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Jankuloski v. Colvin

United States District Court, W.D. New York

July 2, 2015

CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Commissioner OF Social Security, Defendant.


MICHAEL A. TELESCA, District Judge.

Karolina Jankuloski ("plaintiff") brings this action under Title II of the Social Security Act ("the Act"), claiming that the Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner" or "defendant") improperly denied her applications for supplemental security income ("SSI") and disability insurance benefits ("DBI").

Currently before the Court are the parties' competing motions for judgment on the pleadings pursuant to Rule 12(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. For the reasons set forth below, plaintiff's motion is denied and, defendant's motion is granted.


On January 21, 2011, plaintiff filed applications for DIB and SSI alleging disability as of June 4, 2010 due to complex regional pain syndrome ("CRPS"), fibromyalgia, post traumatic stress disorder ("PTSD"), obsessive compulsive disorder ("OCD"), and trigeminal neuralgia. Administrative Transcript ("T.") 122-133, 155. Following a initial denial of that application on October 19, 2011, plaintiff testified at a hearing, which was held at her request on October 18, 2012 before administrative law judge ("ALJ") Stanley Chin. T. 12-32. An unfavorable decision was issued on November 20, 2012, and a request for review was denied by the Appeals Council on April 7, 2014. T. 1-4, 42-60.

Considering the case de novo and applying the five-step analysis contained in the Social Security Administration's regulations ( see 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 416.920), the ALJ made the following findings: (1) plaintiff met the insured status requirements of the Act through December 31, 2015; (2) she had not engage in substantial gainful activity since June 4, 2010, the date of the onset of her alleged disability; (3) her obesity, spinal impairments, fibromyalgia/CRPS, lower extremity impairments, face impairment, major depressive disorder, anxiety disorder, PTSD, OCD, herpes, and migraines were severe impairments; (4) her impairments, singly or combined, did not meet or medically equal the severity of any impairments listed in 20 CFR Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1; and (5) plaintiff had the residual functional capacity to perform sedentary work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(a) and 416.967(a), with the following limitations: a cane in her right dominant hand to stand and walk; no climbing ladders, ropes, or scaffolds; occasionally climb ramps or stairs, balance, stoop, kneel, crouch, or crawl; no exposure to moving machinery and unprotected heights; work limited to simple, routine, and repetitive tasks performed in a work environment free of fast paced production requirements involving simple, routine decisions and changes; isolation from the public with occasional supervision and interaction with coworkers. T. 47-50.

With respect to finding number four, the ALJ found that plaintiff's physical and mental impairments did not meet or equal the criteria for any impairment listed in Appendix I to Subpart P, Regulations No. 4, specifically Listings 1.00 (musculoskeletal system), 12.04 (affective disorders), and 12.08 (personality disorders). T. 48. The ALJ further found that plaintiff's mental impairments did not meet the "paragraph B" criteria, as she had no marked limitations or any repeated episodes of decompensation of an extended duration, or "paragraph C" criteria. T. 48-49.


I. General Legal Principles

42 U.S.C. § 405(g) grants jurisdiction to district courts to hear claims based on the denial of Social Security benefits. Section 405(g) provides that the District Court "shall have the power to enter, upon the pleadings and transcript of the record, a judgment affirming, modifying, or reversing the decision of the Commissioner of Social Security, with or without remanding the cause for a rehearing." 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) (2007). The section directs that when considering such a claim, the Court must accept the findings of fact made by the Commissioner, provided that such findings are supported by substantial evidence in the record.

When determining whether the Commissioner's findings are supported by substantial evidence, the Court's task is "to examine the entire record, including contradictory evidence and evidence from which conflicting inferences can be drawn.'" Brown v. Apfel, 174 F.3d 59, 62 (2d Cir.1999), quoting Mongeur v. Heckler, 722 F.2d 1033, 1038 (2d Cir.1983) (per curiam). Section 405(g) limits the scope of the Court's review to two inquiries: whether the Commissioner's findings were supported by substantial evidence in the record as a whole and whether the Commissioner's conclusions are based upon an erroneous legal standard. See Green-Younger v. Barnhart, 335 F.3d 99, 105-106 (2d Cir.2003).

II. Relevant Medical Evidence

Plaintiff was assessed in June 2010 by Dr. Lisa Hauk at the Lifetime Health Medical Group for persistent left-side facial pain. T. 281-284. Dr. Hauk noted that plaintiff had suffered a facial injury about a year earlier. T. 281. The examination revealed no abnormalities, and Dr. Hauk referred plaintiff to a neurologist. T. 282. On December 22, 2010, plaintiff reported that the pain was worsening and had spread throughout her body. T. 288. A physical examination conducted by nurse practitioner Susan Boyer-Reid revealed no abnormalities apart from obesity, but it was noted that plaintiff was not capable of employment due to "major mental health and chronic pain issues." T. 291.

In 2008 and 2011 plaintiff was treated at the University of Rochester Medical Center's ("URMC") Department of Orthopaedics for left foot pain, and she was diagnosed with left regional pain syndrome of the lower extremity. T. 212-214. During the 2011 examination, Dr. Judith Baumhauer noted that plaintiff had hypersensitivity to light touch in the left lower extremity, but was able to actively move her foot in each direction with palpable pulses and plantigrade foot alignment. T. 214, 329.

On October 25, 2010, plaintiff was examined for the Monroe County Department of Social Services ("DSS") by Dr. Harbinder Toor. T. 227-230. Dr. Toor noted that plaintiff had: mild, atypical discomfort and slight tingling and numbness in the left side of her face and light discomfort and mild to moderate pain with tenderness and slight swelling in her left foot with a left-side limp; difficulty heel-to-toe walking due to left foot pain; 50% full squat; slight restriction of movement of left ankle, planar flexion 20 degrees, and dorsiflexion ten degrees. T. 228. Dr. Toor further noted plaintiff's history of pain and possible reflex sympathetic dystrophy in the left lower leg and foot, atypical facial pain with tingling and numbness on the left side, OCD, and genital herpes. T. 228. Dr. Toor opined that plaintiff had the following functional limitations: could stand and walk for two to four hours in a work day; lift or carry 20 pounds occasionally and 10 pounds frequently; and climb stairs two ...

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