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Stark v. Astrue

March 18, 2010


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Jeanne E. Scott United States District Judge


JEANNE E. SCOTT, U.S. District Judge

Plaintiff Pamela Stark appeals from a final decision of the Social Security Administration (SSA) denying her application for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Disability Insurance Benefits (DIB) under the Social Security Act. See 42 U.S.C. §§ 423(d) & 1382c (SSI); 42 U.S.C. §§ 416(I) & 423 (DIB). Stark brings this appeal pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). The parties have filed cross-motions for summary judgment or affirmance pursuant to Local Rule 8.1(D). Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment (d/e 11); Defendant's Motion for Summary Affirmance (d/e 13). For the reasons set forth below, Stark's Motion for Summary Judgment is denied, and the Defendant's Motion for Summary Affirmance is allowed. The Decision of the SSA is affirmed.



Stark was born August 18, 1957. Administrative Record (d/e 9) (A.R.) at 302. She finished ninth grade and part of tenth grade. She has past relevant work as a janitor/building cleaner and assistant executive housekeeper at a hotel.

In December 2002, Stark was struck in the head by a horse's head. On December 18, 2002, she sought medical treatment for the injury. A cervical computerized tomography (CT) scan and a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan showed chronic degenerative disc disease with herniation, but no evidence of fracture, post-traumatic subluxation, or gross cord compression. A.R at 190-91.

On December 27, 2004, Stark was examined by Dr. David Gelber. A.R. at 188-89. Stark complained of neck and upper extremity pain. Specifically, Stark explained that at the time she was hit in the face by the horse, she developed neck pain which radiated down her arms, worse on the right side. Stark reported that her condition had recently worsened with increased burning pain and some numbness in her arms. Stark stated that the pain interfered with her ability to use her arms in her part-time work as a building cleaner.

Dr. Gelber reviewed the MRI from 2002 and noted that it showed disc herniation, most prominent on the right side. Dr. Gelber also noted that Stark did not have medical insurance and had been unable to pursue intervention. Dr. Gelber described Stark as pleasant and cooperative, noting that she "appeared in no acute distress." A.R. at 188. Dr. Gelber's examination revealed mild tenderness in the cervical paraspinous muscles, but full range of motion in Stark's neck. Dr. Gelber suspected cervical radiculopathy, but noted no focal weakness. Dr. Gelber determined that conservative management approaches were appropriate, noting cost concerns. He prescribed amitriptyline for pain at bedtime.

On May 18, 2005, Dr. Vittal Chapa examined Stark in connection with her application for SSI and DIB. A.R. at 192-95. Dr. Chapa did not have Stark's medical records. Stark informed Dr. Chapa that she was hit in the head by a horse in December 2002 and "[h]er neck popped." A.R. at 192. Stark reported that she had been told she had herniated discs in her neck and that her arms went numb, her legs and back hurt, her neck was stiff, she could not wash her hair, and she had trouble sleeping well at night. Dr. Chapa noted that Stark could bear weight and ambulate without any ambulatory needs. Dr. Chapa saw no edema in Stark's lower extremities. He noted that cranial nerves II through XII were within normal limits and there was no specific motor weakness or muscle atrophy. Dr. Chapa observed that Stark had "a good hand grip bilaterally" and could "perform both fine and gross manipulations with both hands." A.R. at 194. Dr. Chapa also noted no major restriction of motion in Stark's shoulders or cervical spine. Dr. Chapa found that Stark's upper extremity reflexes were symmetric. Dr. Chapa characterized Stark as cooperative.

On May 23, 2005, Dr. Frank Jimenez reviewed the medical records and concluded that Stark's impairment was non-severe. A.R. at 207-08. Dr. Jimenez expressly noted that Dr. Chapa's examination revealed no range of motion loss or neurological deficit.

On July 18, 2005, Stark was evaluated by Dr. Stephen Pineda. A.R. at 199-201. Dr. Pineda ordered a new MRI scan, which revealed some central and right side stenosis. Dr. Pineda saw Stark for follow-up on July 26, 2005. A.R. at 197-98. He noted that Stark complained of neck pain, but that the pain was not going down her arms and she did not complain of other numbness or weakness in her upper extremities. Dr. Pineda noted Stark's complaint that she occasionally experienced numbness in her legs. Dr. Pineda diagnosed cervical disc disease and ordered a cervical epidural. According to information submitted by Stark, Dr. Pineda refused to give Stark a written excuse not to work, informing her that he was not a disability doctor. A.R. at 117, 308-09.

On August 26, 2005, Dr. Victoria Dow reviewed the medical records and concluded that Stark's impairment was non-severe. A.R. at 205-06. Dr. Dow recognized that Stark exhibited stenosis, but noted no neurological deficits and no weakness.

On February 24, 2006, Stark was examined by Dr. Dinraj Hegde at the Capitol Community Health Center. A.R. at 232-35. Stark reported that she had been experiencing neck pain since being hit by the horse in 2002. She complained of "Numbness, Pain radiating to arms." A.R. at 233. Dr. Hegde noted neck tenderness.

Stark returned to Dr. Hegde on March 31, 2006, complaining of a twisted ankle and chronic neck pain. A.R. at 230-31. Dr. Hegde's notes indicate that Stark was taking only over-the-counter Tylenol for her neck pain. Dr. Hegde prescribed Darvocet for Stark's ankle pain and noted that he would reassess her neck pain in two weeks.

On April 18, 2006, Dr. Hegde examined Stark again. A.R. at 228-29. Dr. Hegde's notes characterize the reason for Stark's visit as follows: "Talk about disability -- needs letter stating she can not work." A.R. at 228. Stark was taking Darvocet at the time of the visit. Stark complained of ankle pain and neck pain. Dr. Hegde told Stark that physical therapy would work for her ankle sprain. With respect to neck pain, Dr. Hegde noted "wants letter that she can't work." A.R. at 229. Dr. Hegde ordered follow-up in three months.

In a letter, dated April 19, 2006, Dr. Hegde wrote as follows: To whom it Concerns, Ms. Stark is a forty-eight year old female complaining of neck pain since 2002. Her pain is radiating to her arms. Patient is not able to work due to this reason.

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