United States District Court, E.D. New York
ANNE M. LECOIN-SUPPLICE, Plaintiff,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.
MEMORANDUM & ORDER
DORA L. IRIZARRY, District Judge.
On November 3, 2005, Plaintiff Anne M. Lecoin-Supplice ("Plaintiff") filed an application for Social Security disability insurance benefits ("DIB") under the Social Security Act (the "Act"), alleging disability beginning on August 16, 2002. ( See Certified Administrative Record ("R."), Dkt. Entry No. 23 at 157-59.) Her application was denied and she timely requested a hearing. (R. 46.) On May 11, 2007, Plaintiff appeared with counsel and testified at a hearing before Administrative Law Judge Katherine Edgell ("ALJ Edgell"). (R. 466-86.) By a decision dated May 25, 2007, ALJ Edgell concluded Plaintiff was not disabled within the meaning of the Act. (R. 48-56.) Plaintiff requested review of the decision by the Appeals Council (R. 75.), which remanded the claim for further proceedings (R. 76-79.)
On March 13, 2008, Plaintiff appeared with counsel and testified at a hearing before Administrative Law Judge Marilyn Hoppenfeld ("ALJ Hoppenfeld"). (R. 487-537.) By a decision dated July 24, 2008, ALJ Hoppenfeld found Plaintiff not disabled. (R. 57-72.) On September 4, 2008, Plaintiff requested review of the decision by the Appeals Council. (R. 100.) Additionally, Plaintiff filed a second DIB application with an alleged onset date of July 25, 2008, which was granted on October 31, 2008. (R. 112.) On August 10, 2009, the Appeals Council issued a decision reopening the favorable decision on the DIB application with the alleged onset date of July 25, 2008, combining that claim with the earlier claim, and remanding both for additional proceedings. (R. 119-22.) On March 12, 2010, Plaintiff appeared with counsel at a second hearing before ALJ Hoppenfeld to address the issues remanded by the Appeals Council on the consolidated claims. (R. 538-619.) By a decision dated May 25, 2010, ALJ Hoppenfeld found Plaintiff not disabled. Plaintiff requested review of the decision by the Appeals Council. (R. 126-27.) On July 27, 2011, the Appeals Council remanded Plaintiff's consolidated claim for additional proceedings. (R. 137-40.)
On January 3, 2012, Plaintiff appeared with counsel at her fourth hearing and testified before Administrative Law Judge Hazel Strauss ("ALJ Strauss"). (R. 620-712.) By a decision dated July 19, 2012, ALJ Strauss found Plaintiff not disabled. (R. 11-33.) Plaintiff requested that the Appeals Council review ALJ Strauss's decision. (R. 9.) However, on March 18, 2013, ALJ Strauss's decision became the Commissioner's final decision when the Appeals Council declined to review the decision. (R. 3-5.)
Plaintiff filed the instant appeal seeking judicial review of the denial of benefits, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). ( See Complaint ("Compl."), Dkt. Entry No. 1.) Plaintiff moved, pursuant to Rule 12(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, for judgment on the pleadings, seeking reversal of the Commissioner's decision, or alternatively, remand. ( See Pl.'s Mem. in Supp. of Mot. for J. on the Pleadings ("Pl. Mem."), Dkt. Entry No. 18.) The Commissioner cross-moved for judgment on the pleadings and opposed Plaintiff's motion. ( See Mem. of Law in Supp. of Def.'s Mot. for J. on the Pleadings ("Def. Mem."), Dkt. Entry No. 20.) For the reasons set forth below, Plaintiff's motion is granted in part and the Commissioner's motion is denied. This action is remanded to the Commissioner for additional proceedings.
A. Non-Medical and Self-Reported Evidence
Plaintiff was born in 1951 and was 51 years old on the alleged onset date. (R. 625.) She attended one year of college. (Id. ) Prior to her alleged onset date, she had a long career with the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, working as a help desk representative, an administrative assistant, and an administrative clerk. (R. 659-74.)
Plaintiff became injured, and thus, unable to work, after a motor vehicle accident in August 2002. (R. 477.) Initially, she missed four to five months of work due to the injuries she sustained to her neck and back. (R. 479.) She returned to work for approximately two to three weeks and was offered a buyout. (R. 479, 660.) She has not worked since then.
