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Huyck v. Colvin

United States District Court, W.D. New York

July 11, 2017

JAN HUYCK, Plaintiff,



         Plaintiff Jan Huyck ("Huyck") brings this action pursuant to Section 205(g) of the Social Security Act (the "Act"), 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), seeking judicial review of a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security (the "Commissioner") denying her applications for Supplemental Security Income Benefits and Disability Insurance Benefits ("SSI/DIB"). Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c), the parties have consented to the disposition of this case by a United States magistrate judge. (Docket # 7).

         Currently before the Court are the parties' motions for judgment on the pleadings pursuant to Rule 12(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. (Docket ## 10, 14). For the reasons set forth below, this Court finds that the decision of the Commissioner is supported by substantial evidence in the record and complies with applicable legal standards. Accordingly, the Commissioner's motion for judgment on the pleadings is granted, and Huyck's motion for judgment on the pleadings is denied.


         I. Procedural Background

         Huyck protectively filed for SSI/DIB on February 15, 2013, alleging disability beginning on December 31, 2009, due to pain and limited mobility in both knees, obesity, borderline diabetes, breathing problems, depression, fits of rage, back pain, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, dizziness, and gastroesophageal reflux disorder ("GERD"). (Tr. 151-58, 166, 171).[2] On May 13, 2013, the Social Security Administration denied Huyck's claim for benefits, finding that she was not disabled. (Tr. 91-92). Huyck requested and was granted a hearing before Administrative Law Jennifer Gale Smith (the "ALJ"). (Tr. 99, 119-24). The ALJ conducted a hearing on September 30, 2014. (Tr. 42-70). In a decision dated January 30, 2015, the ALJ found that Huyck was not disabled and was not entitled to benefits. (Tr. 19-38).

         On April 25, 2016, the Appeals Council denied Huyck's request for review of the ALJ's decision. (Tr. 2-5). Huyck commenced this action on May 23, 2016, seeking review of the Commissioner's decision. (Docket # 1).

         II. Relevant Medical Evidence [3]

         The record suggests that Huyck did not receive any medical treatment for several years prior to her applications for benefits. (Tr. 168). According to Huyck, although she suffered from several ailments, she had been unable to afford treatment. (Tr. 177). In connection with her applications, Huyck explained that she had recently applied for Medicaid. (Id.).

         On March 29, 2013, imaging of Huyck's lumbar spine was conducted at the request of her primary care physician, Subodh Debnath ("Debnath"), MD, due to Huyck's complaints of chronic low back pain. (Tr. 240). The imaging demonstrated mild L5-S1 bilateral facet arthrosis with no notable disc space narrowing. (Id.). The SI joints demonstrated mild degeneration. (Id.). The radiologist assessed intact vertebra, spondylosis and recommended an MRI if disc herniation was a concern. (Id.).

         On April 5, 2013, Huyck attended an appointment with Kenneth Wrigley ("Wrigley"), PA, at Fingerlakes Orthopedics. (Tr. 291-93). Huyck indicated that she had been experiencing bilateral knee pain for several years and had not had recent imaging of her knees. (Id.). She rated her pain as five on a ten-point scale. (Id.). Huyck reported that she was unable to take NSAIDS due to her GERD and that she took Tylenol with little relief. (Id.). She indicated that she experienced diffuse pain in both knees, with worse pain in her right knee. (Id.). According to Huyck, she had difficulty navigating stairs and experienced some swelling in her knees. (Id.). Upon examination of her right knee, Wrigley noted small effusion, diffuse pain to palpation, quad strength of four out of five, no instability or thigh or groin pain with hip rotation, and a negative anterior drawer sign. (Id.). Examination of the left knee indicated similar results, although her quad strength was only three out of five. (Id.).

