United States District Court, S.D. New York
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
C. FRANCIS IV UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
plaintiff, Diane Ratynski, brings this action pursuant to
section 205(g) of the Social Security Act (the
"Act"), 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), seeking review of
a determination of the Commissioner of Social Security (the
"Commissioner") finding that she is not entitled to
disability insurance benefits ("DIB") or
Supplemental Security Income ("SSI") benefits. Both
parties have moved for judgment on the pleadings pursuant to
Rule 12(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. For the
reasons that follow, the plaintiff's motion is denied and
the Commissioner's motion is granted.
Ratynski applied for SSI and DIB on June 4, 2012, alleging
disability as of December 30, 2008. (R. at
172-79). After her claims were denied on initial
review (R. at 112-14, 121-27), the plaintiff requested a
hearing before an administrative law judge
(“ALJ”) (R. at 130-31). A hearing was initially
held on December 17, 2013, before ALJ Katherine Edgell, but
was adjourned at Ms. Ratynski's request to allow her to
obtain legal representation and supplement the medical
record. (R. at 104, 106-08). The hearing resumed by video
conference on March 7, 2014, at which time the plaintiff was
represented by counsel. (R. at 39-100). On July 23, 2014, the
ALJ issued a determination finding that Ms. Ratynski was not
disabled under the Act. (R. at 18-38). The Appeals Council
denied review on November 25, 2015, thus rendering the
ALJ's decision the final determination of the
Commissioner. (R. at 8-12). This action followed.
Ratynski was born in 1970 and holds a college degree in
computer science. (R. at 44-46, 174). At the time of her
hearing in March 2014, she lived with her husband in a house.
(R. at 43). The plaintiff last worked full-time in 2002 as a
computer programmer and systems developer. (R. at 55). She
did not work at all from 2003 to 2008 (R. at 54-55), and from
2008 through 2010, she worked a few weeks each year as a bar
manager, assisting the bartender and ordering supplies (R. at
The Plaintiff's Claimed Disabilities
Ratynski alleges a variety of disabling conditions, including
herniated discs, reflex sympathetic dystrophy
(“RSD”), migraine headaches, a knee impairment, and
an affective disorder. (R. at 59-60, 69-72, 92-94). At her
hearing before the ALJ, she testified that she was in an
automobile accident in 1998, resulting in over a dozen
surgeries, including a “tibia transplant.” (R. at
59, 71). The plaintiff stated that she has radiating pain in
both legs as a result of her back condition (R. at 59-60,
94), for which she takes oxycodone four times each day (R. at
61). She said she has had headaches daily for fifteen years
and a migraine headache about once a week, for which she
takes Fioricet. (R. at 61, 71-72, 92-93). According to Ms.
Ratynski, her RSD causes pain and sensitivity, changes in
temperature, and discoloration in her right knee and leg, all
on a daily basis. (R. at 59, 69-70). She also testified that
she received treatment for a respiratory condition. (R. at
62-63). The plaintiff asserted that she had bilateral hearing
loss but did not wear hearing aids because they were
uncomfortable. (R. at 73-74).
Ratynski testified that she does no household tasks, does not
cook, and does not visit friends. (R. at 63, 66). Since 2008,
she allegedly spends her days propped up in a chair reading
or watching television. (R. at 63-64). She owns a car but
reported that she only drives once a month. (R. at 45, 95).
The plaintiff maintained that she could sit for twenty
minutes to one half hour at a time, could walk for five to
ten minutes, and could stand for about fifteen minutes. (R.
at 68, 93, 96).
Medical Evidence Prior to the December 30, 2008
Disability Onset Date
2003 through December 12, 2008, Ms. Ratynski visited Dr.
Rodolfo Nazario on approximately a monthly basis, complaining
of a variety of symptoms, including weight gain, sensitivity
in her right leg, headaches, nausea, and neck and back pain.
(R. at 503-34). Dr. Nazario's notes do not indicate any
objective findings with respect to the plaintiff's
extremities, though once in 2006 and twice in 2008, he
recorded a positive Lasegue sign. (R. at 501, 504, 512). In
addition, in July 2008, the plaintiff complained of increased
sensitivity over the back of her right leg. (R. at 504).
Ratynski was seen by Dr. Harsha Sharma in January 2004. Dr.
Sharma noted that an examination in 2000 had revealed a
“painful right knee from localized tissue injury and
indication of neuropathic symptoms in the right lower
extremity, possibly complex regional pain syndrome.”
(R. at 412-23). The plaintiff reported that she was taking
Neurontin and OxyContin and that symptoms of hyperalgesia and
allodynia had improved. (R. at 412). Dr. Sharma did not report
any new examination findings but stated that the plaintiff
had lumbar nerve block injections in the past and could
repeat this treatment annually. (R. at 412-13, 445-72).
2005, Ms. Ratynski underwent a CT scan of her lumbar spine.
This revealed a central disc bulge at ¶ 4-L5 without
stenosis of the spinal canal; mild neural foramina compromise
at ¶ 5-S1 due to a diffuse bulging disc; and mild neural
foramina compromise on the right at ¶ 2-L3 and L3-L4.
(R. at 414-15). The exiting nerve roots for the disc levels
involved were unremarkable. (R. at 414).
