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Galarza v. Commissioner of Social Security

January 25, 2010

MYRIAM A. GALARZA, PLAINTIFF,
v.
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Peter G. Sheridan, U.S.D.J.

OPINION

Plaintiff Myriam A. Galarza appeals the Commissioner of Social Security's denial of her disability benefits. Plaintiff filed an application for disability insurance benefits on April 8, 2004 alleging disability beginning April 30, 2001 due to a back injury, high blood pressure, depression, and restlessness. (R. 143, 145). Plaintiff's application was initially denied by a June 30, 2006 decision by the Honorable Michal Lissek, an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"); but on February 23, 2007 the Appeals Counsel of the Social Security Administration vacated that decision, and remanded the case for further proceedings. On remand, the ALJ found Plaintiff disabled as of April 22, 2004, and has remained disabled since that date. The issue on appeal is whether Plaintiff was disabled from April 30, 2001 through February 27, 2004 due to a "severe" psychiatric impairment*fn1 .

I.

Plaintiff is a 59 year old woman born in Puerto Rico. She immigrated to the United States when she was 18 years old. (R. 234). Plaintiff is a high school graduate with no special job training or education. (R. 149). Presently, she lives in Perth Amboy, New Jersey in an apartment with her son. Her husband died on February 27, 2004. (R. 139). According to the April, 2004 Adult Disability Report, Plaintiff alleges that she is unable to work after she was injured in a car accident on May 20, 2000. Since that day she has had sharp acute pain in her lower back and head. The pain throbs down her back and into her shoulder. Her lower back pain is exacerbated by standing or sitting too long. She stated that she could not sit or stand for more than 2 hours.

Plaintiff worked as a sewing machine operator for Schott Brothers, Inc. from 1989 through 2001 where she sewed various items (buttons and zippers) onto coats. The heaviest weight Plaintiff frequently lifted was 10 pounds. Her job required her to walk 2 hours, sit 8 hours, stoop and crouch, and to maneuver coats for 8 to 10 hours per day. After the auto accident, Plaintiff could not work due to pain.

At present, Plaintiff described her typical day as getting up, making coffee, and sitting for a while before dusting. After dusting, she then sits awhile and then cooks dinner. Plaintiff complained that dinner preparation takes a longer period since she must sit to quell the pain. (R. 191). She cooks about once a day, cleans, vacuums, and washes dishes, but cannot lift heavy items or move her shoulder too many times. (R. 192). She can walk about 2 blocks before stopping to rest for a brief period (15 - 20 minutes). In a headache questionnaire dated August, 2004, Plaintiff complained that her headaches occur almost every day, and persist from a few hours to a few days.

(R. 195). The headaches cause nauseousness and are exacerbated by light and noise. She takes Advil or a prescription medication for the pain. As of August 2004, Plaintiff's medications included Diovan HCT, Paxil, Ambien Celebrex, Advil, and Coreg Myoflex. (R. 226).

At the March 2, 2006 administrative hearing, Plaintiff testified that she was injured in an automobile accident in 2000 and stopped working a year later due to pain (R. 391-92). She further testified that she had been receiving psychiatric therapy once a week since sometime in 2005 (R. 395-96). Finally, Plaintiff testified that she sometimes does household chores but rarely leaves her home. (R. 397).

At the July 25, 2007 hearing, Plaintiff testified that her conditions had worsened since the 2006 hearing, and she had begun to use a cane during the last couple of months. (R. 408). Her physical impairments and headaches have become more painful and continuous, and her psychiatric condition had worsened since her husband passed away. (R. 409-10, 413).

Progress Notes from Treating Physicians

On August 30, 2000, Plaintiff was treated by Steven Lomazow, M.D, a neurologist. On exam, Plaintiff had bilateral paraspinal cervical and upper trapezious spasm and exquisite tenderness in left and right trapezii. There was pain in the range of motion of Plaintiff's left shoulder. She was also diagnosed with persistent cervical complaints, probable internal derangement of the left shoulder and post traumatic headaches, cericogenic in nature. (R. 279-280).

On November 6, 2000 Plaintiff was seen by Gregory P. Charko, M.D., of Orthopedic Physicians and Surgeons. At the time of the examination, she complained of pain in her neck and left shoulder radiating down into her elbow resulting from the motor vehicle accident. Dr. Charko reported that Plaintiff walked with a normal gait, was neurologically intact with normal sensation and reflexes in the arms, had intact strength in her forearms and hands, with only somewhat limited motion in her cervical spine and left shoulder (R. 282). It was Dr. Charko's opinion that Plaintiff had a cervical sprain with cervical radiculits and left shoulder sprain with impingement and partial rotator cuff injury.

On February 22, 2001, John W. King, an orthopedic physician opined that Plaintiff was suffering from a herniated disc in her neck at C5/6 on the right. She was referred to physical therapy for ...


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