United States District Court, W.D. New York
MICHAEL S. NAUMOVSKI, Plaintiff,
CAROLYN COLVIN, Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.
MICHAEL A. TELESCA, District Judge.
Michael Naumovski ("Plaintiff"), represented by counsel, brings this action pursuant to Title II of the Social Security Act ("the Act"), seeking review of the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security ("the Commissioner") denying his application for Disability Insurance Benefits ("DIB").
II. Procedural History
Plaintiff applied for DIB on June 27, 2005, alleging disability beginning February 28, 2005, due to numerous impairments, including degenerative disk disease, radiculopathy, and stenosis; diabetes and associated neuropathy; carpal tunnel syndrome; weakness of the upper and lower right extremities; and obesity. T.41-46. After his application was denied, Plaintiff appeared with counsel at a hearing before Administrative Law Judge Bruce Mazzarella ("the ALJ") on April 2, 2008. T.258-302. The ALJ issued an unfavorable decision on June 2, 2008. T.17-29. The Appeals Counsel denied Plaintiff's request for review on August 6, 2009. T.3-5. Plaintiff then filed an appeal in this Court. Naumovski v. Astrue, No. 1:09-cv-00862-RJA-HBS (W.D.N.Y. 2009)
On August 26, 2010, Magistrate Judge Hugh B. Scott issued a report and recommendation agreeing with Plaintiff that the ALJ's decision was not based on substantial evidence because it relied on pre-onset-date medical evidence and ignored much of the post-onsetdate medical evidence, namely, the treatment notes of treating physician Andrew Matteliano, M.D. The Court (Arcara, D.J.) adopted the report and recommendation, and the matter was remanded for further administrative proceedings. T.350-58.
A new hearing was held on July 20, 2011, before the same ALJ, T.623-49, who issued an unfavorable decision on August 22, 2011. T.323-35. The Appeals Council declined to assume jurisdiction, T.314-16, stating that the ALJ had provided persuasive explanations for the weight he had given all the medical opinions and had established a residual functional capacity consistent with the record.
This action followed. Presently before the Court are the parties' motions for judgment on the pleadings pursuant to Rule 12(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.
III. Summary of the Administrative Record
A. Medical Evidence Prior to February 28, 2005
Plaintiff was involved in a serious motor vehicle accident at work on March 24, 2003, in which he sustained injuries to his neck, left shoulder, and lower back. T.224. He did not return to work after the accident. Between May 1, 2003 and February 19, 2005, Dr. Matteliano, a physical medicine and rehabilitation specialist, regularly treated Plaintiff for his spinal impairments. See T.224, 427-428.
On June 27, 2003, MRI studies of the thoracic spine showed significant multilevel disk disease, with moderate disk herniations at T3-4, T4-5, and T8-9. The T3-4, T4-5, and T8-9 herniations indented the thecal sac and impinged the left ventral aspect of the spinal cord. T.232. A small to moderate herniation at T5-6 slightly indented the thecal sac and partially effaced the ventral subarachnoid space. Small herniations were present at T6-7 and T7-8, along with a disk bulge at T2-3. T. 232, 233.
On February 19, 2005, cervical MRI studies showed mild spondylosis at C4-5 with facet and uncovertebral hypertrophy resulting in mild bilateral foraminal stenosis with a small left disk herniation slightly indenting the thecal sac; mild spondylosis at C5-6 with a mild disk bulge protruding slightly asymmetrically to the right of midline compared to the 2003 study, and facet and uncovertebral hypertrophy with mild bilateral foraminal stenosis; minimal stenosis at C6-C7 with a small central protrusion minimally indenting the thecal sac, not present in the 2003 study; and evidence of upper to mid-thoracic disk disease. T.229.
After a four-month work hardening program, Dr. Matteliano released Plaintiff to perform heavy work on April 5, 2004. T.207. However, Plaintiff was unable to sustain that exertional level and relapsed.
On January 28, 2005, Dr. Matteliano noted Plaintiff had been missing work due to worsening cervical spine pain which radiated down both arms. Dr. Matteliano observed associated dysesthesia and weakness in both wrists. Cervical range of motion was restricted, with tenderness in the lower cervical elements and flattening of the cervical lordosis. Loss of sensation to pinprick was noted along the dorsum of each forearm. T.190. Plaintiff had decreased grip strength (4) bilaterally and loss of strength (4/5) bilaterally of the wrist extensors. T.191.
B. Medical Evidence On or After February 28, 2005
On February 28, 2005, Dr. Matteliano reviewed the results of Plaintiff's cervical spine MRI, noting cervical foraminal stenosis, along with degenerative pathological changes in comparison to the previous imaging studies. Plaintiff had been experiencing upper extremity pain and numbness, which limited his ability to turn or bend his neck; loss of sensation over the dorsum of the forearm; and continued left arm weakness. T.188. Based on his examination findings and the recent cervical spine MRI, Dr. Matteliano found that Plaintiff had a total, temporary disability. T.189.
From March through September of 2005, Dr. Matteliano regularly treated Plaintiff, who continued to attend physical therapy but was unable to return to work. On each examination, Dr. Matteliano increased the projected length of time that Plaintiff would be out of work. Dr. Matteliano's notes indicate that Plaintiff experienced some short-term improvements followed by worsening of his condition. T.178-87.
On September 16, 2005, Dr. Matteliano noted that Plaintiff continued to have pain in the thoracic and cervical spinal regions and pain in his left shoulder, with decreased range of motion. Palpitation elicited paraspinal muscle spasm of the thoracic spine. T.176.
On September 20, 2005, consultative physician Fenwei Meng, M.D. examined Plaintiff at the Commissioner's request. Plaintiff had decreased range of motion in the cervical and lumbar spinal regions, and in the shoulders. T.149. Dr. Meng opined that Plaintiff had minimal limitations in manual dexterity and moderate limitations in bending and extending the cervical spine, and turning the head to the side. Plaintiff had mild limitations in lumbar bending, extension, twisting, and heavy lifting; ...