United States District Court, W.D. New York
MIRIAM L. CRAWFORD, Plaintiff,
MICHAEL J. ASTRUE,  COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.
DECISION & ORDER
MARIAN W. PAYSON, Magistrate Judge.
Plaintiff Miriam L. Crawford ("Crawford") brings this action pursuant to Section 205(g) of the Social Security Act (the "Act"), 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), seeking judicial review of a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security (the "Commissioner") denying her applications for Supplemental Security Income and Disability Insurance Benefits ("SSI/DIB"). Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c), the parties have consented to the disposition of this case by a United States magistrate judge. (Docket # 10).
Currently before the Court are the parties' motions for judgment on the pleadings pursuant to Rule 12(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. (Docket ## 12, 13). For the reasons set forth below, this Court finds that the decision of the Commissioner is supported by substantial evidence in the record and complies with applicable legal standards. Accordingly, the Commissioner's motion for judgment on the pleadings is granted, and Crawford's motion for judgment on the pleadings is denied.
I. Procedural Background
Crawford applied for SSI/DIB alleging disability beginning on January 1, 2009, due to depression, a learning disability, and ankle and knee pain and swelling. (Tr. 141-51). On July 1, 2010, the Social Security Administration denied Crawford's claims for benefits, finding that she was not disabled. (Tr. 85-92). Crawford requested and was granted a hearing before Administrative Law Judge David S. Lewandowski (the "ALJ"). (Tr. 93-94, 134-35). The ALJ conducted a hearing on August 25, 2011. (Tr. 26-56). Crawford was represented at the hearing by her attorney, Kelly Laga, Esq. (Tr. 26, 107). In a decision dated October 3, 2011, the ALJ found that Crawford was not disabled and was not entitled to benefits. (Tr. 12-21).
On December 20, 2012, the Appeals Council denied Crawford's request for review of the ALJ's decision. (Tr. 1-4). Crawford commenced this action on February 11, 2013 seeking review of the Commissioner's decision. (Docket # 1). Crawford had previously applied for benefits, which the Commissioner denied by final decision dated May 13, 2009. (Tr. 218).
II. Non-Medical Evidence
A. Crawford's Applications for Benefits
Crawford was born on August 9, 1970 and is now forty-four years old. (Tr. 141). Crawford graduated from high school in 1989 and completed certified nursing assistant ("CNA") training in 2004. (Tr. 208). Crawford's previous work history includes employment as a security guard, resident counselor, a CNA or home health aide, and a cleaner. (Tr. 209). Crawford was employed as a resident counselor for the Department of Health from 1994 through 1997. ( Id. ). Next, Crawford worked as a security guard for a security company from 1997 until 1999. ( Id. ). For the following six years, from 1999 through 2005, Crawford worked as a CNA or home health aide for various nursing homes. ( Id. ). Finally, from January 2004 through February 2010, Crawford performed cleaning services for a nursing home. ( Id. ).
Crawford has two children. (Tr. 142). At the time of her application, Crawford reported that she was able to prepare meals on a daily basis. (Tr. 200). According to Crawford, it takes approximately one hour to prepare a meal, and she now sits in a chair while cooking. ( Id. ). Crawford performs household chores with the help of her daughter and goes outside approximately five days per week. (Tr. 201). Crawford has a driver's licence, but does not drive because it hurts her legs. ( Id. ). Crawford is able to leave the house without assistance and is able to shop for groceries and clothing. (Tr. 201-02). According to Crawford, she is able to manage her finances and handle a savings account. ( Id. ). Crawford reported that her hobbies include reading and sewing, which she engages in "all the time." ( Id. ).
Crawford attends a class at Rochester Mental Health five times a week and does not have any problems interacting with others. (Tr. 203-04). According to Crawford, her medications have eliminated any effects from stress or changes in her schedule. (Tr. 205). Crawford contends that her impairments have limited her ability to walk and that activities such as lifting, standing, walking, sitting, climbing stairs, kneeling, squatting and reaching sometimes cause her pain. (Tr. 203). Crawford wears a brace to assist her when walking that was prescribed by her physician, David Chazan. (Tr. 204). According to Crawford, she is able to walk for approximately five minutes before needing to rest for approximately thirty minutes. ( Id. ).
