United States District Court, N.D. New York
MICHAEL J. KAMEISHA, Plaintiff,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN,  Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant
For Michael John Kameisha, Plaintiff: Jaya A. Shurtliff, LEAD ATTORNEY, Stanley Law Offices, LLP, Syracuse, NY; Kenneth R. Hiller, LEAD ATTORNEY, Law Offices of Kenneth Hiller, PLLC, Amherst, NY.
For Carolyn W. Colvin, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, in place of Michael Astrue, Defendant: Vernon Norwood, LEAD ATTORNEY, Social Security Administration, Office of Regional General Counsel, New York, NY.
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
WILLIAM G. YOUNG, DISTRICT JUDGE.
This is an action under section 405(g) of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Compl. 1, ECF No. 1. Michael J. Kameisha (" Kameisha" ) is seeking judicial review of the final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (the " Commissioner" ) denying him Social Security Disability (" SSD" ) benefits. Id. Kameisha claims that the decision of the Administrative Law Judge (the " hearing officer" ) denying him benefits was not based on substantial evidence. Id. Specifically, Kameisha alleges that the hearing officer did not correctly assess his residual functional capacity (" RFC" ) and credibility and that the Commissioner did not meet her burden of proving that Kameisha was able to perform other work existing in significant numbers in the national economy. Pl.'s Mem. Law Supp. Mot. J. Admin. R. & Pleadings Pursuant Rule 12(c) F.R.C.P. (" Kameisha's Mem." ) 1, ECF No. 11. Kameisha, therefore, requests that this Court reverse the hearing officer's decision or, alternatively, remand the case for a new hearing. Id. at 15. The Commissioner, on the other hand, requests that this Court affirm her decision denying Kameisha social security benefits. Mem. Law Supp. Comm'r's Mot. J. Pleadings (" Def.'s Mem." ) 1, ECF No. 12.
A. Procedural Posture
Kameisha applied for SSD benefits on March 31, 2011. Soc. Sec. Admin. R./Tr. (" Admin. R." ) 150-58, ECF No. 9. The Social Security Administration (the " Administration" ) denied his application on July 15, 2011. Id. at 68-73. Kameisha requested a hearing, which took place on March 1, 2012. Id. at 29-66. The hearing officer denied Kameisha's application for SSD benefits on April 5, 2012. Id. at 16-25. On July 5, 2012, the Appeals Council denied Kameisha's request to review the hearing officer's decision. Id. at 1-6. The hearing officer's decision, therefore, became the final decision of the Commissioner. Id. at 1.
On August 24, 2012, Kameisha filed a complaint under 42 U.S.C. section 405(g) seeking review of the Commissioner's decision, Compl., to which the Commissioner filed an answer on December 10, 2012, Def.'s Answer, ECF No. 8. On January 25, 2013, Kameisha filed a memorandum of law in support of his complaint, Kameisha's Mem., and the Commissioner filed her memorandum on March 11, 2013, Def.'s Mem. On June 25, 2013, the case was reassigned to this Court. Reassignment Order, ECF No. 13.
B. Factual Background
Kameisha was born on June 19, 1954. Admin. R. 152. His past work experience consists of employment as a landscaper from 1980 to 1991, as a delivery man from 1991 to 1992, and as a janitor from 1992 through 2003. Id. at. 180. In 2003, Kameisha stopped working due to problems with his left arm. Id. at 21, 46.
1. Medical Evidence
Kameisha was diagnosed with HIV in 1991. Id. at 227. As explained at his hearing, he is on HIV medication and a methadone program. Id. As determined by blood tests conducted in September 2006, Kameisha's HIV viral load was less than 50 copies/mL. Id. at 235.
Kameisha started treatment at Camden Medical Care on October 12, 2006, when he saw Dr. Muftah Kadura, M.D. (" Dr. Kadura" ) for sores on his legs. Id. at 226, 231. Dr. Kadura reported that Kameisha was HIV positive and hepatitis C negative, had an arthritic left knee, and had arthritic ribs on the left side. Id. at 231. Dr. Kadura also noted that Kameisha's HIV viral load was below detectable levels. Id. at 226. On December 19, 2006, Kameisha still complained about the sores on his legs. Id. at 230. Dr. Kadura prescribed him medications and referred him to pain management. Id. In February and March 2007, Kameisha continued treatment with Dr. Kadura for his HIV and his back pain. Id. at 228-29.
