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Brown v. Colvin

United States District Court, S.D. New York

May 26, 2015

MELISSA BROWN, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN COLVIN, ACTING COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

KEVIN NATHANIEL FOX, Magistrate Judge.

INTRODUCTION

Melissa Brown ("Brown") commenced this action against the Acting Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner"), seeking review of an administrative law judge's ("ALJ") decision, dated August 10, 2012, [1] finding her ineligible for disability insurance benefits, pursuant to Title II of the Social Security Act ("SSA"), 42 U.S.C. §§ 401-434, and Supplemental Security Income benefits, pursuant to Title)(VI of the SSA, 42 U.S.C. §§ 1381-1385. Before the Court are the parties' respective motions for judgment on the pleadings, pursuant to Rule 12(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.

ALJ'S DECISION

The issue before the ALJ was whether Brown was disabled. The ALJ found that Brown: (1) meets the insured status requirements of the SSA through December 31, 2013; (2) has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since April 7, 2010, the alleged disability onset date; (3) has severe impairments: "a pseudo seizure disorder, diabetes with neuropathy, obesity and a mood disorder"; (4) does not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals the severity of one of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1; (5) has the residual functional capacity to perform light work as defined in 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1567(b) and 416.967(b), and must avoid concentrated exposure to dust, fumes and other pulmonary irritants, as well as working at unprotected heights and operating moving machinery, and she is limited to performing simple, unskilled work; (6) is unable to perform her past relevant work as a home health aide; (7) was born in 1969 and was 40 years old on the alleged disability onset date; and (8) has at least a high school education and is able to communicate in English. The ALJ also found that the transferability of job skills is not material to the determination of disability because using the Medical-Vocational Rules as a framework supports a finding that Brown is not disabled regardless of the transferability of job skills. Considering Brown's age, education, work experience and residual functional capacity, the ALJ concluded that jobs exist in significant numbers in the national economy that Brown can perform. The ALJ determined that Brown's additional limitations have little or no effect on the occupational base of unskilled light work. The ALJ found that Brown was not disabled from April 7, 2010, through the date of the ALJ's decision.

The ALJ found Brown's allegations respecting her inability to work on a continued, sustained basis, as a result of her functional limitations, incredible. He noted that the objective medical evidence shows that Brown retains the residual functional capacity to perform light work activity, with certain limitations. The ALJ determined that Brown can lift and carry 10 pounds frequently and lift and carry 20 pounds occasionally, she can sit, stand and walk for up to six hours during the course of an eight-hour day. The ALJ noted that Brown has asthma and diabetes with evidence of neuropathy. The ALJ considered a report from the Montefiore Hospital Medical Center, dated April 2010, indicating that Brown did not suffer from epilepsy and had no need for further psychiatric intervention.

In May 2010, a magnetic resonance imaging ("MRI") test of Brown's brain showed no abnormalities and an MRI test of Brown's "cervical spine showed findings of spondylotic changes in the mid segment of the cervical spine and a central disc herniation at the C4 levels." In October 2010, Brown underwent a consultative internal examination conducted by Dr. Mark Johnston ("Dr. Johnston"). Brown reported having seizures since she was five years old and that her seizure activity had increased within the six to eight months immediately preceding the examination. Brown advised Dr. Johnston that, occasionally, her seizure episodes progress to loss of consciousness, which can last from two to five minutes. She also reported insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus, since 2000. Brown reported that she was independent in terms of cooking, cleaning, laundering, shopping, showering and bathing and needed assistance with dressing, at times, when she had her shaking episodes. Dr. Johnston noted that Brown is 5'3" tall and weighed 248 pounds. Her gait was normal and she did not appear to be in any acute distress. She could walk on her heels and toes without difficulty and perform a full squat. Brown used no assistive devices and did not need help changing or getting on and off the examining table. Due to an episode of twitching of her shoulders and upper arm at the end of examination, Dr. Johnston assessed that Brown should avoid performing activities at heights, driving an automobile, climbing stairs or operating machinery, due to her seizure history.

In February 2011, Brown was admitted to the Montefiore Hospital Medical Center, where it was noted that she was having focal seizures, probably related to her medication non-compliance or exposure to stress. A computed tomography scan test of Brown's head showed no evidence of intracranial hemorrhage or mass effect. It was concluded that Brown had "recurrent seizure versus pseudoseizure." Brown was discharged, after being prescribed seizure medication. Brown was hospitalized in June 2011. Reports from St. Joseph's Hospital reveal that she had a single episode of seizure with non-epileptic attacks. The ALJ noted that the hospital course was unremarkable for the period October 2009 through May 2011, indicating that Brown presented complaints of seizure activity.