         Imaging of her right knee demonstrated mild medial joint line narrowing and mild arthritis. (Id.). Imaging of her left knee was essentially normal. (Id.). Wrigley assessed bilateral knee pain with right mild degenerative joint disease. (Id.). He recommended that Huyck participate in physical therapy for strengthening and noted that Huyck was unable to take NSAIDS and unwilling to receive a cortisone injection. (Id.). He instructed her to return in six weeks. (Id.). Treatment notes from physical therapy indicated that Huyck was seen for an initial evaluation and attended two subsequent sessions. (Tr. 304). Following her session on April 18, 2013, Huyck did not return for further therapy and was discontinued from the program. (Id.).

         On April 10, 2013, Huyck was examined by state consultant Frank Norsky ("Norsky"), MD. (Tr. 250-55). She reported that her chief complaint was chronic pain in both knee joints, especially in her right knee. (Id.). Huyck indicated that her pain was aggravated by weight-bearing activities, including walking, standing, and climbing stairs. (Id.). She reported that she was only able to walk approximately one block at a time and could stand in one position for no more than thirty minutes. (Id.). According to Huyck, she needed to rest halfway up a flight of stairs. (Id.). Huyck also reported suffering from hypertension, anxiety, depression, obesity, and GERD. (Id.).

         Upon examination, Huyck presented in no acute distress. (Id.). She had normal range of motion in her upper extremities and normal hand grip bilaterally. (Id.). Huyck was morbidly obese, but did not display any deformity of the lumbar spine, and her range of motion in her lumbar spine was normal. (Id.). Norsky observed tenderness to palpation in both knees, but Huyck's knees exhibited no heat or palpable intraarticular effusion, and her range of motion was normal. (Id.). Norsky also noted significant cyanosis of Huyck's feet, and palpation of her dorsalis pedis artery did not reveal any pulsation. (Id.).

         Norsky assessed that Huyck suffered from morbid obesity, chronic knee pain due to osteoarthritis and obesity, mild chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and a history of anxiety and depression. (Id.). According to Norsky, Huyck's prognosis for gainful physical employment was poor unless she underwent bariatric surgery and successfully lost weight. (Id.).

         On May 17, 2013, Huyck returned for a follow-up appointment with Wrigley. (Tr. 294-96). She reported continued pain in her knees and that she had attended physical therapy, which had increased her pain. (Id.). According to Huyck, heat also increased her pain, and she continued to perform a home exercise program. (Id.).

         Upon examination, Wrigley apparently observed no range of motion in Huyck's knees, with greater pain in the right knee. (Id.). Huyck's quad strength was five out of five, and she was able to ambulate without a limp. (Id.). Wrigley assessed bilateral knee pain and mild degenerative joint disease in the right knee. (Id.). He opined that Huyck benefited from physical therapy and a home exercise program and noted that she continued to refuse cortisone injections for her right knee. (Id.). Wrigley did not believe an MRI was indicated and advised her to follow up as necessary. (Id.).

         On June 17, 2013, Huyck attended her first appointment with Sean Stryker ("Stryker"), MD, at Orchard Family Health Care. (Tr. 326-27). She complained of ongoing severe knee pain bilaterally. (Id.). Huyck indicated that she believed that she suffered from rheumatoid arthritis and that her previous physician would not treat her knee pain unless she had bariatric surgery to address her obesity. (Id.). Stryker assessed that Huyck suffered from bilateral knee pain, osteoarthritis of the knee, morbid obesity, tobacco dependence, hypertension, hyperlipidemia, and Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus. (Id.). He ordered comprehensive bloodwork. (Id).

         On August 1, 2013, Huyck returned for another appointment with Stryker. (Tr. 328-29). She did not complain of any pain, but reported experiencing anxiety. (Id.). Stryker assessed generalized anxiety and recommended that she continue her current treatment regimen. (Id.).

         On July 23, 2014, Huyck returned for an appointment with Janet Martin ("Martin"), NP, at Fingerlakes Orthopedics. (Tr. 306-07). Huyck presented with ongoing knee pain, but reported some improvement with the use of a brace on her right knee. (Id.). She also reported that her primary care physician had ordered an MRI, but she was waiting to find out whether her insurance would cover it. (Id.). During the appointment, Huyck was fully weight-bearing, but reported instability, difficulty driving, increased effusion, and inability to bend. (Id.).