On May 11, 2007, at her first hearing, Plaintiff testified that she could stand, walk or sit up to fifteen minutes at a time and that she needed to change positions frequently. (R. 484.) On March 13, 2008, at her second hearing, Plaintiff testified that she could walk up to ten blocks and stand for up to ten minutes, but that she was in constant pain. (R. 508.) She was able to sit for up to fifteen to twenty minutes. (R. 509.) She was unable to carry a gallon of milk without experiencing pain and complained of pain upon bending. (R. 483, 508.) She indicated that her medications were effective at decreasing her pain only occasionally and she only took them every couple of days because they upset her stomach. (R. 629.)
Plaintiff indicated that she rested in bed some days due to her pain. (R. 480.) On a typical day, she prepared breakfast and attempted a walk in the park. (Id. ) On her doctor's recommendation, she walked in a swimming pool for exercise. (R. 481.) She attended massage therapy every week. (Id. ) At the time of her first hearing, she indicated that she did not drive. (Id. ) At the time of her second hearing, she indicated that she drove occasionally, but usually got rides from her friends or her husband. (R. 494-95.) She cooked "once in a while." (R. 482, 513.) She did not perform household chores and a friend helped her with shopping. (R. 512-13.) Her husband helped her get dressed and shower. (R. 573, 578.) She travelled to her home in Florida in 2009. (R. 559.)
B. Medical Evidence
1. Medical Evidence from the Relevant Period (August 16, 2002-December 31, 2008)
On August 16, 2002, Plaintiff was taken to an emergency room after being rear-ended in a motor vehicle accident. (R. 273.) She complained of neck pain, was diagnosed with neck strain, and released that day. (R. 272.) On September 11, 2002, Plaintiff underwent magnetic resonance imaging ("MRI") of her cervical spine, which revealed disc bulges at the C4-C5 and C6-C7 levels. (R. 278.) On September 13, 2002, she underwent an MRI of her lumbar spine, which revealed herniated discs at the L3-L4 and L4-L5 levels, as well as a broad-based disc bulge at the L3-L4 level. (R. 232.)
On October 8, 2002, Rajpaul Singh, M.D., a neurologist, examined Plaintiff. (R. 279.) Plaintiff complained of headaches, neck and back stiffness, neck pain radiating to her right shoulder, low back pain radiating to her thighs, and difficulty bending and lifting objects. (Id. ) Dr. Singh diagnosed Plaintiff with cervical and lumbosacral spine sprain and strain and radiculopathy at the L4-L5 level. (R. 282.) He noted that her injuries may result in a permanent reduction in the normal range of motion of the lumbosacral spine, and chronic pain and compromised performance of ordinary functions. (R. 283.) Her prognosis was "guarded." (Id. )
On October 21, 2002, Howard Balensweig, M.D., an orthopedist, examined Plaintiff. (R. 285-88.) Plaintiff complained of pain in her neck, stiffness and pain with bending to the right, pain on extension of the trunk, soreness at the L4-L5 and L5-S1 levels, arthritis in the ankles, pain in the left knee with straight-leg raises, and tenderness in the buttocks, left thigh, and calves. (Id. ) Dr. Balenweig opined that it was premature to estimate the permanency of Plaintiff's neck symptoms, but noted that Plaintiff was "quite disabled." (R. 287-88.)
On November 26, 2002, Jean-Robert Desrouleaux, M.D., a neurologist, examined Plaintiff. (R. 360.) She reported that her symptoms had worsened. (Id. ) On examination, she had positive straight-leg raises in the left leg and diminished sensation in the left leg and foot. (R. 361.) Dr. Desrouleaux diagnosed Plaintiff with radiculopathy at the L5 level and multiple herniated discs and prescribed anti-inflammatory medications. (Id. ) On November 26, 2002, Dr. Desrouleaux cleared Plaintiff to return to work on December 3, 2002. (R. 233.)
On January 21, 2003, Plaintiff reported no improvement with respect to her pain and symptoms. (R. 365.) Five months later, on May 27, 2003, Dr. Desrouleaux examined her, finding positive straight-leg raises and decreased sensation for the left leg. (R. 365-66.)
On January 29, 3003, Gerard Varlotta, D.O., a physiatrist, examined Plaintiff for her complaints of neck and back pain. (R. 289.) He diagnosed Plaintiff with cervical and lumbar facet syndrome secondary to the motor vehicle accident. (Id. ) He prescribed an antiinflammatory medication and a muscle relaxer, and recommended physical therapy. (Id. ) She continued to treat periodically with Dr. Varlotta. (R. 367-68.) On October 2, 2004, ...