United States District Court, S.D. New York
ELIZABETH A. MATOS, Plaintiff,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.
REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION
JAMES L. COTT, District Judge.
To the Honorable Colleen McMahon, United States District Judge:
Pro se plaintiff Elizabeth Matos brings this action pursuant to Section 205(g) of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), seeking judicial review of a final determination by the Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner") denying her applications for Supplemental Security Income ("SSI") and Disability Insurance Benefits ("DIB"). The Commissioner has moved for judgment on the pleadings pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(c). For the reasons set forth below, I recommend that the motion be granted.
A. Procedural History
Elizabeth Matos filed applications for SSI and DIB on March 28, 2011, alleging she was unable to work as of February 22, 2011 due to an unspecified disabling condition. Administrative Record ("R.") (Dkt. No. 13), at 73. On June 1, 2011, the Social Security Administration ("SSA") denied both applications, determining that she was not disabled based on claims of hypertension, asthma, or depression. Id. at 84. Matos requested a hearing and subsequently appeared without counsel before Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") Michael J. Stacchini on December 2, 2011. Id. at 29-72, 90. In a decision issued on December 16, 2011, the ALJ found that Matos was not disabled as a result of either her SSI or DIB claims. Id. at 11-22. Matos then sought review of the ALJ's decision by the SSA Appeals Council on December 16, 2011, which was denied on May 17, 2013, making the ALJ's decision the final determination of the Commissioner. Id.
On June 28, 2013, Matos, again proceeding pro se, commenced this action by timely filing a form complaint (Dkt. No. 2), seeking judicial review of the ALJ decision pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and/or 1383(c)(3). Matos was granted informapauperis status on July 1, 2013. (Dkt. No. 4). Matos then filed an Amended Complaint ("Am. Compl.") on July 24, 2013, attaching additional medical records for the period of January 5, 2012 to July 5, 2013 (Dkt. No. 10). The Commissioner filed her answer on November 4, 2013 (Dkt. No. 12) and, on January 23, 2014, moved for judgment on the pleadings pursuant to Rule 12(c). See Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings (Dkt. No. 19); Memorandum of Law in Support of Judgment on the Pleadings ("Def. Mem.") (Dkt. No. 20). Matos has not filed any opposition to the motion; however, on March 27, 2014, she filed a letter with the Court, to which was attached an unsworn note from her doctor and additional medical records from the period of January 2, 2014 to March 11, 2014. (Dkt. No. 23). The Commissioner submitted no response to Matos' letter.
B. Administrative Record
1. Matos' History
Matos was born on July 27, 1957 and, at the time of her application, was 53 years old. R. at 81-82. She has completed an eleventh-grade education. Id. at 55. Matos resides in an apartment in the Bronx with her husband and two pet poodles. Id. at 41. She stands four feet seven inches tall and weighs 130 to 135 pounds. See id. at 178, 708.
Between November 1989 and February 22, 2011, Matos worked as a sales clerk for a pharmacy. Id. at 179. She spent approximately 90 percent of her day working as a cashier, which included standing for a majority of the time. Id. at 42. Some of her additional duties were to tag merchandise and stock shelves. Id. at 42-43. Her employment ended when the pharmacy could not afford a rent increase and went out of business. Id. at 43. She has been unemployed since February 22, 2011 and was receiving unemployment insurance benefits at the time of her ALJ hearing. Id. at 45.
According to Matos' ALJ hearing testimony, she remained unemployed mainly due to her medical conditions and, in part, due to her inability to find work. Id. at 43, 53. Matos claimed that she sought employment following the close of the pharmacy but stopped searching due to the removal of two kidney stones and related complications, which resulted in three surgeries. Id. Matos also stated that, although her recovery from the kidney surgeries was "under control, " her asthma difficulties had delayed any renewed efforts to seek employment. Id. at 44, 46. She indicated that she was waiting to receive an asthma shot before resuming her employment search due to fear that a prospective employer would find her medical history unappealing. Id. at 47-48. Matos typically would be absent from work approximately once per month due to her asthma. Id. at 48-49. She stated that she had, on occasion, been capable of walking up 15 flights of stairs to her apartment, but that she climbed to the top only with great difficulty. Id. at 54. Matos also experienced hypertension, which she took medication to control. Id. at 52. She had previous difficulties with her back, although Matos was not taking medication. Id. at 53.
