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Camarota v. Commissioner of Social Security

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

January 13, 2020

MELISSA CAMAROTA
v.
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY

          RULING ON THE PLAINTIFF''S MOTION FOR ORDER REVERSING THE COMMISSIONER'S DECISION AND ON THE DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR AN ORDER AFFIRMING THE COMMISSIONER'S DECISION

          Robert M. Spector United States Magistrate Judge.

         This action, filed under § 205(g) of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), seeks review of a final decision by the Commissioner of Social Security [“SSA”] denying the plaintiff disability insurance benefits [“DIB”] and Supplemental Security Income [“SSI”].

         I. ADMINISTRATIVE PROCEEDINGS

         On June 19, 2015, the plaintiff filed applications for DIB and SSI, claiming she has been disabled since September 2, 2014, [1] due to “epilepsy, irregular heartbeat, neck fused, and back problems.” (Certified Transcript of Administrative Proceedings, dated April 1, 2019 [“Tr.”] 199-213, 241). The plaintiff's application was denied initially, (Tr. 120-129), and upon reconsideration. (Tr. 145-163). On November 2, 2017, a hearing was held before Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) Barry H. Best, at which the plaintiff and a vocational expert testified. (Tr. 34-57). The plaintiff was represented by an attorney. (Id.). On December 28, 2017, the ALJ issued an unfavorable decision denying the plaintiff's claim for benefits. (Tr. 13-25). On November 26, 2018, the Appeals Council denied the plaintiff's request for review, thereby rendering the ALJ's decision final. (Tr. 1-5).

         On January 29, 2019, the plaintiff filed her complaint in this pending action (Doc. No. 1). On January 31, 2019, the parties consented to the jurisdiction of a United States Magistrate Judge, and the case was transferred to the undersigned. (Doc. No. 7). On April 1, 2019, the defendant filed the administrative transcript. (Doc. No. 8). The plaintiff filed her Motion to Reverse on July 9, 2019, (Doc. No. 16), with brief in support, (Doc. No. 16-1 [“Pl.'s Mem.”]), and Statement of Material Facts. (Doc. No. 16-2). On September 16, 2019, the defendant filed his Motion to Affirm, (Doc. No. 1), with brief in support, (Doc. No. 19-1 [“Def.'s Mem.”]), and Statement of Material Facts. (Doc. No. 19-2). For the reasons stated below, the plaintiff's Motion to Reverse (Doc. No. 16) is GRANTED, and the defendant's Motion to Affirm (Doc. No. 19) is DENIED.

         II. FACTUAL BACKGROUND

         The Court presumes the parties' familiarity with the plaintiff's medical history, which is discussed in the parties' respective Statement of Facts. (Doc. Nos. 16-2, 19-2). Though the Court has reviewed the entirety of the medical record, it cites only the portions of the record that are necessary to explain this decision.

         The plaintiff testified at a hearing before the ALJ on November 2, 2017. (Tr. 34-57).[2] At the time of this hearing, the plaintiff was thirty-nine years old and living with her husband and eight-year-old son in a second-floor apartment. (Tr. 39-40). She had to climb stairs to reach her apartment. (Tr. 40). She graduated from high school and completed two years of college, but she did not obtain a college degree. (Id.). She had not worked since February 2015. (Tr. 41). She previously worked as a manager in a doughnut shop and as a catering manager. (Id.).

         The plaintiff testified that she saw Nurse Practitioner Kim Kurey every four weeks for pain management. Ms. Kurey did “trigger point shots” in her neck and back and prescribed her medication. (Tr. 43). The plaintiff testified that she had the following medication regimen: extended release OxyContin, Oxycodone, Methocarbamol (a muscle relaxer), Lamictal (for epilepsy), Gabapentin for neuropathy, and amitriptyline for migraines. (Tr. 44-45). She also saw Dr. Stefana Pecher for medicinal marijuana, which she used two to three times a day, and Dr. Olivia Coiculescu for her epilepsy. (Tr. 44). She testified that Dr. Coiculescu would “send[] [her] for [her] nerve conduction tests.” (Id.). She also testified that she recently had a series of three shots for ocular headaches. (Tr. 43). When asked about side effects from her medications, the plaintiff testified that they kept her awake and made her unable to concentrate. (Tr. 45).