On July 3, 2008, Kameisha consulted Dr. Smita Kittur, M.D. (" Dr. Kittur" ), complaining of left arm pain and muscle weakness with no joint pain. Id. at 236-38. Kameisha told Dr. Kittur that he had no back pain and no difficulty walking. Id. at 237. Kameisha also said he independently performed his activities of daily living but had difficulty using his left arm. Id. Dr. Kittur observed that Kameisha's HIV was stable and that his viral load was below the detectable level. Id. at 236. Dr. Kittur also noted that Kameisha's gait and station were normal. Id. at 238. Kameisha demonstrated full muscle strength in his right arm and right leg but was unable to raise his left arm up, though he could hold it up if his arm was brought up to ninety degrees. Id. Kameisha reported to Dr. Kittur that in the weeks prior to the examination, he could not get his left hand to carry a grocery bag, could not lift his left hand above his head, had left shoulder pain, and had pain in the left hand mainly in the third and fourth fingers. Id. at 236. Kameisha also told Dr. Kittur that his whole hand felt numb, that his pain in the hands was like a cramping pain, and that taking a shower was difficult. Id. Dr. Kittur noted to rule out cervical myelopathy, cervical radiculopathy C5-C6, and HIV neuropathy and myopathy. Id. at 238.
Dr. Peter Berkey, M.D. (" Dr. Berkey" ) treated Kameisha intermittently. Id. at 247. On March 17, 2009, Dr. Berkey diagnosed Kameisha with HIV infection, weakness of the left arm with unclear etiology, and hepatitis C with a status post interferon therapy. Id. Blood tests conducted that month revealed that Kameisha's viral load was less than 48 copies/mL, which was too low to be quantified but above the lower limit for detection. Id. at 253. On April 14, 2010, Kameisha returned to Dr. Berkey, who noted that Kameisha had HIV infection, methadone maintenance, a history of herpes simplex infection in the left eye, and hepatitis C with a status post interferon therapy. Id. at 249.
On February 9, 2012, an x-ray of Kameisha's cervical spine showed moderate degenerative disc disease at C5-C6 and minimal degenerative change at C6-C7 and C4-C5. Id. at 242. On February 13, 2012, an MRI of Kameisha's cervical spine showed the following: C3-C4 large disc bulge with mass effect on the spinal cord and intrinsic intramedullary cord edema, plus moderate central canal stenosis and moderate to severe left neural foraminal stenosis; C4-C5 large disc bulge with central and left paracentral disc protrusion yielding direct mass effect on the ventral cord, plus mild malacia and marked cord edema intrinsically with severe central canal stenosis and severe bilateral neural foraminal stenosis; C5-C6 posterior disc osteophyte complex with a large left paracentral disc protrusion, plus direct mass effect on the ventral margin of the spinal cord with marked intrinsic cord parenchymal edema and myelomalacia with severe central canal stenosis and severe bilateral neural foraminal stenosis; C6-C7 trace disc bulge with canal and neural foraminal stenosis; C7-T1 foraminal stenosis; and multilevel degenerative facet joint arthropathy. Id. at 244.
2. Kameisha's Hearing Testimony
At the March 2012 hearing, Kameisha declared that he had been diagnosed with HIV approximately twenty years ago. Id. at 36. He testified that his last job was at a synagogue and that he stopped working in 2003. Id. at 37-38. At the synagogue, Kameisha was responsible for " setting up classrooms," tearing them down, and setting them up again. Id. at 38-39. Kameisha was also in charge of the " regular maintenance on the building, vacuuming, [washing] floors, [and] stripping the wax." Id. at 39. Kameisha stated that his days were between seven and twelve hours long and that he had to stay " pretty much on [his] feet the whole time." Id. at 39-40. After working the first three or four years by himself, Kameisha supervised the people hired by the synagogue to help him because he could no longer get the work done alone. Id. at 40. Kameisha then declared that the synagogue let him go and that he began living on unemployment benefits. Id. at 41. Because his location at the time was too expensive, he moved to a trailer home in upstate New York. Id. Describing a typical day, Kameisha described going to " the [m]ethadone clinic, driv[ing] home, and . . . pretty much sit[ting] in front ...