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Sloan v. Colvin

United States District Court, W.D. New York

June 9, 2014

CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant

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[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

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For Debra Ann Sloan, Plaintiff: Howard D. Olinsky, LEAD ATTORNEY, Jillian C. Karas, Olinsky Law Group, Syracuse, NY.

For Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant: Kathryn L. Smith, LEAD ATTORNEY, U.S. Attorney's Office, Rochester, NY; Vernon Norwood, LEAD ATTORNEY, Social Security Administration, New York, NY.


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ELIZABETH A. WOLFORD, United States District Judge.


Plaintiff Debra Ann Sloan (" Plaintiff" ) brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), seeking review of the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security (" the Commissioner" )[1] denying her application for Supplemental Security Income (" SSI" ) benefits. (Dkt. 1). Presently before the Court are the parties' competing motions for judgment on the pleadings pursuant to Rule 12(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. (Dkt. 8, 10). Because the ALJ's decision is supported by substantial evidence, the Plaintiff's motion is denied and the Commissioner's motion is granted.


A. Overview

On March 22, 2010, Plaintiff filed an application for SSI. (Administrative Transcript (hereinafter " Tr." ) at 161-63). In her application, Plaintiff alleged a disability onset date of October 20, 2009. (Tr. 161). Plaintiff alleged the following disabilities: rheumatoid arthritis, poor circulation, asthma, depression, anxiety, and anemia. (Tr. 182). On July 30, 2010, the Commissioner denied Plaintiff's application. (Tr. 83). Plaintiff timely filed a request for a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (" ALJ" ) on September 1, 2010. (Tr. 104).

On August 23, 2011, Plaintiff, represented by counsel, testified at a video hearing before ALJ Roxanne Fuller. (Tr. 42-71). Vocational Expert (" VE" ) Dian L. Haller also testified. (Tr. 24-37). On October 4, 2011, the ALJ issued a finding that Plaintiff was not disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act. (Tr. 25-37).

Plaintiff timely filed a request for review of the ALJ's decision by the Appeals Council on December 8, 2011. (Tr. 17). On February 22, 2013, the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review, making the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner. (Tr. 2-8). On March 25, 2013, Plaintiff filed this civil action appealing the final decision of the Commissioner. (Dkt. 1).

B. The Non-Medical Evidence

1. Plaintiff's Testimony

At the time of the hearing, Plaintiff was a 5'4", 102 pound, 46-year old female. (Tr. 46). Plaintiff was previously employed as a certified nurse assistant, but had not been so employed since 2005.[2] (Tr. 48). Plaintiff testified that she could no longer perform her past work as a nurse's aide because her arthritis caused pain and swelling in her hands and legs. ( Id.). She said it was a struggle to do basic things like brush her teeth or get dressed, and that she had trouble sleeping. (Tr. 51-55).

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Plaintiff testified that on a good day, she could lift a five-pound bag of sugar with both hands, but on a bad day, she could not lift more than two or three pounds. (Tr. 56). She indicated that she had trouble lifting objects and standing or walking for any period of time. (Tr. 48-51). Plaintiff claimed that she was fatigued daily and needed time to lie down for approximately thirty minutes at least twice per day. (Tr. 54). Plaintiff alleged that she could not sit for more than twenty minutes at a time or stand for more than thirty minutes continuously. (Tr. 55-56). She testified that the pain has kept her from doing things she used to enjoy, such as going to the movies or reading a book, because she has to get up and move around to alleviate the pain. (Tr. 57).

2. Vocational Expert's Testimony

The ALJ presented VE Dian Haller with a hypothetical question. (Tr. 65-66). The VE was asked to consider someone of Plaintiff's age, education, and experience who could perform light work that required no more than frequently operating foot controls with both legs, who could never climb ramps, stairs, ladders, ropes, nor scaffolds, who could never balance, and who could only occasionally stoop, crouch, crawl, or kneel. (Tr. 65). The individual could " occasionally handle objects, that is, gross manipulation with both hands." (Tr. 66). She could " occasionally finger, that is, fine manipulation of items no smaller than the size of a paperclip." ( Id.). She should avoid moderate exposure to irritants such as fumes, odors, dusts, and gases, as well as poorly ventilated areas. (Tr. 65). She could remember and carry out one-to-two step instructions as well as perform simple, routine, repetitive tasks. ( Id.). The ALJ incorporated considerations for Plaintiff's alleged asthma, heart palpitations, and psychological limitations, despite the ALJ's finding that these limitations were not severe. (Tr. 27-28, 30).

The VE testified that a hypothetical individual with these abilities and restrictions would be able to perform occupations that existed in significant numbers in the national economy, including rental clerk, gate attendant, and usher/lobby attendant. (Tr. 66-67).

C. Summary of the Medical Evidence

The Court assumes the parties' familiarity with the medical record, which is summarized below.

On February 11, 2009, Plaintiff treated with Melissa Brown, M.D., at Westside Health Services (" WHS" ), complaining of anorexia, fatigue, insomnia, and loss of appetite. (Tr. 311-12). Dr. Brown assessed Plaintiff for major depression, psychoactive substance abuse, and anxiety disorder, and prescribed the medications Neurontin® and " Trazodone" for Plaintiff's depression. (Tr. 311).

Plaintiff treated with nurse practitioner Karen Snow-Holmes at WHS on May 27, 2009. (Tr. 303-04). Ms. Snow-Holmes noted Plaintiff had a flat affect. (Tr. 303).

On June 17, 2009, Plaintiff treated with Ese Ejaife, M.A., at Unity Health System (" UHS" ), who diagnosed Plaintiff with polysubstance dependence and major depressive disorder. (Tr. 548-50).

Plaintiff visited Dr. Brown on June 22, 2009, complaining of depression, weight loss, racing thoughts, fatigue, and feelings of guilt and isolation. (Tr. 300-02). Dr. Brown referred Plaintiff to psychiatry for assessment. (Tr. 301). Plaintiff visited Dr. Brown again on July 22, 2009, complaining of bilateral knee pain, lower leg pain, and shin pain. (Tr. 292-93). Dr. Brown diagnosed osteoarthritis and Raynaud's phenomenon. (Tr. 292).

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On September 4, 2009, Plaintiff treated with Lena Kieliszak, L.M.H.C., who noted Plaintiff had symptoms of " racing thoughts and feelings of euphoria and dissociation." (Tr. 554). Plaintiff informed Ms. Kieliszak on December 15, 2009, that she planned to move to Arizona. (Tr. 578). Ms. Kieliszak assessed Plaintiff for, inter alia, polysubstance dependence and depressive disorder. (Tr. 582). Ms. Kieliszak closed Plaintiff's case on January 4, 2010. (Tr. 581).

On January 29, 2010, Plaintiff visited Dr. Brown for chronic fatigue, joint pain, and joint weakness. (Tr. 272-74). Dr. Brown assessed Rheumatoid Arthritis, pain in limb, and Vitamin D deficiency, and recommended Neurontin® for the joint pain. (Tr. 272-73).

On February 17, 2010, Plaintiff saw Dr. Andreea Coca at the University of Rochester Medical Center (" URMC" ), complaining of joint pain. (Tr. 252-54). Dr. Coca determined Plaintiff had " lateral elbow tendonitis," " left lateral epicondylitis on her elbow," and " bilateral patellofemeroal syndrome." (Tr. 257). On February 24, 2010, Dr. Coca determined Plaintiff had a combination of inflammatory and non-inflammatory joint pain, and recommended Plaintiff try a steroid to help her symptoms. (Tr. 253-54). Dr. ...

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