United States District Court, E.D. New York
Stanton & Guzman, LLP Attorneys for the Plaintiff By:
Stacey Rinaldi Guzman, Esq., Of Counsel
States Attorney's Office for the Eastern District of New
York Attorneys for the Defendant By: Rukhsanah L. Singh,
Assistant United States Attorney
MEMORANDUM OF DECISION & ORDER
D. SPATT United States District Judge
18, 2015, the Plaintiff Linda Young (the
“Plaintiff”) commenced this civil action pursuant
to the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. § 405 et
seq. (the “Act”), challenging a final
determination by the Defendant Acting Commissioner of Social
Security Carolyn W. Colvin (the “Commissioner”),
that she is ineligible to receive Social Security disability
before the Court are the parties' cross motions, pursuant
to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure (“Fed. R. Civ.
P.” or “Rule”) 12(c) for judgment on the
pleadings. For the reasons that follow, the Plaintiff's
motion is denied in its entirety and the Commissioner's
motion is granted in its entirety.
Plaintiff, 51 years of age, applied for disability insurance
benefits on December 12, 2012, alleging an inability to work
as of April 5, 2012 due to back pain, diabetes, hypertension,
gallbladder issues, chronic cholecystitis, and leg pain. The
Social Security Administration (the “SSA”) denied
her application, and the Plaintiff requested a hearing.
January 6, 2014, Administrative Law Judge April M. Wexler
(“ALJ Wexler” or “the ALJ”) of the
SSA held a hearing. On February 19, 2014, ALJ Wexler issued a
decision denying the Plaintiff's claim. The SSA Appeals
Council denied the Plaintiff's request to review the
ALJ's decision on April 24, 2015, and the ALJ's
decision therefore became the SSA Commissioner's final
stated above, the Plaintiff commenced this civil appeal on
June 18, 2015. On March 11, 2016, the parties'
cross-motions for judgment on the pleadings were fully
submitted to the Court.
The Administrative Record
Plaintiff was born in 1962. As of the date of her
application, she reported that she was 5'7” and 220
pounds. In her application, she said that she became unable
to work on April 5, 2012 because of her disabling condition.
Specifically, she listed the following maladies: back pain,
diabetes, hypertension, gallbladder, chronic cholecystitis,
and leg pain.
Plaintiff worked primarily as a counselor. From November 2001
through April 2012, she worked as a mental health counselor
with several organizations. She worked for Seafield Services
Inc. (“Seafield”) from July 2006 until April 6,
Work History Report, the Plaintiff stated that as part of her
responsibilities as a counselor at Seafield, she sat with
groups, took notes, consulted, and moved files. The job did
not require the use of machines, tools or equipment. It did
require writing and completing reports. She said that on a
normal day, she would walk for 4 hours; stand, sit and stoop
for 2 hours; kneel and crouch for 1 hour. The Court notes
that this would add up to approximately 10 hours. The
Plaintiff indicated that she worked 8 hours a day. The
Plaintiff noted that the heaviest weight that she lifted was
20 pounds, and that she frequently lifted 10 pounds.
time of the application, the Plaintiff was taking decadron
for diabetes; and gabapentin and oxycodone for pain.
The Function Report
January 14, 2013, the Plaintiff completed a function report
in conjunction with her disability benefits application. She
indicated that she lived in a house with her family. The
Plaintiff was able to care for her personal hygiene; but it
was difficult to shower longer than ten minutes; it took her
a long time to get dressed and put socks and shoes on; and
she could not curl her hair. She made dinner every two to
three days by cooking fast and easy meals. She indicated that
she cared for her husband and her daughter, and that she
helped her daughter with her homework. Plaintiff could not
stand for a long time; could not walk; play sports; go
shopping; prepare meals; clean the entire house; or do
laundry. Her husband helped complete these tasks. She was
able to shop for toiletries, medications, paper products, and
vegetables about two to three times per month, limited to one
to two hours. She could not sweep, rake, or perform household
the Plaintiff could occasionally drive, and would go outside
four to five times per week. She was able to go outside
alone. She went to church two to three times a month, but
sometimes had to leave early due to back pain. She could
stand for ten minutes; lift ten pounds; and walk 50 feet.
