United States District Court, D. Delaware
DARLENE R. ROACH, Plaintiff,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.
C. Nwaeze, Esq., Wilmington, DE, Attorney for Plaintiff.
Charles M. Oberly, III, United States Attorney, Wilmington,
DE; Dina White Griffin, Special Assistant United States
Attorney, Philadelphia, PA, Attorneys for Defendant.
ANDREWS, U.S. DISTRICT JUDGE:
Darlene R. Roach appeals the decision of Defendant Carolyn W.
Colvin, the Acting Commissioner of Social Security, denying
her application for Social Security Disability Benefits
("SSD") under Section 216(i) and 223(d) of the
Social Security Act, and for Supplemental Security Income
("SSI") under Section 1614(a)(3)(A) of the Social
Security Act. Pending before the Court are the parties'
cross-motions for summary judgment. (D.I. 9, 10, 12, 13). For
the reasons set forth below, the Court: (1) grants Plaintiffs
motion in part to remand this matter for a new hearing and
decision; (2) denies Plaintiffs request that this Court find
her disabled; (3) denies the Commissioner's motion; and
(4) remands this matter to the Commissioner for a new hearing
and decision consistent with this memorandum opinion.
first filed her application for SSD and SSI on January 15,
2010, alleging disability as of July 2, 2007. (D.I. 1 at
¶ 5, 6). That claim was denied initially and Plaintiff
timely requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge
("ALJ"). (D.I. 1 at ¶ 7). After the requested
hearing, the ALJ issued a decision denying benefits. (D.I. 1
at ¶ 9). On October 8, 2013 the Appeals Council vacated
the ALJ's decision and remanded the case for further
proceedings. (D.I. 1 at ¶ 11). On remand, the ALJ found
that Plaintiff was not entitled to SSD and SSI benefits, and
the Appeals Council denied Plaintiffs request for review.
(D.I. 1 at¶ 13, 15). Plaintiff then filed an appeal to
this Court. Plaintiff was forty years old when she filed for
SSI. (D.I. 7 (hereinafter "Tr.") 51). She completed
the twelfth grade, and worked as a cashier, general clerk and
a fast food worker. Id. Plaintiff alleges disability
due to neck injuries, back injuries, and arthritis.
Disability Determination Process
XVI of the Social Security Act provides for the payment of
disability benefits under the SSI program. 42 U.S.C. §
1382(a). A "disability" is defined for purposes of
SSI as the inability to do any substantial gainful activity
by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental
impairment which can be expected to result in death or which
has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period
of not less than twelve months. See 42 U.S.C.
§§ 423(d)(1)(A), 1382c(a)(3). A claimant is
disabled "only if her physical or mental impairment or
impairments are of such severity that she is not only unable
to do her previous work but cannot, considering her age,
education, and work experience, engage in any other kind of
substantial gainful work which exists in the national
economy." 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(2)(A); Barnhart v.
Thomas, 540 U.S. 20, 21-22 (2003).
determining whether a person is disabled, the Commissioner is
required to perform the five-step sequential analysis set
forth at 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520. Plummer v.
Apfel, 186 F.3d 422, 427-28 (3d Cir. 1999). If a finding
of disability or non-disability can be made at any point in
the sequential process, the Commissioner should not review
the claim further. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4).
onset of her disability, on January 2, 2007 (Tr. 152-53),
Plaintiff was thirty-three years old and had a GED. (Tr.
74-75, 109). Plaintiff has relevant work experience as a
cashier, a general clerk, and a fast food worker. (Tr. 98,
121). Plaintiffs detailed medical history is contained in the
record, but the Court will provide a brief summary of the
first began treatment for lower back pain in December 2002
after seeing Dr. Balu, a pain management specialist. (Tr.
