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Foote v. Colvin

United States District Court, W.D. New York

July 28, 2015

TROY J. FOOTE, Plaintiff,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.


MICHAEL A. TELESCA, District Judge.

I. Introduction

Represented by counsel, Troy J. Foote ("plaintiff") has brought this action pursuant to Title XVI of the Social Security Act ("the Act"), seeking review of the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security ("the Commissioner") denying his application for disability insurance benefits ("DIB") and Supplemental Security Income ("SSI"). This Court has jurisdiction over the matter pursuant to 42 U.S.C. ยงยง 405(g), 1383(c).

II. Procedural History

The record reveals that on June 10, 2009, plaintiff filed an application for DIB, and on June 30, 2009, plaintiff filed an application for SSI, alleging in both applications a disability onset date of December 31, 2006. Plaintiff's applications were denied, and he requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"), which was held on April 13, 2011, before ALJ William M. Weir. The ALJ issued an unfavorable decision on August 22, 2011. Plaintiff's request for review of this decision was denied by the Appeals Council on February 8, 2013. Thereafter, plaintiff timely filed this action seeking review of that denial. Doc. 1.

Presently before the Court are the parties' cross-motions for judgment on the pleadings pursuant to Rule 12(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. For the following reasons, the Commissioner's motion is granted, and plaintiff's cross-motion is denied.

III. Summary of Administrative Transcript

A. Medical Evidence

Prior to the time period relevant to this case, plaintiff had a history of treatment for back pain dating back to 1993, in which year he suffered an employment-related back injury. T. 297, 419-34, 441-42, 450-52, 472-73, 480. Plaintiff suffered another work-related back injury in 1995. T. 237, 263, 437. In the years leading up to this claim, plaintiff received treatment for back pain and repeated evaluations for workers compensation benefits. T. 418-574. In January 2000, plaintiff underwent a bilateral L5-S1 instrumentation and fusion, after which he participated in physical therapy and progressed well post-operatively. T. 237, 256-58, 267-71, 273-77, 503-08, 512-14, 516, 520, 522-23, 525, 527-28. Throughout this time period prior to plaintiff's claims, during which plaintiff continued to work, plaintiff was rated as having a moderate partial disability for workers compensation evaluation purposes. T. 245, 409, 446-49, 478-79, 486-87, 488-90, 494-96, 534-35.

During the time period relevant to this case, plaintiff continued to treat for back pain. The record also reveals evidence of an eye impairment and substance abuse issues. Progress notes from Brylin Hospital for the time period February 8, 2007 through July 13, 2007 indicate that plaintiff participated in chemical dependency treatment in connection with a drug court order related to a DWI conviction. T. 576-88. Plaintiff completed the program with "maximum benefit" and was discharged July 10, 2007. T. 577.

Dr. Samuel Balderman completed an internal medicine evaluation on September 17, 2009, upon referral from the Division of Disability Determination. T. 615-25. Plaintiff's gait was normal, although he reported that he could not walk on his toes due to heel pain. T. 616. Dr. Balderman noted that plaintiff had monocular vision, moderate limitation in bending and lifting due to lumbar spine disease, and continued "difficulty with alcohol abuse." T. 618. He found plaintiff to have full ranges of motion of his cervical spine, negative straight leg raise ("SLR") test, and full strength in all limbs and extremities but limitation in lumbar spine range of motion. Id . Dr. Balderman diagnosed plaintiff with status post lumbar spine surgery, learning disability, active alcohol abuse, and no detectable vision in the right eye. T. 617. He noted a stable prognosis. Id.

Dr. Thomas Ryan completed a psychiatric evaluation on November 9, 2009. T. 626-29. Dr. Ryan concluded that the evaluation results were "consistent with psychiatric problems which may interfere to some degree on a daily basis, " noting specifically that plaintiff appeared to have "moderate limitation in his ability to make appropriate decisions" and had "mild to moderate limitation in his ability to deal with stress." T. 628. However, Dr. Ryan noted that plaintiff "demonstrate[d] no significant limitation in his ability to follow and understand simple directions, perform simple tasks, maintain attention and concentration, maintain a regular schedule, learn new tasks, and perform some complex tasks, " and that he could generally relate with others. Id . Dr. Ryan diagnosed plaintiff with polysubstance abuse and depressive disorder, not otherwise specified, and noted that he questioned plaintiff's "ability to manage benefit payments due to the ongoing substance abuse." Id.

Dr. Hillary Tzetzo, a state agency psychiatrist, reviewed the record and completed a psychiatric review technique form dated December 1, 2009. T. 630-43. Dr. Tzetzo assessed mild limitations in activities of daily living and moderate limitations in maintaining social functioning and maintaining concentration, persistence, or pace. T. 640. She concluded that plaintiff "appear[ed] capable of adhering to a normal work schedule and performing simple repetitive work, " which conclusion she based in part on her completion of a mental residual functional capacity ("RFC") evaluation. T. 642, 644-45.

On December 1, 2009, Dr. K. Barrera completed a physical RFC assessment which found that plaintiff could occasionally lift and/or carry 20 pounds; frequently lift and/or carry 10 pounds; stand and/or walk for a total of about six hours in an eight-hour workday; sit (with normal breaks) for a total of about six hours in an eight-hour workday; and push and/or pull to an unlimited extent. T. 89. The RFC found that plaintiff suffered "moderate pain" status post lumbar spine surgery five years ago. Id . On examination, plaintiff had a normal gait, could walk on heels but not toes, and required no assistive devices for ambulating. Id . Plaintiff had some limitation in extension of the lumbar spine, but no limitation in the cervical or thoracic spine, negative SLR test, and full range of motion of all joints and extremities. T. 90. Dr. Barerra opined that plaintiff's allegations regarding limitations due to pain were "disproportionate to objective physical findings and physical exam. Although it can be ...

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