After walking fifty feet, she said that she needed to rest
for ten minutes. She could sit for 25 minutes before standing
or repositioning herself. She had trouble climbing stairs and
could not kneel or squat. She had no difficulty reaching or
using her hands. She complained of numbness in her right leg.
She used a cane, brace/splint, and a transcutaneous
electrical nerve stimulation (“TENS”) unit three
to four times daily. As a result of the pain and numbness,
she said that she had difficulty completing tasks.
The Disability Report Appeal Form
April 4, 2013, the Plaintiff completed a disability report
appeal form, in which she stated that there had been no
changes in her condition. She indicated that she was taking
Nexium for heartburn, and did not list any other medications.
The Plaintiff's Testimony at the Administrative
January 6, 2014, Plaintiff testified at the administrative
hearing. She testified that she was injured on September 14,
2009, when she bent down to pick up a chart at work. She
heard a loud pop in her back, and was unable to stand up.
Between 2009 and 2012, she took about ten days off using
either personal or sick days, but it was only when she had a
“really bad day.” She testified that during that
period, she had difficulty performing her duties because she
could not sit for ninety minutes, which was the length of her
counseling group sessions at Seafield. She found her job to
be more difficult as time went on. The Plaintiff began seeing
a pain management doctor, Dr. Ali Guy, in 2009.
stopped working on April 6, 2012, because her back
“went out” during a trip to visit her
mother-in-law in Alabama. She returned home and had a
discectomy on April 26, 2012. Her surgeon, Dr. Matthew Kern,
informed her that he operated on her leg instead of her back
so that she could walk. He explained to her that she would
have numbness and tingling, and hot and cold sensations in
her leg for the rest of her life.
the surgery, the Plaintiff underwent physical therapy and was
also treated with epidural injections. She last attended
physical therapy six months prior to the hearing. She also
used a TENS machine, a back brace, and a cane. Plaintiff
stopped taking medications because they were too addictive.
Plaintiff testified that on a good day, she would wake up and
make breakfast for her husband-which was two to three times a
week. She was able to take showers or bathe herself, but said
that her husband had to help her get into the high walled
Jacuzzi tub. She swept the floor with breaks and vacuumed
when it was convenient. She and her husband used paper plates
and plastic utensils so no one had to do any dishes. She did
the laundry, but her husband had to bring the clothes down
Plaintiff testified that she went outside on most days to get
the mail; to go to certain appointments; to go food shopping;
to go to the drugstore or post office; and to see her
grandchildren. She said that she did not take her children to
the park because she would be unable to get them if they ran.
She had gone out to socialize with friends, but not recently
because she lost her oldest son.
Plaintiff further testified that she has constant sharp pain
in her lower back and right thigh with numbness, tingling,
and spasms. The muscle spasms in both legs would last from 30
second to two minutes. She said that she could sit
comfortably for half-an-hour and could stand for 15 minutes.
She could walk for 50 feet and could lift ten to 15 pounds.
Plaintiff would spend about 30 minutes outside the house for
errands, usually accompanied. She could drive for about 20
minutes and had trouble putting on her shoes and fixing her
hair. The Plaintiff said that she had difficulty
sleeping-that she has to wake up every hour to reposition
Vocational Expert Edna F. Clark's Testimony at the
Clark (“Clark”), an impartial vocational expert,
also testified at the administrative hearing. Clark said that
an individual of Plaintiff's age, education, and work
experience who: was limited to sedentary work; could
occasionally lift ten pounds; could sit for up to six hours;
could stand or walk for approximately two hours in an
eight-hour day with normal breaks; could occasionally climb
ramps or stairs; could never climb ladders, ropes, or
scaffolds; could occasionally balance and stoop; could never
kneel, crouch, or crawl; could push and pull without
limitation; and would need to use a cane for ambulation,
could work as a counselor as the Plaintiff had previously.
Clark testified that if that same individual could only sit
for four hours and stand and walk for two hours, he or she
would be unable to perform the Plaintiff's previous job
or any other job in the national economy.