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Juan A. Scott v. Michael J. Astrue

March 19, 2012


The opinion of the court was delivered by: James E. Boasberg United States District Judge


Plaintiff Juan A. Scott brings this pro se action seeking reversal of the decision made by the Commissioner of Social Security that he is not disabled under the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 1381-1383, and therefore not entitled to supplemental security income (SSI). Although Plaintiff never mentions 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), Defendant correctly points out that this must be the basis for his suit. See Mot. at 1 n.1. As the Court finds that substantial evidence supports the Commissioner's decision, it will grant Defendant's Motion for Judgment of Affirmance.


A. Factual Background

Plaintiff is a 53-year-old man with a high school education and no vocational training. Administrative Record (AR) at 87, 108. From 1990 to 1991, he worked in a warehouse with the Metropolitan Police Department performing duties such as driving a forklift, receiving supplies, lifting boxes, and driving a bus. Id. at 105. According to Plaintiff, on March 11, 1991, he was involved in a work-related accident that resulted in a "herniated disk, spine [and] neck problems, [a] bad hip, chron[ic] migraine[s], [and] heart problems." Id. at 104-05, 657-59. Multiple examinations by a bevy of medical practitioners over the course of many years have revealed that Plaintiff indeed suffers from both physical and mental infirmities, some stemming from his 1991 accident. Given the remarkable number of doctors who have examined or treated Plaintiff, what follows is not an exhaustive list of all doctors or medical opinions in the eighteen years between Plaintiff's accident and the October 20, 2009, decision to deny his SSI application. Instead, the Court summarizes the most salient ones.

1.Physical Difficulties

From March 1991 to at least November 2009, Plaintiff was examined intermittently by internist Dr. Charles F. Colao. During what appear to be regular medical visits that began after the 1991 accident and lasted until 1993, Colao noted tenderness, pain, and limited range of motion in Plaintiff's neck and lower back, id. at 168-93, but he nevertheless did not recommend surgery because he observed no herniated disks. Id. at 185. Colao also repeatedly opined that Plaintiff was disabled and recommended light physical duty. Id. at 168-93.

During later examinations conducted by Colao between 2002 and 2009, Plaintiff was again diagnosed with cervical and lumbar spine disorders. Id. at 169-70, 275-76 (2002 examinations), 277-78 (2003 examination), 392-93 (2006 examination), 420-21 (2007 examination), 425 (2008 examination), 624 (2009 examination). According to Colao, Plaintiff had radiculopathy in his extremities (noted in 2009, 2008, 2007, 2006, and 2002 examinations); bulging and herniated disks (2006, 2003, and 2002); flattening of the spinal cord (2006); "mild to moderate" spinal stenosis (2006 and 2002); muscle atrophy and weakness in his extremities (2009, 2007, 2006, and 2002); tenderness in his lumbar spine (2009, 2008, 2007, and 2003); chronic headaches (2009, 2007, and 2006); and difficulty with walking, bending, squatting, and touching his toes (2007, 2006, and 2002). Id. at 169-70, 275-76, 277-78, 392-93, 420-21, 425, 624. Colao also stated at different times that he believed Plaintiff was disabled. Id. at 170, 425, 624 (in 2009, 2008, and 2002, Plaintiff was "disabled for work"); id. at 393 (in 2006, Plaintiff was "permanently and totally disabled"); id. at 421 (in 2007, Plaintiff was "disabled for his occupation and for all work").

Other doctors appear to have arrived at different conclusions regarding the extent of Plaintiff's physical impairments. For instance, in a November 22, 2004, examination, internist Dr. Elliot Aleskow noted that Plaintiff "[had] limitation of range of motion of the cervical spine and lumbosacral spine region. Plain x-rays," however, "[did] not reveal significant abnormalities in the lumbosacral or cervical spine region." Id. at 325-26. Additionally, Plaintiff "had good strength in all four extremities," and "[t]here was no evidence of muscle wasting." Id. at 326. Another examination of Plaintiff by Dr. Aleskow three years later yielded identical results. See id. at 394-404 (November 18, 2007, examination). Again, an x-ray revealed "no fractures, dislocations or other bony abnormalities" in either the cervical or lumbosacral spine regions. Id. at 397. In the 2007 report, Dr. Aleskow also added that Plaintiff was "able to transfer without any difficulty and ambulate about the office without any difficulty," but "had some mild difficulties with some fine motor skills of the hands." Id. at 396-97.

In a March 14, 2007, consultative examination, neurologist Dr. Chitra R. Chari concluded that Plaintiff's "neurologic examination [was] essentially normal." Id. at 410. Dr. Chari also found "no atrophy in any of the muscle groups," stated that Plaintiff had "4 to 5/5 strength in all 4 limbs," and observed that Plaintiff "took his shoes and socks off by himself and . . . could get on and off the examination table without assistance." Id. at 409.