Medical Evidence After the December 30, 2008 Disability
December 2008 through October 2010, Ms. Ratynski continued to
treat with Dr. Nazario approximately once a month. (R. at
493-503). In June 2009, she complained of tenderness in the
right lower back, and Dr. Nazario noted a positive Lasegue
sign on the right. (R. at 501). Dr. Nazario reported possible
Lyme disease in August 2010, but subsequent blood tests were
negative. (R. at 495, 546).
Ratynski underwent magnetic resonance imaging
(“MRI”) studies of her lumbar spine, thoracic
spine, and right knee on October 13, 2010. (R. at 416-17,
419-20). The MRI of the lumbosacral spine revealed a shallow
right paracentral disc protrusion with mild right anterior
thecal sac impingement but no significant neural foraminal
stenosis at ¶ 5-S1. (R. at 416). At ¶ 4-L5, there
was a right paracentral disc protrusion with annular tear and
discogenic endplate changes with mild thecal sac impingement
but no disc herniation or foraminal stenosis. (R. at 416).
The MRI of the thoracic spine showed a small paracentral disc
protrusion with minimal right anterior cord impingement at
¶ 6-T7 and some disc bulges at ¶ 7-T8 and T8-T9.
(R. at 417). The MRI of the plaintiff's right knee showed
post-surgical changes including surgical hardware in the
tibia. (R. at 419). There was some evidence of a meniscal
tear, but the cruciate and collateral ligaments were intact.
(R. at 419-20).
October and November 2010, Ms. Ratynski saw Dr. Nazario for
routine examinations. (R. at 493, 692-97). She complained of
neck and back pain, but an examination showed normal strength
in all muscle groups, normal range of motion in all joints,
and no joint swelling. (R. at 693, 697). Her motor strength
was 5/5 and equal in all extremities, and her deep tendon
reflexes were 2/4 and equal bilaterally. (R. at 693, 697).
Dr. Nazario did not observe any focal neurological deficits.
(R. at 693, 697). He diagnosed thoracic spinal cord
impingement, lumbar disc displacement, a torn lateral
meniscus in the right knee, hypertension, and migraines, and
he noted the plaintiff was taking Zolpidem, ibuprofen,
Percocet, Fioricet, butalbital, and OxyContin. (R. at
November 2010, Ms. Ratynski was examined by Dr. Jin Li at
Westchester Medical Center. (R. at 484-85). She complained of
right knee and low back pain and appeared to lean to the left
while walking. (R. at 484-85). Her strength was 5/5 in all
extremities except for her right leg, where it was reduced
due to pain. (R. at 485). Her sensation was intact except on
the back of her right leg, where it was decreased. (R. at
485). Dr. Li diagnosed the plaintiff with low back and right
knee pain and referred her for physical therapy, pain
management, and electromyography (“EMG”) testing.
(R. at 485).
plaintiff continued to see Dr. Nazario monthly from December
2010 through August 2011. (R. at 491-92, 668-91). In March
2011, he noted lumbar muscle spasm and a positive Lasegue
sign. (R. at 668, 677, 679, 683, 689, 691). On a full
examination in April 2011, Dr. Nazario noted normal motor
strength, normal range of motion, normal reflexes and other
neurological signs, normal respiration, and grossly normal
psychiatric findings. (R. at 685). In June 2011, Dr. Nazario
noted RSD and referred Ms. Ratynski to a Dr. Weinstein, but
there is no indication that she ever followed up. (R. at
Ratynski was examined by Dr. Michael Cho in June 2011, and he
reported that her gait, sensation, and motor strength were
all normal, and that her reflexes were 2 and symmetric. (R.
at 421). He assessed the plaintiff as having degeneration of
a lumbar disc. (R. at 421).
and September 2011, the plaintiff was examined for a salivary
gland mass, which was determined not to be malignant. (R. at
322-24, 432, 616-19). Dr. Jagadish Navare, an ear, nose, and
throat (“ENT”) specialist, examined Ms. Ratynski
in July 2011 and, among other things, found that her hearing
was grossly intact bilaterally. (R. at 617-18). Dr. Lawrence
Gordon, another ENT specialist, saw the plaintiff in October
and November 2011 for complaints of throat pain and fatigue.
(R. at 598-603). At both examinations, the plaintiff denied
any ear complaints, and examinations showed that her hearing
was grossly intact bilaterally. (R. at 598-99, 601-02). Dr.
Gordon diagnosed a chronic infection of the lymph nodes and
prescribed acyclovir. (R. at 599, 606-15).
October 2011, Ms. Ratynski was seen at the Orange Regional
Medical Center, where she complained of shortness of breath.
(R. at 326-28). A pulmonary examination revealed normal
breath sounds and no respiratory distress. (R. at 326-27).
Medical staff conducted blood tests and took x-rays and CT
scans of the chest and found no evidence of active pulmonary
disease. (R. at 328-38). A musculoskeletal examination found
a normal range of motion, no swelling, and no tenderness. (R.
September 2011 through January 2012, Ms. Ratynski continued
to see Dr. Nazario regularly. (R. at 650-67). He reported her
muscle strength and range of motion for all joints to be
normal. (R. at 651, 653, 655). The plaintiff reported right
shoulder and knee pain during the November and December
examinations, and a positive Lasegue sign was sometimes
noted. (R. at 657, 659, 661, 663-64). In January 2012, Dr.
Nazario diagnosed ...