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Tate v. Berryhill

United States District Court, D. Delaware

March 28, 2017

AMY D. TATE, Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant. [1]

          Vanessa L. Kassab, DOROSHOW, PASQUALE, KRAWITZ & BHAYA, Wilmington, DE. Attorney for Plaintiff.

          David C. Weiss, Acting United States Attorney, United State's Attorney's Office, Wilmington, Delaware.

          Heather Benderson, Special As sistant United States Attorney, OFFICE OF THE GENERAL COUNSEL, Philadelphia, PA. Attorneys for Defendant.


          STARK, U.S. District Judge


         Plaintiff Amy D. Tate appeals from the decision of Nancy A. Benyhill, the Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration ("the Commissioner" or "Defendant"), denying her claims for disability insurance benefits and supplemental security income under Title n, 42 U.S.C. §§ 401-434 ("Title II") and Title XVI, 42 U.S.C. §§ 1381-1383 ("Title XVI") of the Social Security Act. The Court has jurisdiction under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) and § 1383(c)(3).

         Before the Court are cross-motions for summary judgment filed by Plaintiff and the Commissioner. (D.I. 14, 17) Plaintiff asks that the Court reverse the Commissioner's decision and remand with instructions to award benefits or, in the alternative, remand for further proceedings before the Commissioner. (D.I. 15 at 4) The Commissioner requests that the Court affirm the decisions denying Plaintiffs application for benefits. (D.I. 18 at 2) For the reasons set forth below, the Court will deny Plaintiffs motion for summary judgment and grant Defendant's motion for summary judgment.


         A. Procedural History

         On November 22, 2010, Plaintiff filed an application for disability insurance benefits and supplemental security income. (D.I. 7 ("Tr.") at 176, 183) Plaintiffs applications were denied at the initial level of administrative review on April 29, 2011 (id. at 122), and they were denied on reconsideration on June 22, 2012, after additional consultative examinations (id. at 129). After a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") on January 17, 2014, the ALJ issued a decision on March 19, 2014, finding that Plaintiff did not have a disability within the meaning of the Social Security Act. (Id. at 17-28) Plaintiff filed a request for review of the ALJ's decision, which was denied on May 13, 2015, resulting in a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security. (Id. at 1)

         On July 16, 2015, Plaintiff filed suit in the District of Delaware, seeking judicial review of the Commissioner's denial of benefits. (D.I. 2) The parties completed briefing on their cross-motions for summary judgment on September 7, 2016. (See D.I. 15, 18, 20)

         B. Factual History

         Plaintiff was 37 years old at the onset of her alleged disability. (Tr. at 26) She has a high school education and has previously worked as a customer service representative and loan processor. (Id. at 27, 41) Plaintiff contends that she cannot work due to back, leg, and neck problems, as well as depression. (Id. at 220) 1. Plaintiffs Testimony On January 17, 2014, Plaintiff testified before the ALJ in support of her petition for benefits. (Id. at 35-71) She testified that her back and hip pain started in 2007 after she was in a car accident. (Id. at 58) She said that she left her job in 2010 after receiving an injection for migraines that left her with brain swelling and blurry vision. (Id. at 44) Plaintiff testified that she experiences blurred vision, and has a prescription for Topamax to treat migraines. (Id. at 45) She testified that she has back pain and cannot walk or sit for long periods. (Id. at 46-47) She also testified that she has difficulty remembering things. (Id. at 47) Plaintiff stated that she stays in the house most of the time, has difficulty going up and down stairs, and spends six non-sleeping hours a day laying on her left side. (Id. at 51-52, 61)

         2. Dr. Xing's Opinion

         Plaintiff began seeing Dr. Xing, a pain management specialist, in early 2011. (See Tr. at 346-51) Dr. Xing provided epidural and other injections, as well as pain medications. (See, e.g. Id. at 394, 437, 524, 537) Dr. Xing's notes indicate that Plaintiffs pain responded well to treatment, with 50% pain relief (using medications) by July 2011. (Id. at 404) By 2013, Dr. Xing's records consistently show that Plaintiff showed at least 70% improvement with medication (see, e.g., Id. at 541, 543, 551, 553), and that Plaintiff told Dr. Xing her medications were "working well" (id. at 525, 529). During this same period, Dr. Xing's notes also show that Plaintiff experienced increased function and mobility as a result of her treatments. (See, e.g., Id. at 523, 525, 527, 529) Further, Dr. Xing noted that Plaintiff was working as a waitress during late 2012 and early 2013. (Id. at 547, 549, 551)

         In a patient questionnaire completed on January 14, 2014, in support of Plaintiff s benefits application, Dr. Xing opined that Plaintiff could sit for about four hours and stand or walk for less than two hours during an eight-hour workday, occasionally lift and carry less than ten pounds, and reach overhead for 5% of an 8-hour workday. (Id. at 520-21) She also stated that Plaintiff would require hourly 15-minute unscheduled breaks during the workday, could sit for 30 minutes at a time, stand only 15 minutes at a time, and was likely to miss more than fours days of work per month. (Id. at 520-22) Dr. Xing also indicated that Plaintiff could tolerate moderate levels of stress. (Id. at 522)

         C. The ALJ's Findings

         Plaintiff appeals the ALJ's March 19, 2014 decision, which made the following findings:

1. The claimant meets the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act ...

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