Crawford reports that she has experienced pain in her legs and knees since approximately 2005. (Tr. 220). Crawford has been evaluated for her pain symptoms and takes medication to manage the pain. (Tr. 220-21). According to Crawford, the medication does not relieve her pain and does not cause any side effects. ( Id. ). Crawford reported that when she is in pain, she tries to stay off her legs. (Tr. 221).
B. The Disability Analyst's Assessment
On June 30, 2010, disability analyst M. Duffy ("Duffy") completed a Physical Residual Functional Capacity Assessment ("RFC"). (Tr. 75-80). Duffy opined that Crawford could frequently lift ten pounds. (Tr. 76). According to Duffy, Crawford could stand or walk for at least two hours during an eight-hour workday and could sit for at least six hours in an eight-hour workday. ( Id. ). According to Duffy, Crawford had no limitations in her ability to push or pull. ( Id. ). In addition, Duffy opined that Crawford could occasionally climb ladders, ropes or scaffolds. (Tr. 77). Duffy opined that Crawford did not have any further physical limitations. (Tr. 79). Duffy also opined that the severity of limitations presented by Crawford during her physical consultative examination appeared inflated as compared with the limitations reflected in her medical records. ( Id. ).
III. Relevant Medical Evidence
A. Physical Health Treatment Records
On January 3, 2005, Crawford had a medical appointment with Rochester Foot Care Associates related to complaints of a swollen ankle. (Tr. 388). Crawford was diagnosed with tendinitis and an ankle sprain. ( Id. ). Treatment notes indicate that Crawford had been examined previously and had been prescribed Medrol. ( Id. ). According to Crawford, the medicine had provided some relief, but Crawford had missed her next three appointments, making it impossible to evaluate her progress. ( Id. ). Crawford was prescribed Mobic and advised to follow-up in two weeks. ( Id. ).
Crawford returned to Rochester Foot Care Associates on January 18, 2005. (Tr. 387). Crawford was assessed to suffer from continued pain and inflammation of both ankles with accompanying tendinitis. ( Id. ). Crawford was advised to continue Mobic, which was working well, and to follow up in four weeks. ( Id. ). Treatment notes suggest that Crawford rescheduled and then cancelled her follow-up appointment. ( Id. ).
In 2008, Crawford received nutrition counseling, weight management treatment and advice regarding a gastric bypass procedure from Oak Orchard Community Health Center. (Tr. 266-82). In addition, Crawford complained of knee pain and requested a referral for physical therapy. (Tr. 272). Xrays taken on May 17, 2008 revealed moderate to marked right patellofemoral joint space narrowing in the right knee and mild medial compartment and marked patellofemoral compartment degenerative osteoarthritis in the left knee. (Tr. 281-82). On June 16, 2008, Crawford reported that the physical therapy sessions were beneficial. (Tr. 274). Physician assistant Karyn Mesiti ("Mesiti") noted that Crawford's knee pain appeared to be improving with physical therapy. ( Id. ).
On December 15, 2008, Crawford began receiving treatment from the Culver Medical Group. (Tr. 392). On that date, Crawford met Sarah Bolduc ("Bolduc"), MD. (Tr. 393). Crawford expressed a desire to lose weight and wanted to discuss bariatric surgery. (Tr. 392). Crawford was advised to exercise regularly and to maintain a heart healthy diet. (Tr. 393).
On December 26, 2008, Crawford began treatment with Daniel Tellem ("Tellem"), MD, at Westside Podiatry. (Tr. 325). Crawford complained of hammertoe deformities in both feet stating that she had suffered from the deformities since childhood, but that they had become increasingly painful. ( Id. ). Upon examination, Tellem noted that Crawford had painless, full range of motion in her ankle joint, subtalar joint and midtarsal joint. ( Id. ). Tellem diagnosed Crawford with hammertoes and recommended arthroplasty procedures of all digits in both feet. ( Id. ). Treatment notes indicate that Crawford received pre-operative counseling on January 9, 2009 and underwent surgery on her left foot in January 16, 2009. (Tr. 318-19, 326). On January 30, 2009, Crawford's sutures were removed. (Tr. 327). Tellem determined that Crawford's pins were in excellent alignment, but that they should stay in for another three weeks. ( Id. ).