494). Plaintiff received posterior lumbar spinal joint
steroid block injections and "reported significant pain
relief following the procedure. (Tr. 547). In March 2003,
Plaintiff received transforaminal epidural steroid injections
and again reported "significant pain relief following
this procedure. (Tr. 543). In June 2003, Dr. Balu performed a
lumbar discography and Plaintiff reported a pain level of
6/10. (Tr. 534-35).
November 2006, Plaintiff presented to Nanticoke Memorial
Hospital following a motor vehicle accident. (Tr. 437-38).
Plaintiff complained of low back pain and underwent pelvic
and lumbar x-rays. (Tr. 440). These exams revealed that there
was no acute fracture or dislocation, the pelvic rim and
obturator rings were intact, and both hip joints were intact.
Id. The attending physician notes indicated that
Plaintiff appeared to be in mild distress and had painless
range of motion in her neck and extremities. She was
diagnosed with lumbar strain, told to apply ice and heat,
remain active and prescribed Motrin and Vicodin. (Tr. 433-34,
January 3, 2007, Plaintiff returned to Dr. Balu for low back
pain evaluation. (Tr. 482). An examination revealed bilateral
paraspinal lumbar spasms, facet loading and decreased range
of motion. Id. An MRI on January 5, 2007 showed a
broad based annular bulge with foraminal narrowing. (Tr.
555-56). Plaintiff continued seeing Dr. Balu between January
and June 2007 complaining of increasing back pain. Dr. Balu
continued to treat Plaintiff by giving her pain injections,
which gave temporary pain relief. (Tr. 475, 481, 507, 511).
2007, Plaintiff was involved in a second motor vehicle
accident and went to Nanticoke Memorial Hospital complaining
of neck pain. (Tr. 466-67). The attending physician noted
that because the accident had minimal force, there was
minimal possibility of significant injury. (Tr. 466).
Plaintiff underwent an x-ray of her cervical spine, which
revealed no fracture or dislocation. (Tr. 467). From June
2007 to December 2007, Plaintiff continued to see Dr. Balu,
who opined that her condition was unchanged and could be
treated conservatively (Tr. 470-73), but that she was
"unable to return to any gainful employment." (Tr.
February 2008, at an appointment with Dr. Balu, Plaintiff
stated that she had worsening pain and right hand numbness.
(Tr. 469). An MRI of Plaintiff s cervical and lumbar spine
showed no herniation and only mild stenosis. (Tr. 709-10).
Dr. Balu recommended conservative care and told Plaintiff to
continue taking Vicodin, which she had been taking since
2002. (Tr. 469, 494).
September 2009, Plaintiff underwent an initial orthopedic
evaluation by Dr. Freedman. (Tr. 576). Dr. Freedman noted
that, since Plaintiffs last appointment with Dr. Balu in
December 2008, she had received no treatment and was only
taking Tylenol for her pain. (Tr. 576). Dr. Freedman opined,
based on a full examination and x-rays he ordered of
Plaintiff s lumbar and cervical spine, that she had a full
range of motion, that the seated root test caused some back
pain, and that her x-rays were "basically
negative." Id. In November 2009, Dr. Freedman
noted that mild bulging of Plaintiff s lumbar spine was
present, but that her reflexes were good, her motor strength
was intact and she had a negative seated root test. He
recommended continuing her conservative treatment plan and in
December prescribed her a home cervical traction unit. (Tr.
April 2010, Plaintiff had x-rays, which indicated that her
sacroiliac joints were intact with normal bone
mineralization. (Tr. 600). Plaintiff returned to Dr. Balu in
June 2010 after complaining of back pain. (Tr. 686). Dr. Balu
performed a posterior lumbar joint radiofluoroscopic steroid
block of the bilateral facet joints, which reduced some of
Plaintiff s pain. (Tr. 784, 791). In August 2010, Dr. Balu
completed a Spinal Impairment Questionnaire and reported
treating Plaintiff for facet pain and radiculopathy in the
cervical and lumbar spine. (Tr. 591). Dr. Balu stated that