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Thomas v. Colvin

United States District Court, W.D. New York

July 20, 2015

TRACY RENEE THOMAS, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner OF Social Security, Defendant.

DECISION AND ORDER

MICHAEL A. TELESCA, District Judge.

Tracy Renee Thomas ("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.

PROCEDURAL HISTORY

On March 28, 2011, plaintiff filed applications for DIB and SSI alleging disability as of February 21, 2011 due to back and hip problems. Administrative Transcript("T.") 68-79, 131-150. Following an initial denial of that application on October 28, 2011, plaintiff testified at a hearing was held at her request on October 2, 2012 before administrative law judge ("ALJ") Michael W. Devlin. T. 35-57. An unfavorable decision was issued on December 17, 2012, and a request for review was denied by the Appeals Council on April 11, 2014. T. 1-6, 17-34.

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 September 30, 2013; (2) she had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since February 21, 2011, the date of the onset of her alleged disability; (3) her low back pain with right radiculopathy versus sciatica, status post myofacial strain lumbar spine, right ankle post soft tissue injury and surgery, and bilateral patellofemoral syndrome 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 light work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b) and 416.967(b), with the following limitations: occasionally lift and/or carry 20 pounds; frequently lift and carry 10 pounds; stand and/or walk about six hours in an eight-hour work day; sit about six hours in an eight-hour work day; be allowed to alternate positions between sitting and standing every 30 to 40 minutes; occasionally push and/or pull 20 pounds; occasionally climb ramps and/or stairs, balance, stoop, kneel, crouch, and crawl; and never climb ladders/ropes/scaffolds. T. 22-23.

With respect to finding number four, the ALJ found that plaintiff's physical impairments did not meet or equal the criteria for any impairment listed in Appendix I to Subpart P, specifically Listings 1.02 and 1.04. T. 23.

DISCUSSION

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 injured her lower back on October 16, 2010 when she was working as a home health attendant and had attempted to move a patient from a bed to a wheelchair. She was subsequently treated or evaluated, or both, by the Lattimore Physical Therapy Center from November 2010 to January 2012, orthopedist Dr. Capicotto and his assistant Margaret Casper from late 2010 to 2012, pain management specialist Dr. Patel from 2011 to early 2012, Dr. Yoo of Pain Interventions in 2011, orthopedic surgeon Dr. Bergeron in July 2011, consultative internist Dr. Boehlert in September 2011, physical therapist Jillian Collins in January 2012, orthopedist Dr. Nunez in February 2012, and orthopedic surgeon Dr. Posnick in June 2012.

On March 29, 2011, Dr. Yoo noted that plaintiff presented with a chronic history of axial predominate low back pain and a normal MRI. T. 257-258. Her use of a TENS unit provided some relief. T. 257. Plaintiff reported an achy, dull pain in the right and left hips and constant mild pain in her lower back which is lessened by lying down. T. 257. Prior recommended treatment included physical therapy, a TENS unit, massage therapy, and prescribed medication. T. 257. A physical examination revealed trigger points in the thoracic and lumbar spine and left lumbar paraspinal musculature, pain with flexion and extension of the lumbar spine and left rotation, tenderness ...


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