         Huyck reported that her pain was moderate and had increased over the last ten years. (Id.). Her medical history was negative for osteoarthritis and gout. (Id.). According to Huyck, she wore a knee sleeve and experienced right ankle pain when driving. (Id.). She reported difficulty rising from a seated position and indicated that she had purchased a raised toilet seat for her home. (Id.). Huyck reported that she could not take NSAIDS due to GERD and had a prescription for Tramadol, but had not yet taken any. (Id.). Huyck indicated that physical therapy had aggravated her pain, but she was not interested in a cortisone injection. (Id).

         Upon examination, Martin noted tenderness of the right knee to palpation of the medial joint line. (Id.). Imaging demonstrated maintained joint space and no patella-femoral arthritis. (Id.). Martin assessed knee pain due to internal derangement of the right knee. (Id.). She recommended cortisone injections, NSAIDS, and physical therapy, but Huyck declined those treatments. (Id.). On October 14, 2014, Martin declined the ALJ's request that she complete a medical source statement relating to Huyck. (Tr. 310-18). According to Martin, she had only treated Huyck on one occasion and Huyck had refused the recommended treatments of physical therapy and injections. (Id.).

         Huyck apparently began receiving treatment from Albert Devlin ("Devlin"), DO, in February 2014. (Tr. 283). Although Devlin's treatment records are not part of the record, he submitted two medical source statements opining on Huyck's physical limitations, and the record suggests that he referred Huyck for mental health treatment relating to her anxiety and depression. (Tr. 283-89, 319-25, 332).

         In an opinion dated September 11, 2014, Devlin indicated that he had been treating Huyck for approximately seven months. (Tr. 283-89). Devlin apparently observed that Huyck suffered from decreased range of motion in her back and right lower extremity and that she walked with a limp. (Id.). He apparently reviewed MRIs of her right knee and assessed that she suffered from internal derangement. (Id.). He also appears to have viewed an MRI of her lumbar spine. (Id.).

         Devlin opined that Huyck was able to lift up to twenty pounds occasionally, but was unable to carry any weight. (Id.). According to Devlin, Huyck could sit, stand, and walk for approximately fifteen minutes at a time and could stand and walk for approximately fifteen minutes over the course of a workday. (Id.). He also believed that she was capable of sitting for up to three hours per day. (Id.). Devlin opined that Huyck required a cane to ambulate and could walk only approximately fifty steps without the use of her cane. (Id.). He did not believe that she could use her free hand to carry any small objects when ambulating with her cane. (Id.).

         According to Devlin, Huyck did not suffer from reaching or handling limitations in her left hand, but was unable to reach overhead or push and pull with her right hand. (Id.). Additionally, he opined that she was unable to operate foot controls with her right foot, but could frequently operate controls with her left foot. (Id.). Devlin opined that due to neck and right knee ailments, Huyck was unable to climb stairs, ramps, ladders or scaffolds, balance, stoop, kneel, crouch, or crawl. (Id.). He also opined that Huyck should avoid certain environmental conditions, including unprotected heights, moving mechanical parts, operating motor vehicles, humidity, wetness, dust, odors, fumes, and pulmonary irritants. (Id.). Devlin indicated that Huyck was able to shop, travel alone, and sort, handle and use paper files, but was unable to use public transportation, walk a block at a reasonable pace, climb steps at a reasonable pace, prepare simple meals, or care for her own personal hygiene. (Id.). In a report dated October 23, 2014, Devlin assessed the same limitations. (Tr. 319-25).

         III. Non-Medical Evidence

         In her applications for benefits, Huyck reported that she was born in 1969. (Tr. 166). According to Huyck, she completed the ninth grade and had previously worked as a cashier, assistant manager of a retail store, a caretaker, and a customer service representative. (Tr. 173). Huyck reported that she lived with her family, and spent the ...

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