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Cirulli v. Commissioner of Social Security

United States District Court, N.D. New York

September 7, 2017

ANNE L. CIRULLI, Plaintiff,


          FOR DEFENDANT: HON. GRANT JAQUITH Acting United States Attorney

          JEAN M. DEL COLLIANO, ESQ. Special Assistant U.S. Attorney



         Plaintiff Anne L. Cirulli, who is proceeding pro se, has commenced this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) seeking judicial review of an adverse determination by the Acting Commissioner of Social Security.[1]Plaintiff challenges the agency's determination that she was not disabled at the relevant times and thus ineligible to receive disability insurance benefits under the Social Security Act. For the reasons set forth below, defendant's motion for judgment on the pleadings is granted, the Acting Commissioner's determination is affirmed, and plaintiff's complaint is dismissed.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff was born in July 1960, and at the time of her alleged disability onset date of September 1, 2014, was fifty-four years old. Administrative Transcript ("AT") 155. Plaintiff is five feet, eight inches in height, weighs 190 pounds, and is right-hand dominant. AT 39, 196, 207. Plaintiff graduated from high school and completed up to two years of college course work and achieved a medical typist certificate. AT 35-36, 341.

         Plaintiff was involved in a motor vehicle accident on July 24, 2012, resulting in an injury to her right knee. AT 213, 420, 444. Following that accident, plaintiff sought treatment from her general physician, Dr. Rosemary Deleo, who treated her with oral medication, ordered physical therapy, and arranged for magnetic resonance imaging ("MRI") testing of the knee. AT 420. The MRI testing revealed a medial meniscus tear and a probable small lateral meniscus tear. AT 281. Plaintiff was subsequently seen by Dr. Mark Aierstok, an orthopedic surgeon with Orthopedic Associates of Dutchess County, who surgically repaired her meniscus on February 2, 2013. AT 41, 420. Plaintiff has been informed that she will need a total right knee replacement in the future. AT 47, 420.

         Following her accident, plaintiff also began to complain of moderate to severe neck pain. AT 212, 420. MRI testing conducted of plaintiff's cervical spine on October 28, 2012, revealed some degenerative changes, a small bulge at ¶ 3-4 with right foraminal stenosis but minimal impression on the posterior cord, a mild bulge at ¶ 4-5 with some foraminal stenosis but mild impression on the left posterior cord, and disc narrowing at ¶ 5-6 and C6-7 with some bulge/osteophytes and mild central and severe foraminal stenosis. AT 282. The report of that MRI testing concluded with the following impression:

Multilevel degenerative changes and stenosis. Compression of the cord is very mild without myelomalacia. Equivocal for recent bone trauma in the C7 posterior spinous process and C7 ligamentum nuchae.

AT 283.

         In or about 2006, plaintiff also began to experience lumbar back pain. AT 347. MRI testing conducted on July 24, 2006, revealed some bulging discs and the following impression:

Severe bilateral facet arthropathy from L3 to S1. Forminal stenoses at ¶ 4-5 and L5-S1 and mild to moderate central spinal stenosis at ¶ 4-5 are about the same as on the 2004 MR.

AT 280. An x-ray of plaintiff's lumbosacral spine, taken on April 2, 2015, revealed some degenerative changes with Grade I spondylolisthesis of L4 over L5 and facet joint arthropathy. AT 352.

         In addition to these conditions, plaintiff has now developed difficulties with her left knee. Following attempts at less invasive treatment, plaintiff underwent surgery by Dr. Aierstok on April 15, 2015, to repair a medical meniscal tear. AT 41, 360-61. Plaintiff is required to use a cane to ambulate. AT 46. It has also been recommended that plaintiff undergo a left knee replacement. AT 47. Plaintiff has been administered cortisone injections for her left knee condition, but has not experienced any relief from those shots. AT 42. Plaintiff utilizes braces on both knees as prescribed by Dr. Aierstok. AT 48. Plaintiff also complains of arthritis in both hands, as well as in her lumbar and cervical spine area, coupled with numbness and tingling from her neck and back into her feet and hands. AT 52-53.

         Plaintiff has received medical treatment for her various conditions from several sources. Plaintiff's knee conditions have been treated by Dr. Aierstok and Dr. Richard Dentico, also with Orthopedic Associates, who has provided plaintiff with steroid injections and a nerve block. AT 369-70, 374-75. Plaintiff's lumbar spine condition has been treated by Dr. Perkins, who states that plaintiff is a candidate for spinal surgery. AT 433-37. Dr. Deleo, plaintiff's family physician, has seen plaintiff for a variety of conditions. AT 382-403, 438-40. Plaintiff was also seen by Dr. Ze'er Weitz in January 2015 for evaluation of her back and knee pain, AT 298-99, and again by Dr. John Ioia at the Kingston Well and Joint Center on April 3, 2013. AT 418-19. In his report, Dr. Ioia, noted that "[u]ltimately joint replacement will be considered but the patient is quite oyung [sic] and healthy." AT 419.

         In addition to her physical conditions, plaintiff also suffers from depression and anxiety. AT 42-43. Although she has been prescribed Celexa and BuSpar for those conditions, plaintiff has not undergone any specialized mental health treatment. Id. Plaintiff states that those medications have helped her with her mental health symptoms. Id.

         Plaintiff has also been prescribed Mobic, Flexeril, and Percocet. AT 43, 45, 198, 341, 347-48. According to plaintiff, the medications she takes cause her to experience dizziness and drowsiness, and preclude her from driving. AT 45.

         For several years, plaintiff was employed as a medical receptionist for River Radiology, located in Kingston, New York. AT 38-39. In that position, she worked mostly in a seated position and was required to carry some files and medical records. AT 39. Plaintiff left her employment with River Radiology following the motor vehicle accident and became a co-owner of a pizzeria with her husband. AT 36-37, 46, 57. Since September 2014, however, plaintiff has had no involvement in the operation of the business. AT 40, 197, 213, 341.


         A. Proceedings Before the Agency

         Plaintiff applied for disability insurance benefits pursuant to Title II of the Social Security Act on December 24, 2014. AT 155-56. In her application, plaintiff alleged a disability onset date of July 24, 2012.[2] Id. Plaintiff's claim was initially denied on April 9, 2015. AT 73-83. Thereafter, a hearing was conducted on June 24, 2016, before Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") Robert Gonzalez. AT 32-72. Both plaintiff and a vocational expert testified at the hearing. Id. ALJ Gonzalez subsequently issued a written decision on July 25, 2016, in which he found that plaintiff was not disabled at the relevant times and therefore not entitled to the benefits sought. AT 14-31. Id. The ALJ's opinion became a final determination of the agency on October 18, 2016, upon the denial by the Social Security Administration Appeals Council of plaintiff's request for review of the decision. AT 1-6.

         B. Proceedings in This Court

         Acting pro se, plaintiff commenced this action on December 12, 2016. Dkt. No. 1. On March 30, 2017, counsel for the Acting Commissioner filed an administrative transcript of the evidence and proceedings before the agency.[3] Dkt. No. 12. With the filing of plaintiff's brief on April 20, 2017, Dkt. No. 15, and that on behalf of the ...

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