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Maniscalco v. Colvin

United States District Court, S.D. New York

January 22, 2015




Plaintiff Vanessa Marie Maniscalco filed this action pursuant to Section 205(g) of the Social Security Act (the "Act"), 42 U.S.C. ยง 405(g), seeking review of a decision of the Acting Commissioner of Social Security (the "Commissioner") that denied Plaintiff's application for Social Security Disability Insurance ("SSDI") based on a finding that Plaintiff was not disabled under the Act. The parties have cross-moved for judgment on the pleadings. Because the Commissioner's decision is supported by substantial evidence, Defendant's motion is granted, and Plaintiff's motion is denied.


A. Plaintiff's Physical and Mental Ailments

Plaintiff, born in 1975, claims disability since March 23, 2007, as a result of back impairment, hip pain, asthma, depression and anxiety, and carpal tunnel syndrome. (SSA Rec. 37, 167, 172). Specifically, at her September 2011 administrative hearing, Plaintiff reported lower back pain radiating primarily down the right leg and leg numbness; an inability to lift her arms above eye level and bend over to pick something up from the floor; and difficulty lifting more than 5 pounds, sitting for more than 15 to 20 minutes at a time, and standing for more than 15 minutes at a time. (Id. at 54, 56-57, 74-76). Plaintiff testified that while medications alleviated her pain, they did not eliminate it completely. (Id. at 65). Plaintiff attributed the onset of her back pain to a 1996 car accident, and said that it was intermittent until 2007, when she reported it "got really bad." (Id. at 62-63).

Plaintiff lived with her husband and children, who were ages 5 and 8 at the time of the September 2011 hearing. (SSA Rec. 37-38). Her mother, grandmother, and other family members helped her care for her children. (Id. at 39). Plaintiff spent the majority of her days in bed, watching television, and occasionally using a computer, on which she would do light online shopping, check and send email, and pay bills. (Id. at 59, 68-71). She usually interacted with her children while lying in bed. (Id. at 62). Sometimes her family brought her meals in bed, and sometimes she left her bedroom to eat in the dining area. (Id. at 59-60). She estimated that she spent approximately one hour outside her bedroom each day. (Id. at 67). Plaintiff reported that she did not do the laundry or the dishes, and that she had not done any household chores since 2006. (Id. at 60-61). Her husband did most of the chores. (Id. at 61). Plaintiff stated that she could put on a shirt, but that putting on pants was difficult for her because she had trouble bending over. (Id. at 73-74). Plaintiff had an unrestricted driver's license. (Id. at 89). While usually a family member would take her or her daughter (who has a chronic illness called cyclic vomiting syndrome) to the doctor, she could drive herself or her daughter if there were an emergency. (Id. at 88-92).

Plaintiff also reported problems with concentration and attention. (SSA Rec. 75). Plaintiff stated that her depression had gotten worse since 2007. (Id. at 63). She claimed to have difficulty sleeping because of her pain and depression, and took medication to help her sleep. (Id. at 65). Plaintiff reported symptoms of anxiety, such as racing thoughts and an inability to focus, and stated that she had crying spells once or twice a day. (Id. at 66-67).

B. Plaintiff's Medical Evaluations

It is uncontested that for Plaintiff to qualify for SSDI, her disability must have begun on or before December 31, 2008, when her insured status expired under the Act. ( See Pl. Br. 1 n.1; Def. Br. 2). As noted above, Plaintiff claims the onset of disability occurred on March 23, 2007 (SSA Rec. 167), meaning the relevant period for her SSDI claim runs from March 23, 2007, through December 31, 2008 ( id. at 23, 95).[2]

1. Medical Evidence Prior to December 31, 2008

Prior to the alleged onset of her disability, in 1996, the same year she had her car accident, Plaintiff underwent magnetic resonance imaging ("MRI") of the lumbar spine. (SSA Rec. 243). The test revealed small central disk bulges at vertebrae L1-2, L2-3, and L5-S1 levels, and moderate central disk bulges at L3-4 and L4-5. (Id. ). Otherwise, it showed that Plaintiff's nerve roots and exit foramina were "unremarkable, " and that there was no significant spondylosis or facet degenerative disease. (Id. ).[3]

The first record of medical treatment during the relevant time period occurred on September 18, 2007, when Plaintiff saw Dr. Parvez Memon of East-West Medical Group LLC for asthma and left hip pain. (SSA Rec. 297-98). Dr. Memon reported Plaintiff's prior medical history only as "asthma." (Id. at 297). Dr. Memon assessed Plaintiff as having an upper respiratory infection, bronchospasm, asthma, and left hip pain. (Id. at 297-98). On October 5, 2007, an x-ray of Plaintiff's hip came back negative. (Id. at 281).

On November 2, 2007, Plaintiff had an appointment with Dr. Memon in follow-up to her previous complaint of hip pain and to discuss new complaints of cold symptoms, anxiety, depression, and decreased sleep. (SSA Rec. 301). On examination, Dr. Memon determined that Plaintiff's left hip had full range of motion with no sign of mass or tumor on palpation. (Id. ). Dr. Memon assessed Plaintiff as having an upper respiratory infection, asthma (which was stable), hip pain, and "anxiety/depression/insomnia, " for which he prescribed Lexapro.[4]

On December 5, 2007, it appears that Plaintiff reported pain radiating to the middle of her lower back. (SSA Rec. 302).[5] On January 18, 2008, an MRI of Plaintiff's pelvis and left hip revealed no soft tissue or bone injury. (Id. at 279-80).[6] On May 14, 2008, Dr. Memon authorized another prescription for Lexapro. (Id. at 299).

