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Ciccone v. Commissioner of Social Security

United States District Court, D. New Jersey

February 18, 2015



JOSE L. LINARES, District Judge.

Before the Court is Plaintiff Kathleen Ciccone ("Plaintiff" or "Claimant")'s appeal seeking review of a final determination by Administrative Law Judge Michal Lissek denying her application for Title II Social Security 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 the final decision of the Commission of Social Security (the "Commissioner").


A. Procedural History

Plaintiff, Ms. Kathleen Ciccone, applied for disability insurance benefits on or around August 10, 2010. (R. at 19). She alleged that her various physical and mental impairments began February 17, 2008. Id. On November 14, 2012, Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") Michal Lissek recognized that although Plaintiff had certain limitations and restrictions, she was not disabled pursuant to the definition of disability of the Social Security Act (SSA). Id. at 32.

Plaintiff filed a request for review by the Appeals Court on December 4, 2012. Id. at 14-15. Plaintiff's review was denied on February 7, 2014. Id. at 5. Plaintiff then filed a complaint with this Court on March 31, 2014.

B. Plaintiff's Medical History

Ms. Kathleen Ciccone is a 38-year old individual and asserts that the onset of her various disabilities was February 17, 2008. (R. at 19). Ms. Ciccone claims that because of various conditions, including abdominal pain, bilateral inguinal neuropathy, and depression, she suffers from: (1) sleep disturbance, (2) mood disturbance, (3) emotional lability, (4) feelings of guilt and worthlessness, (5) social withdrawal, (6) decreased energy, (7) chronic pain, (8) fatigue, and (9) difficulties with sustaining concentration and attention. Id. at 21-22. Plaintiff graduated from high school and has previous experience working as a wholesale attendant and stockperson. Id. at 159. She also lived with her husband and three children, and indicated that she "cared for her three children, prepared small meals, completed housework, went out daily, walked, drove a car, went grocery shopping, socialized, and attended parent-teaching meetings, church, and her children's sporting events." Id. at 181-83. She was also able to take care of her mother who had previously suffered from a stroke. Id. 179. She has worked consistently until February 17, 2008, when her various conditions and impairments worsened. Id. at 158. Her past work required physical strength and endurance, standing, walking, lifting, and carrying, and a great attention to detail.

1. Plaintiff's Physical Impairments

In March and April 2008, Ms. Ciccone underwent laparoscopy procedures to diagnose and remove adhesions that caused her pelvic pain. (R. at 387, 396-97). Several weeks later, Plaintiff followed up with Dr. Mark Ransom and said that her conditions had improved and that she was feeling much better. Id. at 214-15. In August 2008, Plaintiff returned to Dr. Ransom, complaining that her pelvic pain had returned to the same levels prior to the surgery. Id. at 213. An ultrasound revealed that there was no gynecological source for her reported pain. Id. Ms. Ciccone did not return to Dr. Ransom for treatment until January 2009, at which point he conducted a CT scan. Id. at 212. Dr. Ransom did not see anything abnormal or unusual, and he recommended that Claimant engage in pain management, acupuncture, and exercise. Id.

Plaintiff underwent diagnostic laparoscopy and removal of adhesions procedures on December 6, 2009. Id. at 274. Approximately a month and a half later, on January 22, 2010, Ms. Ciccone had another laparoscopy and lysis of adhesions. Id. at 312, 338. Hospital staff noted that Plaintiff had a history of abdominal pain and adhesions, likely "due to previous C-sections." Id. at 312.

Ms. Ciccone did not seek further treatment for six months. (R. at 377-78). On June 2, 2010, she went to Dr. Michael Umanoff, a pain management physician, to begin her recommended pain management treatment. Id. Dr. Umanoff noted that Plaintiff described her pain as "shooting, itching, sharp, stabbing, tingling and pulsing" and suggested "long-acting medication and a nerve stimulator trial." Id. at 378, 399-400. Plaintiff did not return to Dr. Umanoff until November 2010, when her stimulator trial was placed. Id. at 383, 399-400. Ms. Ciccone found that her pain was reduced 60% to 70%, and a pulse generator was inserted in her lower abdomen on January 14, 2011. Id. at 385-86, 398. On January 17, Ms. Ciccione reported that she was feeling very well and did not need painkillers after the procedure. Id. at 398.

In February 2011, Plaintiff sought treatment from Dr. Alexander Hoffman; she stated that the stimulator had not improved her condition and that she continued feeling significant pain. Id. at 401. She also reported limitations in her ability to lift "anything, " and pain on standing "for any period of time." Id. On March 17, after reviewing medical reports and evidence, Dr. Howard Goldbas concluded that despite her pain, Ms. Ciccone could perform light work. Id. at 410-17.

On June 23, 2011, Dr. Umanoff completed a "General Medical Report" regarding Plaintiff's condition. (R. at 418-420). Dr. Umanoff failed to note any limitations on Plaintiff's capabilities. Id. at 419. About one month later, on July 29, 2011, Plaintiff said that she felt sporadic, intermittent pains and that the pulse stimulator had not been working for approximately one month. Id. at 456. An examination of Plaintiff's abdominal revealed no abnormalities. Id. Claimant did not require in-person evaluations or seek treatment again until November 2, 2011, at which point Dr. Umanoff increased Plaintiff's medication because the simulator was not working correctly. Id. at 456-57. However, Dr. Umanoff did not find anything unusual upon examining Ms. Ciccone. Id. at 457.

On November 8, 2011, Ms. Ciccone met with Dr. Rambhai Patel, who found that Ms. Ciccone was not experiencing any acute distress, walked normally without an assistive device, and had a normal abdominal examination. Id. at 424. Furthermore, Dr. Patel did not note any limitations, nor did he believe that Plaintiff was unable to work. Id. at 424-25.

Four months later, on March 12, 2012, Claimant returned to Dr. Umanoff. Dr. Umanoff recommended a nerve block after Plaintiff stated that her pain levels had increased. (R. at 458). In April 2012, Plaintiff stated that the nerve block reduced her pain by 30% to 40%, and Dr. Umanoff recommended a second nerve block. Id. at 459. Although Ms. Ciccone continued to feel abdominal cramps on the left side of her body, she also said that the nerve block "helped to ...

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