On February 9, 2009, Crawford had an appointment with Tellem for removal of the pins in her foot. (Tr. 328). The pins were successfully removed, and Tellem prescribed Mederma to be applied to the foot. ( Id. ). Crawford attended an appointment on February 16, 2009 for a follow-up examination of her left foot and for a preoperative appointment for the surgery on her right foot. ( Id. ).
Crawford had an appointment with Bolduc at Culver Medical Group on February 17, 2009, continuing to express an interest in gastric bypass surgery. (Tr. 394). Crawford reported suffering from migraines approximately twice per month and from depression. ( Id. ). Bolduc opined that she was not inclined to recommend gastric bypass surgery for Crawford because she was not exercising or making healthy food choices. (Tr. 395). In addition, according to Bolduc, Crawford's mental health records indicated that she was diagnosed with "borderline interjectional functioning." ( Id. ). Crawford was advised to consult a nutritionist and to exercise and maintain a healthier diet. ( Id. ). In addition, at her request, Crawford was referred to Rochester Mental Health for treatment. (Tr. 394-95).
On March 20, 2009, Crawford underwent arthroplasty surgery on her right foot. (Tr. 295-96). On March 23, 2009, Crawford was examined by Tellem, who noted that the pins were in perfect alignment. (Tr. 330). Crawford's sutures were removed on April 6, 2009, and her pins were removed on April 14, 2009. (Tr. 331-32). Upon examination and review of xrays, Tellem opined that everything was in "perfect alignment" and that Crawford needed to begin wearing normal shoes. (Tr. 332). During an appointment on May 18, 2009, Crawford complained that her foot was swollen. (Tr. 333). Tellem explained that the swelling would take some time to subside and noted that Crawford was not experiencing any pain. ( Id. ). At the time of the appointment, Crawford continued to wear surgical shoes. ( Id. ). Tellem advised Crawford to wear regular shoes. ( Id. ).
On June 1, 2009, Crawford returned to Culver Medical Group complaining of pain in both knees. (Tr. 396). Crawford reported feeling stiffness and pain after prolonged sitting or going up and down stairs. ( Id. ). Crawford explained that ibuprofen controlled her pain and that she wanted a referral to physical therapy, which had successfully alleviated her symptoms in the past. ( Id. ). Upon examination by Enrico Caiola ("Caiola"), MD, he noted no erythemia or swelling of the knees and mild patellar crepitus without instability. ( Id. ). Caiola referred Crawford to physical therapy and prescribed a trial of Naprosyn for pain management. ( Id. ). He advised Crawford to follow-up with Bolduc in six weeks. ( Id. ).
On June 16, 2009, Crawford met with Bolduc in order to obtain a physical examination for a new job. (Tr. 407, 464). Crawford reported suffering from migraines once or twice per week, but declined preventive medication. ( Id. ). With respect to her depression, Crawford reported that she was taking Celexa, that her symptoms were well-controlled and that she had not felt down, depressed or hopeless in the last month. ( Id. ).
On October 20, 2009, Crawford had an appointment with Bolduc at Culver Medical Group and complained of migraines and aneurism, and requested paperwork for social services. (Tr. 399). Treatment notes indicate that Crawford had a history of two cerebral aneurisms. ( Id. ). Crawford reported that she had not had a migraine for the past two weeks, that sumatriptan did not relieve her symptoms, but that ibuprofen provided some relief. ( Id. ). Treatment notes indicate that Crawford's paperwork for disability was completed. ( Id. ).
On January 12, 2010, Crawford had another appointment with Bolduc complaining of popping joints and swelling and pain in her left ankle. (Tr. 401). Crawford reported that her joints were occasionally popping with some discomfort, although there was no swelling or joint instability. ( Id. ). With respect to her ankle, Crawford reported that the pain was better in the morning and worsened during the day. ( Id. ). Upon examination, Bolduc noted that Crawford maintained full range of motion in her knees and shoulders and that there was no swelling. (Tr. 402). Crawford was positive for nonpitting edema in both her feet and ankles. ( Id. ). Boluduc recommended compression stockings for the ankle edema. ( Id. ).
