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Edward S. Patterson v. Michael J. Astrue

August 19, 2011


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Kugler, United States District Judge



This matter comes before the Court on an appeal filed by Plaintiff Edward S. Patterson from a decision of the Commissioner of Social Security (the "Commissioner") denying Plaintiff disability insurance benefits ("DBI") and supplemental security income ("SSI") pursuant to Section 205(g) of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). For the reasons expressed below, the Court will vacate the Commissioner's decision that Plaintiff is not entitled to SSI and DBI and remand the matter to the Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ").


A.Procedural History

Plaintiff filed an application for DBI on August 18, 2004, and SSI on September 22, 2004. (Tr. 61, 94-96, 248). Plaintiff alleged that he became disabled on April 26, 2004, as a result of a motor vehicle accident. (Tr. 159-162). Plaintiff's original application was denied as well as his petition for reconsideration. (Tr. 61-72). On March 1, 2007, Plaintiff appeared before an ALJ. (Tr. 23-60, 73). On April 24, 2007, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff was not disabled. (Tr. 13-21). Thereafter, the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review. (Tr. 3-5).

B.Plaintiff's Medical History

Plaintiff is a thirty-eight year old male with a high school diploma. (Tr. 29). At the time of his hearing before the ALJ, Plaintiff stood approximately 6'1" tall and weighed 305 pounds. (Id.). During the hearing, Plaintiff testified that he weighed approximately 250 pounds prior to the motor vehicle accident, and attributed his weight gain to injuries he sustained during the accident. (Id.). He also stated that he gained the weight because he could no longer perform many of the tasks he could perform prior to the accident. (Id.). At the time of the hearing, Plaintiff resided with his mother.

Prior to the onset of his alleged disability, Plaintiff held a variety of jobs that required significant physical exertion. In August 2004, Plaintiff worked for a company called "Casa deCatches." (Tr. 30). That job required him to lift seventy-pound blocks of fish, and other forty-five pound boxes. (Tr. 30). From 1998 to 2000, Plaintiff worked in a meat processing plant lifting heavy meat and performing other physical labor. (Tr. 31). Plaintiff also worked a variety of other jobs that required him to lift more than twenty-five pounds and perform other physically demanding jobs such as cleaning, washing dishes, and lifting trays of dishes. (Tr. 32).

As a result of the car accident in 2004, Plaintiff complains of pain in his spine, shoulder, and neck. (Id.). During the hearing before the ALJ, Plaintiff stated that the pain to his "shoulder and neck area" improved, but indicated that he continued to experience pain in his lower back. (Id.). To ease the pain caused by his injuries, Plaintiff takes "pain medication," muscle relaxers, and Ibuprofen. (Tr. 37). Specifically, Plaintiff testified that after the accident he took the following medications for his symptoms: Oxycodone (Percocet), Hydrocodone, Ibuprofen, Butalbital-APAP, and Selaxin. (Tr. 37, 158). Those medications make him feel drowsy, but he claims that he has difficulty sleeping because of the pain caused by his symptoms. (Tr. 37-38). For example, he testified that he generally wakes up between 3:00 and 5:00 a.m. (Tr. 38).

Plaintiff also complained that he experiences "sharp" pain that radiates along both sides of his legs. (Tr. 39-40). On a scale of one to ten (where ten indicates significant pain and one indicates less severe pain), Plaintiff rates the pain in his body as an eight or nine, and claims that he suffers occasional numbness in his legs. (Tr. 39). On at least one occasion, the numbness in his leg caused him to fall to the floor. (Tr. 40). He testified that he uses a cane to relieve tension in his back. (Id.). Cold damp weather causes Plaintiff to experience pain throughout his entire body, and he claims that he experiences severe headaches when the pain in other parts of his body increases. He generally experiences headaches three days each week, and each headache generally lasts for four to five hours. (Tr. 42).

Plaintiff described the following physical limitations. He claimed that he can sit for fifteen to twenty minutes, stand for twenty minutes, and walk for fifteen to twenty minutes before he begins to experience pain. (Tr. 43). He also testified that grabbing a gallon of milk "a certain way" causes him pain, and that he has difficulty bending and putting on shoes. (Tr. 44). In addition, Plaintiff complained of difficulty concentrating. Specifically, he stated that he could not "maintain attention or concentration for up to two hours straight." (Tr. 45). Furthermore, Plaintiff testified that he can no longer cook, shop for groceries, or socialize with friends. (Tr. 46). Plaintiff also testified that he is licensed to drive a motor vehicle, but stated that he did not drive a vehicle between August 26, 2004 and the hearing before the ALJ. (Tr. 49).

C.Medical Examinations

Plaintiff underwent a variety of medical examinations between August 2006 and March 2007. On April 24, 2004, Dr. Raymond Malta examined Plaintiff at the South Jersey Emergency Department following a motor vehicle accident. (Tr. 159-63). Dr. Malta diagnosed Plaintiff with a left trapezius strain, and prescribed 800 mg of Motrin and 10 mg of Flexeril, and discharged him from the hospital. (Id.).

Dr. Jeff Contino, a chiropractor, treated Plaintiff from April 28, 2004 to December 9, 2004, and again from July 27, 2006 to January 19, 2007. (Tr. 184-90, 220-43). During April and May 2004, Plaintiff complained of pain in his neck, upper arm, hand, and left trapezius. (Tr. 190). Dr. Contino ordered an MRI of Plaintiff's neck and back. On June 9, 2004, Plaintiff underwent a cervical and lumbar MRI. The cervical MRI was negative. (Tr. 165). Specifically, the cervical MRI revealed: (1) no fracture; (2) no herniated disc material; and (3) no inherent abnormality in the cervical cord. (Id.). The MRI of Plaintiff's lumbar spine revealed: (1) "[m]ild disc bulging . . . at L3-4"; (2) "[c]entral disc hernation impinging upon the thecal sac and nerve roots at L4-5"; and (3) "[c]entral disc hernation . . . at L5-S1 impinging upon the thecal sac and nerve roots." (Tr. 164).

On June 14 and June 21, 2004, Dr. Contino reported that Plaintiff suffered from sudden leg pains. (Tr. 189). Dr. Contino also reported that Plaintiff "tried lite [sic] bench press to try to get back to work." (Id.). On December 1, 2004, Dr. Contino noted that Plaintiff's condition improved with abdominal strengthening exercises. (Tr. 184). One week later, Dr. Contino noted that standing and bending over a sink ...

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