2. Medical Evidence
a. Lincoln Medical Center
Matos was treated at Lincoln Medical Center ("Lincoln"), her primary care facility, by numerous doctors between February 22, 2011 and December 16, 2011. See generally id. at 687-1241. Matos, who was a smoker until 2000, has a longstanding history with asthma. See e.g., Id. at 1064, 1156. She was admitted to Lincoln with moderate persistent asthma on April 6, 2011 and remained hospitalized for two days for acute asthma exacerbation. Id. at 700, 1137. However, she did not require intubation and has never been intubated as a result of her asthma. Id. at 19, 1064. At the time of discharge, Matos continued to experience "mild diffuse wheezing but with good air entry." Id. at 1137. She was permitted to return slowly to her usual activities, as tolerated. Id. at 700. At a follow-up appointment on April 15, 2011, the examining physician determined that her asthma was under control. Id. at 1160.
As part of a pulmonary function report compiled on May 5, 2011, a spirometry test demonstrated that Matos had a forced airway volume in one second of 80% and a forced vital capacity of 87%, numbers indicating minimal signs of obstructive airway disease. Id. at 19, 712. However, in June 2011, Matos visited Lincoln twice more in order to determine a monitoring and treatment plan. Id. at 1150, 1154. In July 2011, Matos was admitted multiple times with asthma-related complications and complained of shortness of breath, coughing, wheezing, and exacerbation of her conditions due to heat and humidity. See id. at 1162-1198. She was assessed as having moderate persistent asthma, with no improvement to her cough and wheezing despite treatment. Id. at 1195.
A radiology report taken on July 5, 2011 stated that she had an "essentially clear chest." Id. at 959. A July 10, 2011 radiology report established that there had been no significant change. Id. at 1216. Progress notes indicate that Matos was stable and in no apparent distress. Id. at 1192, 1195, 1197. On August 16, 2011, a follow-up radiology examination again noted no significant changes from the previous report. Id. at 1103. However, during another visit to the Lincoln emergency room on August 18, 2011, Matos was again diagnosed with moderate persistent asthma with acute exacerbation. Id. at 1103. During an August 29, 2011 visit, the attending physician noted that she had severe persistent asthma that was poorly controlled, but that Matos was not in acute distress. Id. at 1203. The report also noted that Matos was a good candidate for an additional asthma drug, and should begin use following an upcoming surgery. Id. at 1204. Matos was again seen on November 22, 2011 at Lincoln, and her asthma was reported as being controlled by a "variety of inhaled, oral, inject[ed] and nebulized medications." Id. at 1220. The attending physician advised that Matos should avoid exertion and exposure to heat, humidity, cold air, colds, pets, and pollen, as they could trigger asthma attacks. Id.
ii. Other Health Issues
After being diagnosed with kidney stones, Matos underwent a series of surgeries on August 30, September 23, October 6, and November 17, 2011 to remove them. Id. at 1069, 1079, 1084, 1115. At the ALJ hearing, Matos stated that she no longer had pain from the kidney stones, although she reported she still had one small stone which was being monitored and required follow-up to ensure that it was under control. Id. at 43-44. Matos' records also include a diagnosis of hypertension, but consistently describe it as benign and well-controlled by medication. See e.g., id. at 20, 1150, 1159, 1170. Radiology examinations of her lungs and kidneys also revealed degenerative changes to the dorsal spine. Id. at 1217. As for treatment of mental health issues, Matos' records indicated that she denied having any anxiety while also listing it under her prior medical problems. Compare id. at 1150, with id. at 1167 and id. at 1223.
b. Consultative Examinations
Upon referral from the SSA, Dr. Sharon Revan performed a consultative physical examination of Matos on May 2, 2011. Id. at 710. Revan diagnosed Matos with asthma, hypertension, and hypercholesterolemia. Id. at 709. Revan observed that Matos did not appear to be in acute distress, had a normal gait, could walk on her heels and toes without difficulty, could squat fully, and could rise from her chair without difficulty. Id. at 708. Revan noted mild limitations with walking long distances due to shortness of breath and limitations with sitting due to back pain. Id. at 710. ...