On March 9, 2010, the record reflects Crawford's first appointment with Rochester Foot Care Associates since 2005. (Tr. 458). During the visit, Crawford complained of bilateral ankle pain. ( Id. ). Crawford was diagnosed with degenerative joint disease and was fitted for a tri-plane orthotic. ( Id. ).
On March 16, 2010, Crawford attended another appointment with Bolduc to have paperwork completed for surgery. (Tr. 403). Bolduc completed forms for the bariatric center and advised Crawford regarding her diet and lifestyle. ( Id. ). Bolduc noted that Crawford refused to submit to an H. pylori test because it might not have been covered by insurance. (Tr. 404).
The following month, on April 22, 2010, Crawford met with Bolduc to request a new prescription for migraines. (Tr. 405). Crawford reported experiencing approximately one migraine per week. Bolduc prescribed atenolol and recommended that Crawford recontact in three weeks if the symptoms persisted. (Tr. 406).
On May 4, 2010, Crawford received her orthotic from Rochester Foot Care Associates. (Tr. 459). She was advised to remove the insert from inside her sneaker and to return in four weeks. ( Id. ).
On June 3, 2010, state examiner Dr. Harbinder Toor ("Toor"), MD, conducted a consultative internal examination of Crawford. (Tr. 417-20). On the day of the examination, Crawford was using a walker with wheels, which she reported had been prescribed by her doctor. ( Id. ). A few days later, the disability analyst assigned to her case, M. Duffy, contacted Crawford to inquire about her use of the walker. (Tr. 231). During the telephone call, Crawford admitted that she had not been prescribed the walker, but had planned to ask her doctor to prescribe one. ( Id. ). According to Crawford, she borrowed the walker and found it helpful. ( Id. ).
During Toor's examination, Crawford reported that she had constant pain in her ankles, feet and knees that she described as constant and sharp. (Tr. 417-20). According to Crawford, she sometimes experiences swelling in the knee and ankles and reported that she suffers from arthritis in both of those areas. ( Id. ). Crawford also complained of a dull, achy pain in her back which she experiences off and on. ( Id. ). According to Crawford she has difficulty standing, walking, sitting, bending, lifting and balancing. ( Id. ). In addition, Crawford complained of a dull, achy shoulder pain, which she experiences off and on. ( Id. ). Crawford reported that she has arthritis and has difficulty reaching, pushing, pulling and lifting. ( Id. ). Crawford reported that she is unable to cook, clean, do the laundry, shop or care for her children. ( Id. ). Crawford reported that she can sometimes shower, bathe and dress herself. ( Id. ). Crawford also denied watching television, listening to the radio, reading, playing sports, socializing or having any hobbies. ( Id. ).
Upon examination, Toor noted that Crawford was moderately obese and walked with a limp towards the right side. ( Id. ). According to Toor, Crawford refused to walk on her heels or toes, squat, perform straight leg raises, or lie down on the examination table because of pain. ( Id. ). Toor noted that Crawford had difficulty getting out of her chair or standing more than a few minutes without her walker. ( Id. ). Toor noted that Crawford needed a walker because of pain and balancing problems. ( Id. ). In addition, Toor noted that Crawford did not need any assistance changing for the examination. ( Id. ).
Toor noted that Crawford's cervical spine showed full flexion and rotary movement and her lumbar spine had limited flexion with pain. ( Id. ). In addition, Toor noted that Crawford could flex her shoulders 120 degrees and had full rotation in both shoulders, although she had pain in her shoulder. ( Id. ). Toor assessed that Crawford had full range of motion in her left ankle with pain and that in her right foot her plantar flexion and dorsiflexion were twenty degrees with pain. ( Id. ). According to Toor, Crawford also expressed pain in her knees bilaterally with flexion and extension in both knees at 145 degrees. ( Id. ). Toor also noted tenderness in Crawford's knees and ankles. ( Id. ).
Toor opined that Crawford had "moderate to severe limitations standing, walking, squatting or lifting because of pain in the back, knees and ankles." ( Id. ). According to Toor, pain and balance interfere with Crawford's daily physical routine. ( Id. ). In addition, Toor opined that Crawford had moderate limitations sitting for long ...