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Rumpf v. Astrue

United States District Court, D. Delaware

July 8, 2015

MARILYNN E. RUMPF, JR., Plaintiff,
MICHAEL J. ASTRUE, Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.


GREGORY M. SLEET, District Judge.


The plaintiff Marilynn E. Rumpf, Jr. ("Rumpf') filed an application for disability insurance benefits ("DIB") on October 23, 2007, pursuant to Title II of the Social Security Act. (D.I. 9 at 10.) The Social Security Administration ("SSA") denied Rumpf's DIB application initially and upon reconsideration. ( Id. at 71-76, 79-83.) Rumpf requested a rehearing before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"), which took place on July 28, 2009. ( Id. at 29-67). On August 13, 2009, the ALJ, Melvin D. Benitz, issued a written decision denying Rumpf's DIB claim. ( Id. at 10-28.) Subsequently, the Appeals Council denied Rumpf's request for review. ( Id. at 1-3.)

On February 9, 2011, Rumpf filed this action against defendant Michael J. Astrue, former Commissioner of Social Security ("the Commissioner"), [1] for a review of the final decision denying her DIB application. (D.I. 1.) Presently before the court are the parties' cross-motions for summary judgment. (D.I. 12; D.I. 14.) For the reasons that follow, the court will: (1) deny the Commissioner's motion for summary judgment; and (2) grant in part Rumpf's motion for summary judgment. The court remands this matter for further administrative proceedings.


Rumpf was born on October 23, 1951. (D.I. 9 at 112.) Rumpf's medical history was unremarkable until she was diagnosed with thyroid cancer in 1984. ( Id. at 305.) Rumpf underwent a thyroidectomy and continues thyroid replacement therapy to regulate her Thyroid-Stimulating Hormone levels. ( Id. ) Furthermore, Rumpf was diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome in 1990. ( Id. at 36, 275.) Rumpf filed an application for DIB in 1990, and the SSA awarded her DIB from March 1991 to January 1995, [2] finding her disabled as of September 6, 1990. ( Id. at 126.) Rumpf testified that she received DIB during this period due to chronic fatigue syndrome, however, according to SSA records, DIB benefits were awarded based on a primary diagnosis of "Anxiety Disorders." ( Id. at 51, 126.) The record underlying Rumpf's prior successful DIB is not in the current record. ( Id. at 141.)

Between 1994 and 1998 Rumpf's conditions improved and she worked as a payroll clerk at Prosort LLC and as a temp at Advanced Staffing. ( Id. at 59-61, 132-33, 146.) Rumpf's period of work ended in December 1997 when she was diagnosed with stage 1 carcinoma of the left breast. ( Id. at 305.) Rumpf participated in radiation therapy and underwent treatment with Tamoxifen until February 2003. ( Id. at 305-06.)

Rumpf applied for DIB again on October 23, 2007, alleging disability beginning April 1, 1998. ( Id. at 10.) Since Rumpf last met the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act on June 30, 2003, the "relevant period" for determining Rumpf's disability was April 1, 1998 through June 30, 2003. ( Id. at 12.) Rumpf alleged that her limiting conditions included "depression, chronic fatigue syndrome, headaches, neck and back injuries, dizziness, and breast and thyroid cancer." ( Id. at 71.)

A. Medical Assessments and Records Pertaining to the Relevant Period

1. Degenerative Disc Disease

On July 5, 2002, an imaging study of Rumpf's lumbar spine revealed mild spondylosis of the lumbar spine with a small central disc protrusion at L4-L5. ( Id. at 347-51.) Furthermore, mild osteoarthritis changes of the facet joints were noted at the L4-L5 and L5-S1 levels. ( Id. ) An MRI of the thoracic spine revealed a left lateral disc herniation at T11-T12. ( Id. ) On August 9, 2003, Dr. Philip Schwartz observed that Rumpf had a full range of motion. ( Id. at 275.)

2. Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

Rumpf's chronic fatigue syndrome first manifested in 1990. ( Id. at 186.) Rumpf's neurologist, Dr. Alan J. Fink, noted on June 19, 2002 that Rumpf's chronic fatigue syndrome had "improved somewhat until the recent several months." ( Id. at 364.) On July 15, 2003, Dr. Schwartz indicated that non-restful sleep, rather than an inflammatory disease, could have caused Rumpf's diffuse polyarthralgias. ( Id. at 13.) In October 2004, Rumpf had a serious fall that increased the severity of her impairments, causing "a relapse of chronic fatigue syndrome." ( Id. at 35-36.) The events following Rumpf's October 2004 fall occurred after the relevant period and are irrelevant to this decision. ( Id. )

3. Neuropathic Pain

Dr. Fink examined Rumpf on July 26, 2002 in response to Rumpf's complaint of neuropathic pain. ( Id. at 342.) Rumpf complained of left ankle pain and intermittent electric-like pain in the thighs, legs and feet. ( Id. ) According to Dr. Fink, Rumpf responded well to treatment with Neurotonin throughout the relevant period without an increase in pain. ( Id. at 336-41.)

4. Status Post Breast Cancer Treatment

Following Rumpf's December 1997 breast cancer diagnosis, she participated in radiation therapy and underwent treatment with Tamoxifen. ( Id. at 305-06.) On October 24, 2000, a bilateral mammogram revealed no evidence of malignancy. ( Id. at 300.) On March 13, 2001, Rumpf reported intermittent numbness in the left upper extremity following her left lumpectomy and lymph node resection, however, Dr. Barry L. Bakst noted her muscle strength was symmetric and within functional limits. ( Id. at 228-31.) Dr. Irving Berkowitz discontinued Rumpf's Tamoxifen treatment in February 2003. ( Id. at 306.) Rumpf testified that she was not to lift heavy objects due to her previous cancer and lymph node removal, however, the medical records fail to reveal that any of Rumpf's treating physicians ...

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