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Cruz v. Colvin

United States District Court, E.D. New York

April 18, 2014

JUAN M. CRUZ, Plaintiff,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

HERBERT S. FORSMITH, New York, NY. Attorney for Plaintiff

Matthew Silverman, Assistant U.S. Attorney LORETTA E. LYNCH United States Attorney, Eastern District of New York Brooklyn, NY. Attorney for Defendant


JOHN GLEESON, District Judge.

Juan M. Cruz seeks review of the Social Security Administration's decision denying him disability benefits. Cruz alleges that he has been left unable to work by conditions stemming from a 2009 stroke, including depression and problems in his left arm. An administrative law judge ("ALJ") found that although Cruz had established some impairment, he retained enough residual functional capacity to do some kinds of work (though not his previous work as a repairman). Because I find that the ALJ's decision is supported by substantial evidence and does not rest on legal error, the Commissioner's motion for judgment on the pleadings is granted, and Cruz's is denied.


A. Medical Background

Cruz was born in the Dominican Republic in 1960 and moved to the United States in 1979. R. 57-58.[1] Cruz worked as a handy man in an apartment building for many years. R. 68-70, 257.

On May 2, 2009, Cruz complained of a headache and was diagnosed with a leftside cerebellar hemorrhage secondary to malignant hypertension; he underwent a suboccipital craniotomy the next day. R. 300. Cruz did well after the surgery and was discharged to rehabilitation on May 14, 2009, but after he left he complained of a left-side headache and went to the emergency room at Montefiore Medical Center for evaluation of a cerebellar hemorrhage. R. 300, 316. A neurosurgeon performed an examination and a CT scan and found that although Cruz was neurologically intact and stable, he had a left cerebellar bleed at the site of the previous surgery. R. 325. He recommended continued monitoring by repeat CT scan, and also treatment for Cruz's continuing high blood pressure. Id. Cruz was admitted for monitoring and blood pressure control, and his condition improved. After physical therapy, Cruz was able to walk normally. He was discharged on May 21. R. 300.

Cruz saw a renal specialist, Michael Guccione, on June 24, 2009, who found that Cruz's blood pressure was well-controlled with medication. R. 456-58. Guccione adjusted Cruz's medications and recommended a low-sodium diet.

On July 1, 2009, Cruz went to Buxton Family Practice for a follow-up. He denied headaches, clumsiness, and denied any changes in hearing, vision, or speech, R. 369, but complained of left shoulder pain, and the examiner noted decreased range of motion and 4/5 strength, as well as crepitus, in the shoulder. R. 370. The examiner diagnosed status post CVA (cerebrovascular accident), rule out left capsulitis/rotator cuff syndrome (that is, that further investigation would be required to rule out those conditions), and also diagnosed hypertension. Id. Follow-up X-rays of Cruz's left shoulder revealed mild periarthritis. R. 376. A CT scan of Cruz's head showed no acute hemorrhage or infarction. R. 377.

Cruz returned to Buxton a week later. He denied headaches, but he had not yet obtained the drugs prescribed for his shoulder pain, and he repeated that his shoulder still hurt. R. 372. Furthermore, because Cruz was supposed to testify in court, a doctor recommended that based on his history of stroke and headaches, he should not sit for more than three hours a day. Id .; see also R. 375.

Cruz reported to Buxton again on November 24, 2009 for a disability evaluation. He did not report headaches, dizziness, weakness, chest pain, shortness of breath, or palpitations, but he did report left shoulder pain, and he had decreased strength and movement in his left shoulder. R. 373-74. The doctor diagnosed left rotator cuff syndrome/capsulitis and uncontrolled hypertension, and recommended that the plaintiff follow up with an evaluation by a neurologist to decide whether he could return to work.

On November 30, 2009, Cruz went to an adult clinic at Elmhurst Hospital Center to refill his medications. He denied any headaches or dizziness. R. 408-09. When he returned on December 28, 2009, he reported feeling well and had no weakness from his stroke. A doctor found normal neurological and musculoskeletal results and diagnosed hypertension with stroke in the past, and advised Cruz to continue his blood pressure management regimen. R. 412-14.

Vinod Thukral performed a consultative internal medicine examination of Cruz on January 16, 2010. Cruz denied any history of headaches, dizziness, photophobia, or blurred vision, but he did report constant left arm and left leg pain exacerbated by moving and lifting and relieved by pain medications. Cruz said that he walked with a cane that had been prescribed by a family doctor a few months before, but Thukral opined that Cruz did not need it to walk normally. R. ...

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