In May 2011, Dr. Johnston conducted another consultative internal examination of Brown. Brown reported having a history of generalized motor seizures, since she was five years old. Brown stated that she had episodes of loss of consciousness which lasted two to three minutes and that seizures occurred several times daily. Additionally, Brown reported having "pseudoseizures" for 12 months prior to the examination, lasting from five to ten minutes at times. Occasionally, the episodes are followed by the development of a generalized motor seizure, occurring 10 to 15 minutes daily. Brown reported to Dr. Johnston that she had a history of numerous hospitalizations for seizures, and that she was diagnosed with hypertension in 2010. Brown stated that she needed assistance with most of her daily activities because of frequent seizures, but that she was able to do some cooking, cleaning, laundering, shopping, child care activities and could tend to her personal needs. On examination, Brown appeared to be in no acute distress and her gait was normal. She could walk on her heels and toes without difficulty and perform a full squat. Brown used no assistive device and did not need help changing or getting on and off the examining table. Dr. Johnston assessed that Brown had a marked restriction of travel due to frequent seizures and she was unable to drive a motor vehicle, operate machinery or work at unsecured heights. Moreover, Dr. Johnston assessed that Brown should avoid exposure to smoke, fumes and known respiratory irritants due to her asthma.

In June 2011, Brown underwent a consultative psychiatric hospitalization, conducted by Dr. Fredelyn Engelberg Damani ("Dr. Damani"). Brown reported that she stopped working because of seizures and depression and denied having a history of psychiatric hospitalization or receiving outpatient mental health treatment. On mental status examination, Dr. Damani found that Brown's attention and concentration were intact and her memory skills were mildly impaired. Brown's cognitive functioning was in the low average range, her insight was limited and judgment was fair. Dr. Damani diagnosed Brown with an adjustment disorder with anxiety and depression, as well as a panic disorder without agoraphobia. Brown was able to follow and understand simple directions and instructions, perform simple tasks independently and maintain attention and concentration. Dr. Damani found that Brown was impaired moderately in her ability to maintain a regular schedule due to her seizure disorder, but she was able to learn tasks. Brown was assessed as mildly impaired in her ability to perform complex tasks independently, but was able to make appropriate decisions and relate adequately with others. Dr. Damani also determined that Brown was moderately impaired in her ability to deal with stress. Dr. Damani concluded that the results of the examination appeared to be consistent with psychiatric problems, but not significant enough to interfere with Brown's ability to function on a daily basis.

In June 2011, Dr. R. Altmansberger ("Dr. Altmansberger"), a state agency review psychiatrist, prepared a mental functional capacity questionnaire and psychiatric review form for Brown. Dr. Altmansberger assessed that Brown had a moderate limitation in her ability to: (1) carry out detailed instructions; (2) perform activities within a schedule and maintain regular attendance; (3) respond appropriately to changes in a work setting; (4) complete a normal workday and workweek without interruptions from psychologically based symptoms; and (5) perform at a consistent pace without an unreasonable number and length of rest periods. The ALJ found that Dr. Altmansberger's assessment was consistent with the objective record evidence, showing that Brown had no sustained mental health treatment history and was not on any psychiatric medication.

Reports by Dr. Gerardo Posada ("Dr. Posada"), Brown's treating psychiatrist from October and November 2011, revealed that Dr. Posada diagnosed Brown with a "[m]ood disorder, NOS [not otherwise specified] and rule[d] out bipolar depression." Dr. Posada stated that Brown was on a low dosage of psychiatric medications. The ALJ found that the "record contains no documentation to demonstrate [Brown's] overall mental functioning was markedly limited to the extent Dr. Posada has stated for a period of 12 continuous months at any time since her alleged onset date." The ALJ noted that no documentation showed whether mental health treatment has been effective since Brown commenced it, in October 2011, and Dr. Posada's November 2011 assessment indicated that Brown only had three visits for medication and management, and she was not well known to him because she was "new" to his practice. Dr. Posada stated that Brown is able to do unskilled work and that she was seriously limited, but not precluded from work, since October 2011, at the earliest.

In February 2012, Brown was treated at Montefiore Hospital, where she presented with complaints of shortness of breath. Brown was diagnosed with asthma, iron deficiency, anemia, Type II diabetes mellitus, chronic headaches, diabetic neuropathy, vitamin D deficiency and diastolic heart failure. The ALJ determined that Brown's medically determinable impairments could reasonably be expected to cause the alleged symptoms, but her statements concerning the intensity, persistence and limiting effects of those symptoms were not credible.

The ALJ found that Brown is unable to perform her past relevant work as a home health aide. The ALJ determined that Brown's additional limitations have little or no effect on the occupational base of unskilled light work, concluding that Brown was not ...


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