         According to the plaintiff, she “usually [got] about three hours of sleep” and woke up around 7:00 a.m. (Id.). She would “lay on [her] heating pad, probably for about an hour or so.” (Id.). She then helped her son with his studies; he is “homeschooled because [she] cannot physically bring him to school.” (Tr. 46). Her husband would make lunch and dinner before he left for work so that she could “just warm things up.” (Id.). She showered “probably twice a week” with her husband's help. (Id.). She did not do any of the food shopping, sweeping, vacuuming, or washing dishes, but she did fold laundry. (Id.). She watched “about an hour and a half” of television a day. (Tr. 47). She also read and played games on her phone but did not use a computer. (Id.). She would drive “every couple months.” (Id.). The plaintiff testified that the most she could lift or carry would be “about seven pounds”; if she tried to lift more than seven pounds, she would “be in excruciating pain” and “[p]ossibly fall.” (Tr. 48). She also testified that she would only be able to stand or walk for “about 10 or 15 minutes” before needing to sit down, and that she would only be able to sit for “the same.” (Id.).

         The plaintiff testified that in early 2014, while she was working, she began having problems at work. (Tr. 49). She started “dropping things” and she “wasn't able to concentrate.” (Id.). She also missed worked “[s]everal times” unexpectedly. (Id.). When asked about her epilepsy, the plaintiff testified that she took Lamictal and saw her neurologist “every couple [of] months.” (Id.). The medication had been helping, but she had recently had a seizure in her sleep. (Id.). She similarly testified that her migraines had “gotten a little bit better, ” but that “about six months ago” she started getting “really bad ocular headaches.” (Tr. 50). As to her neuropathy, the plaintiff testified that it had gotten worse after her second surgery. (Tr. 51).

         Kenneth R. Smith, a vocational expert (“VE”), also testified at the plaintiff's hearing. The VE testified that the plaintiff's past work as a doughnut shop manager corresponded with “fast food services manager, ” a skilled occupation typically performed at the light exertional level but performed at the medium exertional level as reported by the plaintiff. (Tr. 53). He testified that the plaintiff's past work as a catering manager corresponded with “food service manager, ” also a skilled occupation typically performed at the light exertional level, though the plaintiff had “noted lifting and heavy exertional range, frequent lifting of 50 pounds.” (Tr. 53-54).

         The ALJ then asked the VE to assume the following hypothetical individual: an individual of the plaintiff's age, education, and work background, with limitations of no more than occasional climbing, balancing, stooping, kneeling, crouching, crawling; no work on scaffolds or ladders or ropes; and no work that requires activity at or above shoulder level. (Tr. 54). Such individual would also be limited by pain or effects of medication to uncomplicated tasks that are consistent with the elements of unskilled work activity. (Id.). The ALJ asked the VE to address both light and sedentary exertional levels when answering the ALJ's questions. (Id.).

         In response to questioning, the VE testified that the hypothetical individual described above could not perform the plaintiff's past work. (Tr. 54). The hypothetical individual, if limited to the light exertional level, could perform the occupations of general office clerk, office helper, assembler, and packager. (Id.). If limited to the sedentary exertional level, the hypothetical individual could perform the occupations of assembler and inspector. (Id.). When asked whether the hypothetical individual, with an additional limitation of not more than occasional handling and fingering, could perform the jobs referenced above, the VE answered in the negative. (Tr. 55). The VE also testified that one absence each month was tolerable and that an individual who was off task ten percent or more during the workday would have difficulty “keeping up with the job and ultimately, holding on to the job.” ...


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