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Ratynski v. Colvin

United States District Court, S.D. New York

April 6, 2017

CAROLYN COLVIN, Acting Commissioner Defendant.



         The 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.[1]


         A. Procedural History

         Ms. Ratynski applied for SSI and DIB on June 4, 2012, alleging disability as of December 30, 2008. (R. at 172-79).[2] 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.

         B. Personal History

         Ms. 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 46-51, 186).

         C. Medical Evidence

         1. The Plaintiff's Claimed Disabilities

         Ms. Ratynski alleges a variety of disabling conditions, including herniated discs, reflex sympathetic dystrophy (“RSD”), [3]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).

         Ms. 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).

         2. Medical Evidence Prior to the December 30, 2008 Disability Onset Date

         From 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.[4] (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).

         Ms. 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.[5] (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).

         In May 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).

         3. Medical Evidence After the December 30, 2008 Disability Onset Date

         From 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).

         Ms. 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).

         In 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 690-95).

         In 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).

         The 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 677).

         Ms. 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).

         In July 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).

         In 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. at 327).

         From 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 ...

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