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Kotsev v. Colvin

United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania

June 23, 2014

TODOR KOTSEV, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

NORA BARRY FISCHER, District Judge.

I. INTRODUCTION

Todor Kotsev ("Plaintiff") brings this action under 42 U.S.C. § 1383(c)(3) seeking review of the final determination of the Commissioner of Social Security ("Defendant") or ("Commissioner") denying his application of Supplemental Security Income ("SSI") under Title XVI of the Social Security Act 42 U.S.C. §§ 1381-1383(f) ("Act"). This matter comes before the Court on cross motions for summary judgment. (Docket Nos. 11, 15). The record has been developed at the administrative level. For the following reasons, Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment [11] is denied, and Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment [15] is granted.

II. PROCEDURAL HISTORY

Plaintiff applied for SSI March 18, 2011, alleging a disability onset of September 2, 2001, due to vision impairment, stroke, and left-side paralysis.[1] (R. at 104-14, 132). His claim was initially denied on May 23, 2011, and Plaintiff filed a written request for a hearing on July 7, 2011. (R. at 42-46, 51-52). A hearing was subsequently held on September 6, 2012. (R. at 22-33). Plaintiff appeared with his wife, Alexandra Boneva, and his attorney, Steven F. Kessler. ( Id. ). Charles M. Cohen, Ph.D., an impartial vocational expert, also testified. ( Id. ). In a decision dated September 27, 2012, ALJ Leslie Perry-Dowdell considered Plaintiff's age, education, work experience, and residual functional capacity ("RFC") to determine that Plaintiff is "not disabled" under the Act. (R. at 18). Plaintiff then requested a Review of Hearing Decision before the SSA Appeals Council. (R. at 7). This request was also denied, making the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner. (R. at 1-6).

Plaintiff subsequently filed a Complaint with this Court on November 19, 2013, (Docket No. 3), followed by a Motion for Summary Judgment and Supporting Brief on March 3, 2014. (Docket Nos. 11; 12). The Commissioner timely answered with a Cross-Motion for Summary Judgment and Brief on April 28, 2014. (Docket Nos. 8; 15; 16). Accordingly, the matter has been fully briefed and is ripe for disposition.

III. STATEMENT OF FACTS

A. General Background

Plaintiff was born on June 25, 1962 in Bulgaria, and became a United States citizen on March 11, 2011. (R. at 102). As of March 28, 2011, he lived in McKeesport, Pennsylvania with his wife and his son. (R. at 105). Plaintiff is able to read and write English. (R. at 131).

Plaintiff is a college graduate. (R. at 133). He worked in Bulgaria as a Section Manager from February 1993 through August 1998. (R. at 123, 167). In this job, Plaintiff worked full-time and spent some of his time supervising five other people. (R. at 153). The job entailed sitting for eight hours per day, with no walking, standing, climbing, stopping, kneeling, crouching, crawling, handling, or reaching. ( Id. ). He frequently lifted one pound, and the heaviest weight he lifted was twenty pounds. ( Id. ). Plaintiff then worked as a Service Engineer from September 1993 until September 2001. (R. at 123, 167). This was also a full-time job and involved sitting for eight hours daily, with no walking, standing, climbing, stopping, kneeling, crouching, crawling, handling, or reaching. (R. at 154). Plaintiff frequently lifted one pound, which was also the heaviest weight he lifted in this job. ( Id. ).

Plaintiff stopped working on September 2, 2001 due to a ruptured aneurysm, [2] and has not worked since. (R. at 132). Plaintiff and his family are supported by his wife, who is employed by Davidson Auto Company. (R. at 107). Plaintiff also receives food stamps. (R. at 106). During the day, Plaintiff spends most of his time at home, watching television. (R. at 143-44, 147). Every day he walks to the post office to pick up the mail. (R. at 143). He estimates that this is a ten-minute walk. (R. at 27). He goes to the grocery store with his wife twice weekly. (R. at 27, 146). He regularly attends church. (R. at 147). Plaintiff testified that he tries to help with chores around the house, such as washing dishes and laundry. (R. at 145). He has never driven a car, and he gets around by walking, using public transportation, or is driven by someone else. (R. at 146).

B. Medical History

1. Status-Post Ruptured Aneurysm

Plaintiff suffered a ruptured aneurysm in September 2001 while living in Bulgaria. (R. at 172-73). A translation of a medical document from Bulgaria[3] indicates that Plaintiff was subsequently disabled, and that said disability was expected to last until January 1, 2005. (R. at 172). Plaintiff subsequently saw Dr. Rumiana Dodovska in Bulgaria for examinations and was prescribed physical therapy and medications relating to his stroke[4] and paresis[5] until moving to the United States. (R. at 136). Since 2005, he has been treating with primary care physician Dr. Veena Dhar, M.D., and neurologist Dr. Benjamin R. Smolar, M.D. (R. at 135, 186-87).

Plaintiff had a CT scan[6] of his brain on November 7, 2005. (R. at 245). This test showed signs of Plaintiff's prior stroke, but indicated no areas of acute infarct, hemorrhage, or midline shift. ( Id. ). An EEG[7] was performed on February 1, 2006, which was "essentially normal." (R. at 244).

Plaintiff was seen by Dr. Gregory L. Hung, M.D., on December 19, 2008 for evaluation of weakness in his left elbow and knee. (R. at 229-30). Dr. Hung found that Plaintiff had lost range of motion in his left elbow. (R. at 229). Plaintiff could walk without aids, and his gait was non-antalgic. ( Id. ). Overall, Dr. Hung assessed that Plaintiff had left elbow contractures and weakness in his left upper and lower extremities resulting from his stroke. ( Id. ). He encouraged Plaintiff to participate in a regular exercise program, but determined that orthopedic intervention was unnecessary. ( Id. ).

The record contains physical therapy notes from August and September 2009.[8] (R. at 242-43). These notes by therapist Jason McIntyre, PT, DPT, ATC, indicate that Dr. Smolar referred Plaintiff to physical therapy to improve his strength on the left side and his activities of daily living. ( Id. ).

Dr. Smolar examined Plaintiff on October 5, 2009 for a routine follow-up. (R. at 187). Dr. Smolar noted that Plaintiff "had a nice response to physical therapy and reports that his left sided weakness is improving." ( Id. ). Plaintiff's sensation on the left side of his face was "slightly diminished, " he continued to have left-sided spastic hemiparesis, and his coordination was also diminished on the left. ( Id. ). Dr. Smolar further observed that "his strength is improved and actually [his] strength is fairly symmetric in the lower extremities." ( Id. ).

Dr. Smolar next saw Plaintiff on March 29, 2010. (R. at 186). At this examination, Plaintiff had no complaints and did not believe that his treatment required adjustment. ( Id. ). Dr. Smolar assessed that Plaintiff "continues to remain fairly strong on his left side, " and has benefited from physical therapy. ( Id. ). Plaintiff's sensation appeared equal bilaterally. ( Id. ). His coordination was "slightly diminished" on the left. ( Id. ). Plaintiff was able to ambulate with circumduction[9] of the left leg and flexion[10] of his left arm, but his overall strength was good. ( Id. ).

A transothoracic echocardiogram[11] was performed on September 21, 2010. (R. at 194-95). This showed that Plaintiff had normal left ventricular[12] size, low normal systolic function, [13] a non-dilated right ventricle with normal ...


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