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Stubbs v. Commissioner of Social Security

April 26, 2010

ERIC STUBBS, PLAINTIFF,
v.
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Wigenton, District Judge

OPINION

Before the Court is Plaintiff Eric Stubbs‟s appeal of the final administrative decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration ("Commissioner"), with respect to Administrative Law Judge Joel H. Friedman‟s ("ALJ") denial of Stubbs‟s claim for disability insurance benefits ("DIB") under Sections 216(i) and 223(d) of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 416(i) and 423(d), and for supplemental security income ("SSI") benefits under Section 1614(a)(3)(A) of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. § 1382c(a)(3)(A). This appeal is decided without oral argument pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 78. The Court has subject matter jurisdiction pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and 1383(c)(3). Venue is proper under 28 U.S.C. § 1391(b). For the reasons stated herein, this Court AFFIRMS the Commissioner‟s decision.

I. Background and Procedural History

Stubbs was born on November 15, 1961, was forty-one years old at the time of the filing, and has completed schooling up to the eleventh grade. Plaintiff filed applications for DIB and SSI on October 22, 2003. His claim was denied initially and upon reconsideration.

A. Medical Treatment Records

Prior to his alleged disability onset date of October 14, 2003, Stubbs was treated at University Hospital for back pain and non-acute gout. On September 30, 2003, Stubbs was treated at University Hospital for an acute gouty arthritis attack with reported pain in the right wrist, elbows, knee, and hip. At that time, Stubbs stated that his last gout attack had been six months prior. In addition, he admitted to drinking beer and eating red meat, and had not been compliant with his medication or diet restrictions. Stubbs was given medication to treat the gout and was scheduled for additional treatment in the rheumatology clinic. Stubbs was again treated at Rhomur Medical Services ("Rhomur") for gout attacks and synovitis in November 2003. Stubbs reported in November 2003 that he had stopped drinking six weeks prior to the treatment.

In February 2004, Stubbs was examined at Rhomur and his gout was found to be stable. Also during that month, Dr. Michael Leibowitz conducted an orthopedic disability examination of Plaintiff. Stubbs complained of pain, swelling, and stiffness in both the left ankle and right wrist, but stated that the gout medications alleviated his pain. Stubbs denied using any assistive devices and none was used during the examination. His hand and finger dexterity were intact, grip strength rated a 4 for the right hand and 5/5 on the left, and bilateral range of motion was full in the forearms and wrists. Stubbs‟s lower extremities had limited ranges of motion and parts were found to be tender, warm, or inflamed. The prognosis at the time was poor with moderate restrictions for standing, bending, ambulating, and squatting, and mild to moderate restrictions for activities requiring full range of motion and strength in the right wrist and hand.

On March 25, 2004 and July 9, 2004, the State‟s medical consultant, Dr. R. Briski, conducted physical residual functional capacity assessments of Stubbs and found that he could lift and carry ten pounds frequently and twenty pounds occasionally; stand and walk for two to three hours a day; sit with normal breaks for about six hours in an eight hour workday; occasionally perform postural activities with no limitation for manipulative activities; and push and/or pull unlimitedly other than the lift and carry limitations.

Between March 28, 2005 and October 28, 2005, Stubbs was treated on multiple occasions for non-gout conditions. During this same period, the record indicates Stubbs drank a six pack of beer daily and had been using cocaine. Stubbs was also "trying to get disability for his gout" during these visits.

On November 11, 2005, Stubbs was treated for acute gouty arthritis in the left hand and elbow. At that time, he reported that his last acute attack was in July 2004 and he was advised by doctors to abstain from drinking any alcohol. However, the treatment record indicates that on December 5, 2005, when Stubbs again sought treatment for gout, he had been drinking up until one week prior to the treatment and had not been taking his medication. He had also refused to undergo arthrocentesis treatment and said he was "trying for disability."

On January 20, 2006, Monica Chomsky, an advance practice registered nurse who treated Plaintiff at Rhomur, performed a physical for the purpose of completing the Medical Source Statement of Ability to Do Work-Related Activities. She found that Stubbs‟s right knee was slightly swollen, with 170 degrees flexion and 75 percent flexion without pain. She also opined that the left knee was 95 percent improved; range of motion was 100 percent with minimal pain; and that Plaintiff‟s fingers had no problems. In addition, he could lift up to twenty pounds frequently; stand and walk for less than two hours a day; climb and balance occasionally; and sit without limitations. However, his ability to push and pull was intermittently limited in both the upper and lower extremities and he could not kneel, crouch, crawl, or stoop. Nurse Chomsky also found that Stubbs also has no manipulative limitations except performing gross and fine manipulations during acute gout attacks.

On April 18, 2006, Plaintiff was treated for recurrent gouty arthritis. Stubbs was found to be drinking again and was advised to modify his diet and lower his alcohol intake. The gout was much improved during review of his medical tests in May 2006. However, Stubbs continued to drink up to one quart of beer daily.

On April 26, 2007, Stubbs received treatment for gout symptoms in his left wrist. A physical examination showed minimal swelling and unremarkable x-rays. Stubbs‟s gait was steady, range of motion in the musculoskeletal system was full, and pulses were 2 and strong. Stubbs was again drinking alcohol prior to the gout attack. Stubbs was instructed to follow up with rheumatology treatments.

Stubbs again sought treatment at University Hospital for pain in his right elbow and hand on October 24, 2007. He reported he had run out of his gout medication and had been drinking alcohol prior to the gout attack. Stubbs received an injection of Toradol and his prescription for gout medication was renewed.

During an April 2008 hospital visit, Stubbs was ambulating with crutches obtained from an unrelated accident and presented a form for disability secondary to gout. The physician found no swelling, effusion, or palpable tenderness in his right knee, and refused to complete the form. Stubbs was advised to take his medication.

On May 20, 2008, Dr. Dyana Aldea, a State appointed orthopedic consultant, examined Stubbs. Plaintiff complained of right knee and foot pain secondary to gout. Dr. Aldea found he could lift and carry up to ten pounds continuously, up to twenty pounds frequently, and up to fifty pounds at least occasionally and sometimes frequently. In addition, he could sit for three hours at a time and five hours in a day and stand one hour continuously and two hours total in a day. Dr. Aldea also opined that he can shop; travel without a companion for assistance; walk a block at a reasonable pace on rough or uneven surfaces; use public transportation; prepare a simple meal and feed himself; and care for his personal hygiene. Stubbs could also use both hands continuously for reaching in all directions, and could handle, finger, feel, push, and pull. Stubbs could also use his right foot occasionally and left foot ...


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