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Young v. Colvin

United States District Court, E.D. New York

February 16, 2017

LINDA YOUNG, Plaintiff,
CAROLYN COLVIN, Commissioner of Social Security Defendant.

          Stanton & Guzman, LLP Attorneys for the Plaintiff By: Stacey Rinaldi Guzman, Esq., Of Counsel

          United States Attorney's Office for the Eastern District of New York Attorneys for the Defendant By: Rukhsanah L. Singh, Assistant United States Attorney


          ARTHUR D. SPATT United States District Judge

         On June 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 insurance benefits.

         Presently 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.

         I. BACKGROUND

         A. Procedural History

         The 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.

         On 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 decision.

         As 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.

         B. The Administrative Record

         1. Non-Medical Evidence

         a. The Application

         The 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.

         The 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, 2012.

         In a 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.

         At the time of the application, the Plaintiff was taking decadron for diabetes; and gabapentin and oxycodone for pain.

         b. The Function Report

         On 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 repairs.

         Further, 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.

         c. The Disability Report Appeal Form

         On 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.

         d. The Plaintiff's Testimony at the Administrative Hearing

         On 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.

         She 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.

         After 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.

         The 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 the stairs.

         The 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.

         The 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 herself.

         e. Vocational Expert Edna F. Clark's Testimony at the Administrative Hearing

         Edna F. 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.

         However, 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.

         2. The ...

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