen examined Plaintiff with regard to abdominal pain. He noted that an endoscopy in June showed a small bowel ulcer but an April 2009 endoscopy was negative. T. 375. Her CT scan of July, 2009 showed several midline incisional hernias containing fat. Dr. Ettinghausen successfully repaired the hernias on September 23, 2009. T. 375, 784.
Plaintiff presented to the emergency room in June, 2009 for chest pain. T. 873. She was discharged and directed to follow up with her own physician. T. 867.
Plaintiff was treated for headaches by Dr. Gene Tolomeo of Ontario Neurology Associated beginning in April, 2009 through September, 2009. T. 860-862. Dr. Tolomeo's neurological examination was "normal" and opined that Plaintiff suffered from tension headaches. T. 862. He also considered that Plaintiff was having rebound headaches from extensive use of Tylenol. He ordered an MRI to rule out intracranial mass pseudotumor and started her on Amitriptline. T. 862. In June, 2009, Dr. Tolomeo examined Plaintiff and noted that she still takes excessive amounts of Tylenol. He again concluded that her headaches are tension related compounded with rebound pain from excessive Tylenol use. T. 861. Plaintiff also suffered from insomnia and depression for which Dr. Tolomeo suggested she obtain a stronger antidepressant. He increased Neurontin dosage to help her ...