On October 31, 2008, Plaintiff saw Dr. Memon with complaints of severe right-sided headaches for the previous two days and mild nasal congestion. (SSA Rec. 299-300). Dr. Memon's assessment was severe headaches and sinusitis. (Id. ).[7] He prescribed Ultram, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs ("NSAIDS"), and Zithromax (a "Z-Pack"). (Id. ).[8] Dr. Memon also offered to refer Plaintiff for a computed tomography ("CT") scan. (Id. at 300).[9]

2. Medical Evidence Subsequent to December 31, 2008

There is no record of Plaintiff having sought or received any medical treatment in 2009. She did, however, consult with several doctors between 2010 and 2012.

a. Quasar Choudhury, M.D.

On July 21, 2010, Dr. Quasar Choudhury examined Plaintiff, who was complaining of sinus symptoms and lower back pain that she indicated she experienced after bending over. (SSA Rec. 272-73). Dr. Choudhury's assessment was sinusitis and low back and neck pain. (Id. at 272).

On July 29, 2010, Plaintiff underwent an MRI exam of her cervical and lumbar spine. (SSA Rec. 285-86). As it concerns the cervical spine, the MRI results showed some "mild disc bulging" that was "age appropriate, " and was otherwise normal. (Id. at 285). As for the lumbar spine, the MRI results revealed, at L4-5, a right lateral neural foraminal tear and protrusion, which impinged the existing L4 nerve root. (Id. at 286).

From August through December 2010, Dr. Choudhury saw Plaintiff on approximately a monthly basis. ( See SSA Rec. 267-71). On August 3, 2010, Plaintiff saw Dr. Choudhury in follow-up to her MRI results. ( See id. at 286, 271). Dr. Choudhury's notes from this visit reflect Plaintiff's first complaint of right upper extremity symptoms, and he recorded a positive finding for carpal tunnel syndrome. (Id. at 271). On August 18, 2010, Plaintiff returned to Dr. Choudhury's office complaining of continued back and arm pain numbness in her legs. (Id. at 270). Dr. Choudhury noted that Plaintiff also informed him during that examination that she had experienced depression since 1990. (Id. ). On September 30, 2010, Plaintiff came in complaining of low back pain ( id. at 269), and the following month, on October 26, 2010, Plaintiff came in complaining of low back and left hip pain ( id. at 268). At a visit in December 2010, Plaintiff complained primarily of bronchial symptoms, but also of low back pain. (Id. at 267).

In late 2010, Dr. Choudhury completed a "Multiple Impairment Questionnaire" at the request of the Social Security Administration. (SSA Rec. 261-65).[10] Dr. Choudhury reported that he first examined Plaintiff in May 2010, and saw her on an approximately monthly basis. (Id. at 262). Dr. Choudhury listed Plaintiff's treating diagnosis as low back pain secondary to degenerative disease. (Id. ). He noted that treatment included pain management with Vicodin, which had a side effect of fatigue. (Id. at 261). He described her back pain as moderate to severe. (Id. at 262, 264).

Dr. Choudhury described Plaintiff's condition as "chronic/permanent" and her prognosis as "guarded, " and noted that she displayed no behavior suggestive of a significant psychiatric disorder. (SSA Rec. 261). He further noted that cause of the low back pain was a motor vehicle accident in 1996. (Id. ). As it concerned Plaintiff's ability to work, Dr. Choudhury stated that Plaintiff could occasionally lift and carry up to 10 pounds, could stand or walk for up to 2 hours, and could sit for up to 6 hours per day. (Id. at 264). He further noted that Plaintiff was limited in her ability to push or pull, but did not specify which body part was affected or note the degree of any limitation. (Id. ). He also reported that there were no other conditions that were significant to Plaintiff's recovery. (Id. at 265).

On March 15, 2011, three months after her previous appointment with Dr. Choudhury, Plaintiff returned complaining of a cough and cold. (SSA Rec. 266). A pulmonary function test performed that same day was normal. (Id. at 278). In addition, Plaintiff recounted having lower back pain since 2008. (Id. at 266). Dr. Choudhury's records indicate that, during that visit, Plaintiff requested a letter of disability to cover year 2008. (Id. ).

On May 11, 2011, Dr. Choudhury completed a second "Multiple Impairment Questionnaire" for Plaintiff, in which he noted that he last saw Plaintiff in March 2011, and saw her approximately every three months. (SSA Rec. 289-96). This time, however, Dr. Choudhury wrote that the symptoms and limitations contained in his report were applicable as of 1996. (Id. at 295). He reported that his diagnoses were lumbosacral spine disc disease, cervical spine degenerative joint disease, and right carpal tunnel syndrome. (Id. at 289). He stated that Plaintiff's prognosis was "poor." (Id. ).

Dr. Choudhury described Plaintiff's pain as constant and as a "4" ("moderate") on a scale of 1 to 10. (SSA Rec. 291). He opined that, on an average work day, Plaintiff could not stand, sit, or walk for more than one hour. (Id. ). Additionally, he noted that he did not recommend Plaintiff sitting continuously in a work setting, and that she would need to get up and move around every 15 to 20 minutes. (Id. ). Dr. Choudhury further stated that Plaintiff exhibited constant fatigue, and could not tolerate low stress. (Id. at 294).

On June 14, 2011, Plaintiff returned to Dr. Choudhury, complaining of back pain, a right arm that "bother[ed]" her, and fatigue. (SSA Rec. 313). Dr. Choudhury also saw Plaintiff in July and September 2011, for complaints of respiratory problems and back pain. (Id. at 310, 314-15). On September 11, 2011, Dr. Choudhury performed a peripheral arterial flow ...

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