United States District Court, E.D. New York
Plaintiff is represented by Michael Brangan, Sullivan & Kehoe, Kings Park, NY.
Defendant is represented by Loretta E. Lynch, United States Attorney, Eastern District of New York, by Jason Peck and Kenneth Abell, Central Islip, NY.
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
JOSEPH F. BIANCO, District Judge.
Plaintiff Correa brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) of the Social Security Act ("SSA"), challenging the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security ("defendant" or "Commissioner") denying plaintiff's application for disability insurance benefits. An Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") found that plaintiff had the residual functional capacity to perform "the full range" of sedentary work, of which there were a significant number of jobs in the national economy, and, therefore, that plaintiff was not disabled. The Appeals Council denied plaintiff's request for review.
The Commissioner now moves for judgment on the pleadings pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(c). Plaintiff opposes the Commissioner's motion and cross-moves for judgment on the pleadings, alleging that the ALJ's determination of plaintiff's residual functional capacity was not based on substantial evidence.
For the reasons set forth below, the Commissioner's motion for judgment on the pleadings is denied. Plaintiff's cross-motion for judgment on the pleadings is granted to the extent that it seeks a remand. Remand is warranted because the ALJ determined that plaintiff was capable of performing sedentary work, despite the absence of any evidence suggesting that she could sit for the required six hours per day, and the presence of reports by two examiners that plaintiff could only sit for 2-3 hours total in an 8-hour workday. At the very least, the ALJ was obliged to further develop the record concerning plaintiff's functional abilities and limitations, and accordingly, a remand on that issue is warranted.
A. Factual Background
The following summary of the relevant facts is based upon the Administrative Record ("AR") developed by the ALJ. A more exhaustive recitation of the facts is contained in the parties' submissions to the Court and is not repeated herein.
1. Plaintiff's Work History
Plaintiff was born in 1972 in Santo Domingo (AR at 41, 105), came to the United States in 1997 ( id. ), and has an eighth-grade education ( id. at 41-42, 134). She reads, writes, and understands English, and last worked as a clerk in two stores, from approximately 2004 to 2008. ( Id. 41-45.)
2. Plaintiff's Medical History
Plaintiff was in a car accident on April 25, 2008, and sought treatment in the emergency room for low-back and chest pain. ( Id. at 45, 178-85.) At the time, she had normal ranges of motion in her neck and back, and the diagnosis was contusion and motor vehicle accident trauma. ( Id. )
An MRI of plaintiff's cervical spine was performed on June 1, 2008, and it showed a partial fusion of the C2 and C3 vertebral bodies, small disc herniations, and a mild left neural foraminal stenosis. ( Id. at 187-88.) The next day, an MRI of the lumbar spine revealed a "[t]iny central disc herniation at L3-L4 without nerve root impingement, " as well as two bulging discs. ( Id. at 186.)
The record suggests that plaintiff underwent additional medical treatment in 2008, but the parties do not dispute that those records are unavailable. ( Id. at 173.)
On April 11, 2011, plaintiff was examined by Dr. Maan Shikara for complaints of right arm pain and associated numbness. ( Id. at 153.) She had a lump on her wrist, which Dr. Shikara diagnosed as a ganglion cyst, and although her ranges of motion in all four extremities and her neurological examination were normal, Dr. Shikara also assessed herniated discs in the cervical and lumbar spine. ( Id. )
On April 30, 2011, plaintiff underwent NCV studies which revealed moderate right sensorimotor median nerve neuropathy at the wrist, consistent with carpal tunnel syndrome. ( Id. 158-61.) On May 5, 2011, Dr. Erika Hiby diagnosed carpal tunnel syndrome (as well as low back pain) and noted plaintiff's decreased right-hand grasp. ( Id. at 152.)
On referral from Dr. Hiby, plaintiff saw Dr. Christopher Durant, an orthopedic surgeon, on June 1, 2011. ( Id. at 202-03.) Dr. Durant also diagnosed right carpal tunnel syndrome, and plaintiff agreed to have surgery. ( Id. ) Dr. Durant performed the surgery on July 7, 2011, and by July 20, 2011, plaintiff was ...