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Colon v. Commissioner of Social Security

United States District Court, Third Circuit

November 19, 2013

JORGE COLON, Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.

OPINION

JOSE L. LINARES, District Judge.

Before the Court is Plaintiff Jorge Colon ("Plaintiff' or "Claimant")'s appeal seeking review of a final determination by Administrative Law Judge Richard West denying his application for disability insurance benefits. The Court resolves this matter on the Parties' briefs pursuant to Local Civil Rule 9.1(f). For the reasons set forth below, the Court affirms in part and vacates in part the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security and remands for further administrative proceedings.

I. BACKGROUND

A. Facts and Procedural History

Plaintiff was born on February 22, 1963, and has a high school education. R. at 33.[1] He most recently worked as a mail handler for the United States Post Office, having held that position for over twenty years. See id. at 34. As a mail handler, Plaintiff was on his feet for eight hours a day, unloading and reloading packages from trailers. Id. He lifted packages that weighed over one hundred pounds. Id. Plaintiff stopped working in April 2008, when he slipped and hurt his knee. Id. at 35. After slipping, Plaintiff had a physical that revealed a previously unknown heart condition. Id. at 34-35. Plaintiff subsequently underwent heart surgery at Trinitas Hospital in Elizabeth, New Jersey. Id. at 36.

Plaintiffs testimony suggests that his wife and children take care of most household chores. See id. at 53-54. Plaintiff stated that his wife shops for groceries, but that he sometimes accompanies her. Id. at 53. Similarly, he stated that his wife prepares meals, but that he sometimes assists her. Id. at 54. Plaintiff also stated that his children mow the lawn. Id. at 53. He stated that he is able to drive, but "[n]ot too much...." Id. at 59.

On August 15, 2008, Plaintiff filed an application for disability insurance benefits with the Social Security Administration. Id. at 106-12. The Administration denied Plaintiff's application and subsequent request for reconsideration. Id. at 61-67. In response, Plaintiff filed a request for a hearing before an ALJ with the Office of Disability Adjudication and Review. Id. at 73-74. Said hearing occurred before ALJ West on July 20, 2010, in New Jersey. Id. at 28. After reviewing the facts of Plaintiffs case, on August 6, 2010, ALJ West issued a decision. Id. at 16-23. ALJ West found that Plaintiff was not disabled from April 11, 2008, the alleged onset date, through the date of decision. Id.

Plaintiff sought Appeals Council review. Id. at 10-11. The Appeals Council denied Plaintiffs request on June 8, 2012, rendering the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner. Id. at 6-8. As a result, Plaintiff appealed to this Court on August 3, 2012. Compl. at 1-3. This Court has jurisdiction to review this matter pursuant to 42 U.S.C. ยง 405(g).

B. Medical Evidence for the Relevant Time Period

Plaintiff claims that he has been disabled since April 11, 2008, because of his (1) left knee, (2) back, and (3) heart impairments. R. at 37, 106, 127. Plaintiff testified that these impairments cause him "a lot of pain." Id. at 37-38. Plaintiff has taken pain medications including Lyrica, Percocet, Ultram, and Voltaren. Id. at 356. Plaintiff also testified that he has difficulty negotiating staircases, walking more than a couple blocks on flat ground, sitting for more than half an hour, and lifting a gallon of milk. Id. at 45-46, 52. A discussion of each of Plaintiff's impairments follows.

1. Plaintiff's Left Knee Impairment

Plaintiff has had recurrent pain in his left knee since 1998. Id. at 182. On April 16, 2008, Plaintiff visited the Care Station Medical Group due to pain in his left knee. Id. at 198-99. Two days later, Plaintiff met with Dr. David E. Roger of the Union County Orthopaedic Group. Id. at 182-83. Plaintiff explained to Dr. Roger that he could no longer work because of significant pain inside his left knee that radiated to the back thereof. Id. at 182. He also explained that his knee would sometimes "catch," and that he had taken naproxen, which "helped a little bit but not completely." Id. Dr. Roger's physical examination revealed that when compared to Plaintiff's right knee, his left knee lacked five degrees of hyperextension, was boggy, and had a mild effusion. Id. Additionally, the examination revealed that Plaintiff ambulated with mild antalgia. Id. The examination further revealed that Plaintiff had pain with hyperflexion, moderate tenderness over his medial joint line, exquisite tenderness over his lateral joint line, and a positive McMurray's test. Id. Dr. Roger recommended that Plaintiff have an MRI and try a different anti-inflammatory medication, Relafen. Id. at 183.

Subsequently, in November 2008, state consultant Dr. Allen S. Glushakow met with Plaintiff. Id. at 333. Plaintiff noted that he had soreness in his left knee. Id. Dr. Glushakow's physical examination revealed that Plaintiff's left knee had full range of motion, no deformity, and no effusion. Id. The examination also revealed that Plaintiff could squat, walk without a limp, and had a negative McMurray's test. Id. at 333-34. Dr. Glushakow's impression was that Plaintiff had mild-to-moderate osteoarthritis of the left knee. Id. at 334. He recommended an x ray of the left knee. Id.

An April 2010 report prepared by Plaintiff's treating physician, Dr. Kamran Tasharofi, noted that Plaintiff then had degenerative joint disease and arthritis of the knees. Id. at 413-14. Dr. Tasharofi's report also opined that Plaintiff is physically disabled ...


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