United States District Court, D. Delaware
Sommer L. Ross, DUANE MORRIS LLP, Wilmington, DE Eddy Pierre Pierre, Law Offices of Harry J. Binder and Charles E. Binder, New York, NY. Attorneys for Plaintiff.
Charles M. Oberly, III, United States Attorney, and Dina W. Griffin, Special Assistant United States Attorney, OFFICE OF THE UNITED STATES ATTORNEY, Wilmington, DE. Nora Koch, Acting Regional Chief Counsel, and Theresa A. Casey, Assistant Regional Counsel, SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION-REGION III, OFFICE OF GENERAL COUNSEL, Philadelphia, PA, Attorneys for Defendant.
LEONARD P. STARK, District Judge.
Plaintiff Carol Sue Goodhand ("Goodhand" or "Plaintiff') appeals from a decision of Carolyn W. Colvin, the Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration ("Commissioner" or "Defendant"), denying her claim for disability insurance benefits ("DIB") under Title II of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 401-33. The Court has jurisdiction pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).
Presently pending before the Court are cross-motions for summary judgment filed by Plaintiff and the Commissioner. (D.I. 12; D.I. 14) Plaintiff asks the Court to reverse and remand the Commissioner's decision. (D.I. 13 at 15-16) The Commissioner requests that the Court affirm her decision denying Plaintiff's application for benefits. (D.I. 15 at 14) For the reasons set forth below, the Court will grant the Commissioner's motion and deny Plaintiff's motion.
A. Procedural History
Plaintiff filed her claim for DIB on November 13, 2009, alleging disability since March 18, 2004. (D.I. 8 (hereinafter, collectively with D.I. 9, "Tr.") at 30) Her application was denied at the pre-hearing levels. ( Id. ) She appeared before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") on February 23, 2012 and, on April 3, 2012, the ALJ issued a decision unfavorable to Plaintiff. ( Id. at 30-37) The Appeals Council denied Plaintiffs request for review on August 16, 2013. ( Id. at 4-6) Thus, the April 3, 2012 decision by the ALJ became the final decision of the Commissioner. See 20 CFR §§ 404.955, 404.981; Sims v. Apfel, 530 U.S. 103, 107 (2000). On January 6, 2014, the Appeals Council granted Plaintiffs request for an extension of time to file a civil action. (Tr. at 1-3)
On February 4, 2014, Plaintiff filed a Complaint seeking judicial review of the ALJ's April 3, 2012 decision. (D.I. 1) Subsequently, on May 29, 2014, Plaintiff moved for summary judgment. (D.I. 12) On June 30, 2014, the Commissioner filed a cross-motion for summary judgment. (D.I. 14)
B. Factual Background
1. Plaintiff's Medical History, Treatment, and Conditions
Goodhand was forty-nine (49) years old when she applied for DIB on November 13, 2009 (Tr. at 30) She earned an associate's degree in architectural engineering. (Tr. at 62) She is married and has two children. (Tr. at 63-64) She worked as an estimator from 1981 until 1993, and worked as a building official from 1995 until 1999. (Tr. at 179) Goodhand alleges that she has been disabled since March 18, 2004, prior to her date last insured of December 31, 2004. (Tr. at 32) She asserts that her disability arises from abdominal pain and multiple daily episodes of diarrhea which arose after treatment for symptoms related to stage II colon cancer. (Tr. at 1322-24, 29)
Goodhand was primarily treated for her medical conditions by Dr. Semaan Abboud (Tr. at 182) and Judy Howett, RN, MSN, FNP, a nurse practitioner (Tr. at 183). Other doctors participating in Goodhand's care included Dr. Khan, Dr. Guarino (Tr. at 801-04), and Dr. Lodhavia, a gastroenterologist (Tr. at 788-89). In addition to evidence from these treating physicians, the record includes a physical residual functional capacity ("RFC") assessment performed by a non-treating practitioner, Dr. Vinod Kataria. (Tr. at 1284-90)
In February 2004, Goodhand underwent a colonoscopy after complaining of stool changes and abdominal pain. (Tr. at 240) The colonoscopy revealed a mass in the right cecum, which led to Goodhand undergoing a right hemicolectomy. (Tr. at 240) Goodhand was found to have stage II colon cancer, without signs of malignancy, and it was recommended that she follow up for repeated colonoscopies and CEA antigen every six months. (Tr. at 240) Following the procedure, only post-surgical changes were found, with no obstructions. (Tr. at 254)
Following the surgery, Goodhand reported continued abdominal pain and rectal bleeding. (Tr. at 34) Examinations demonstrated abdominal tenderness. (Tr. at 228, 231) A colonoscopy revealed rectal bleeding from the site of surgery. (Tr. at 38-39) However, a gastric empty study found normal results in July 2004. (Tr. at 781) Likewise, biopsies in July and September 2004 showed only mild inflammation. (Tr. at 487, 776, 1152) In March 2005, Dr. Lodhavia, a gastroenterologist, investigated Goodhand's residual symptoms, abdominal pain and chronic diarrhea, and opined that it might be due to irritable bowel syndrome. (Tr. at 788)
Goodhand asserts that the diarrhea has prevented her from engaging in any form of gainful work since March 2004. She asserts that she cannot sit for more than 20-30 minutes and cannot stand for more than every 10-20 minutes due to her pain. (Tr. at 167) She also asserts that she is unable to sleep because, every hour to 90 minutes, she has to go to the bathroom for approximately half an hour. (Tr. at 168) She alleges that, when she has to leave the house on any occasion, she does not eat the day before because of her diarrhea. (Tr. at 168) Judy Howett, a nurse practitioner who had seen Goodhand since March 1, 2004, believed that Goodhand would be unable to work an eight hour day due to "multiple (15-20) daily episodes of diarrhea." (Tr. at 701) Howett submitted a "Multiple Impairment Questionnaire" evaluation form in which she stated that she believed Goodhand could sit eight hours a day and stand or walk eight hours a day, but ...