On April 16, 2003, Plaintiff was also examined by Dr. Eugene Miknowski. Id. at 289-96. Dr. Miknowski reported that Plaintiff had "decreased range of motion in his lumbar spine, both shoulders, cervical spine and hips." Id. at 291. X-rays of the cervical spine, however, revealed that there was "no evidence of fracture," and the cervical vertebrae were "mostly unremarkable [in] appearance." Id. A "lumbar spine x-ray also demonstrated no fractures" and was "normal." Id. Dr. Miknowski then added: "Considering [Plaintiff's] chronic pain, he is not recommended for heavy lifting, pushing or pulling -- mild to moderate [work-related activities] do not appear to be restricted. Walking is mildly restricted. Standing or sitting are not restricted. Hearing, speaking, and hand manipulation are not restricted." Id. at 292.

Among the many other medical practitioners who have also examined Plaintiff was neurological surgeon Dr. George J. Mathews, whose medical findings are conveyed in an August 28, 2003, report. Id. at 423. During his consultative examination, Mathews interpreted Plaintiff's MRI from April 27, 1999. Id. Consistent with an earlier, contemporaneous interpretation of that MRI, see id. at 232-33, Mathews found in Plaintiff's cervical spine evidence of disk herniation, spinal stenosis, and spinal cord compression, but no nerve root compression. Id. at 423. Plaintiff's lumbar spine, on the other hand, was "normal except for some physiological protrusion of the lumbar discs." Id. Mathews nonetheless concluded that Plaintiff was "totally and permanently disabled." Id.

Finally, two separate physicians from Disability Determination Services (DDS) also arrived at conclusions regarding Plaintiff's physical limitations similar to the findings of Drs. Aleskow, Chari, and Miknowski. On December 29, 2004, and again on March 26, 2007, DDS physicians, relying in large part on Plaintiff's medical records, concluded that Plaintiff could occasionally lift twenty pounds, could frequently lift ten pounds, and could stand, walk, or sit for six hours in an eight-hour workday. See id. at 334, 413. Plaintiff, however, was limited in his ability to push or pull with his extremities and had some postural limitations such as the ability to climb ladders, ropes, and scaffolds. See id. at 334-35, 413-14. A face-to-face interview with Plaintiff by an interviewer from the Social Security Administration also revealed no limitations in Plaintiff's hearing, reading, breathing, understanding, concentrating, talking, answering, sitting, standing, walking, seeing, using of hands, or writing. See id. at 111.

2.Mental Difficulties

In addition to physical difficulties, a number of doctors have also diagnosed Plaintiff with mental difficulties. From as early as August 11, 2004, Plaintiff began receiving mental health care from the Scruples Corporation. See id. at 318-23, 341-43, 427-622. Although he was never hospitalized, Plaintiff was diagnosed with depression and prescribed medication. See id. at 341-42, 364-65, 614-19, 660-61. In a 2006 comprehensive psychiatric evaluation at the Scruples Corporation, Plaintiff was noted by psychiatrist Dr. Amir Rehman to be in stable condition. Id. at 364; see also id. at 448, 555, 558, 561, 564, 586 (Plaintiff was at different times in 2005 and 2006 "psychiatrically stable"). Plaintiff also "report[ed] progressive improvements [in his depression], and denie[d] any major side effects." Id. at 364. Although Plaintiff had poor impulse control, id. at 342, and occasional anxiety and irritability, id. at 620, 660-61, there was no evidence of suicidal or homicidal ideations, id. at 319, or auditory and visual hallucinations. Id. at 341.

Three DDS physicians also reached similar conclusions regarding Plaintiff's mental impairments. See id. at 300-17, 346-63, 368-85. On July 16, 2003, the first Mental Residual Functional Capacity Assessment ("RFC mental assessment") of Plaintiff concluded that he was moderately limited in four areas of mental activity: 1) "ability to maintain attention and concentration for extended periods"; 2) "ability to perform activities within a schedule, maintain regular attendance, and be punctual within customary tolerances"; 3) "ability to complete a normal work-day and workweek without [psychologically-based] interruptions"; and 4) "ability to accept instructions and respond appropriately to criticism from supervisors." Id. at 300-01. Plaintiff was then found to be mildly limited in "Activities of Daily Living" and "Social Functioning," moderately limited in "Maintaining Concentration, Persistence, or Pace," and had experienced no episodes of decompensation of extended duration. Id. at 314. The second RFC mental assessment conducted by another physician on February 2, 2005, reached virtually the same conclusions. See id. at 346-47. On September 22, 2006, the third RFC mental assessment of Plaintiff by yet another DDS physician added that Plaintiff was also moderately limited in the "ability to understand and remember detailed instructions," id. at 368, moderately -- rather than mildly -- limited in "Activities of Daily Living" and "Social Functioning," and had experienced one or two episodes of decompensation of extended duration. Id. at 382.

B. Procedural Background

The record shows that Plaintiff has spent the past decade -- and perhaps more -- either applying for SSI benefits for his 1991 accident or appealing denials of those applications. See AR at 83-86 (2002 SSI application); Supplemental Complaint at 2-3 (reference to a 1999 appeal). Before the Court is his most recent application filed on ...

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