United States District Court, D. Delaware
October 19, 2011, Plaintiff Carla Anita Brown
("Brown") filed for disability insurance benefits
under Title II, 42 U.S.C. §§ 401-433, and for
supplemental security income under TitleXVI, 42 U.S.C.
§§ 1381-1383f. Brown originally asserted she had
become disabled as of December 5, 2008 due to osteoarthritis,
asthma, high blood pressure, sleep apnea, anemia, and
bilateral knee pain. Her claims were denied initially on
April 16, 2012, and upon reconsideration on October 15, 2012.
Brown timely requested a hearing before an administrative law
judge ("ALJ"), which was held on June 2,
2014. The ALJ issued a partially favorable decision on August
18, 2014, finding that Brown was disabled on June 1, 2014 and
after, but not before. (D.I. 9-2 at 33). Because Brown was
considered disabled as of June 1, 2014, she was only entitled
to supplemental security income, not disability insurance
benefits. Id. Disability insurance benefits were
only available through the date last insured-March 31,
2014.The Appeals Council declined Brown's
request for subsequent review on December 28, 2015. Having
exhausted all administrative remedies, Brown filed a
complaint with the court seeking review pursuant to 42 U.S.C.
§ 405(g) on February 17, 2016. (D.I. 2). The
Commissioner of the Social Security Administration ("the
Commissioner") timely answered on June 10, 2016. (D.I.
8). Brown filed for summary judgment on August 1, 2016, (D.I.
12), and the Commissioner cross-moved for summary judgment on
September 30, 2016. (D.I. 14). Because the court finds that
the ALJ's decisions were supported by substantial
evidence as addressed below, it will deny Plaintiffs motion
and grant summary judgment in favor of the Commissioner.
alleges she has been disabled since December 5, 2008. (D.I.
15 at 8). At the time of the administrative hearing, Brown
consulted multiple doctors for back, knee, and leg pain
stemming from lumbarTadiculopathy. (D.I. 12 at 6). Apart from
epidural steroid injections, Brown never had surgery, but
underwent physical therapy and took prescribed medications.
(D.I. 12 at 10). On August 18, 2014, the ALJ released his
decision currently in dispute. (D.I. 9-2 at 35).
Dr. McCrossan's Assessments
went to Dr. McCrossan ("McCrossan") with complaints
about back pain after a January 2011 motor vehicle accident.
(D.I. 12 at 6). McCrossan conducted several physical
examinations; McCrossan noted lumbar tenderness on the left
side of Brown's body, and discomfort in Brown's right
knee. Id. Despite prescribing medication and
physical therapy, McCrossan noted the knee pain and back pain
persisted. Id. McCrossan also wrote that Brown's
leg pain "has remained disabling." (D .1. 9-10 at
55). However, McCrossan consistently noted that Brown had a
normal gait. (D.I. 9-9 at 45, 50, 52, 55,
Dr. Wilson's Assessments
Wilson ("Wilson") diagnosed Brown with lumbar
radiculopathy with painand swelling in the left leg. (D.I.
9-1.1 at 28). Based on the information gathered, Wilson
estimated that Brown could sit for two to four hours during
the course of an eight hour workday, and could stand or walk
for approximately one hour. Id. In addition, Wilson
estimated that Brown should alternate between sitting and
standing every fifteen to twenty minutes to relieve pain.
Id. Wilson also concluded that Brown never lift more
than twenty-five pounds, that she rarely lift twenty pounds,
that she could occasionally lift ten pounds, and could
frequently lift less than ten pounds. Id. at 29. Due
to her findings, Wilson classified Brown as disabled, as
evidenced in a note to the Wilmington Housing Authority
declaring she should be "exempt from community service
due to disability." Id. at 21.
August 18, 2014 decision, the ALJ applied the regulatory
five-step sequential evaluation based on the evidence on
record. (D.I. 9-2 at 24-34). If all five steps are satisfied,
then Brown would be classified as disabled, but if any steps
fail, then Brown would not be classified as disabled.
Id. at 26. At step one, he determined that Brown did
not engage in substantial gainful activity. Id. at
27. At step two, he concluded that Brown had several severe
impairments, including "degenerative disc disease of the
spine, [and] degenerative joint disease of the bilateral
knees." Id. At step three, he determined
Brown's impairments did not equal the severity of the
listed impairments in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix
1. Id. at 28. At step four, he concluded that Brown
could not return to her past work given her impairments.
Id. At step five, he determined that, despite
Brown's impairments, she could still attain work
available in significant numbers in the national
economy. (Id. at27., 33-34). To reach this
conclusion, the ALJ relied on a vocational expert, Linda
Augins, who testified that Brown could work as an addresser,
a telephone information clerk, or table worker. (Id.
at 32-33, 63, 65-66).
also used the medical evidence to conclude Brown was not
disabled. After reviewing the medical evidence, the ALJ
reasoned that "the claimant's statements concerning
the intensity, persistence, and limiting effects of these
symptoms are not entirely credible." (D.I. 9-2 at 30).
To support his conclusion, the ALJ pointed out that "the
claimant's objective examination findings [from her
doctors] have been quite normal on many occasions" in
areas including respiration, Tange of motion for lumbar and
knees, motor function, strength, sensation, reflexes,
posture, gait, and coordination. Id. In addition,
the ALJ noted that Brown did not always follow treatment
recommendations by her doctors. Id. The ALJ also
considered the discrepancies between Brown's.complaints
and the medical examinations; one such discrepancy was
Brown's complaints of back and leg pain stemming from
lumber radiculopathy did not match the CT scan performed on
February 10, 2012 indicating a radicular-type problem would
not cause Brown's symptoms. Id. at 30-31; (D.I.
9-13 at 34). The ALJ also noted that McCrossan's medical
conclusion that Brown's leg pain "remained
disabling" did not conform to McCrossan's findings
during her multiple physicals that Brown had a normal gait.
(D.I. 9-10 at 55; D.I. 9-9 at 45, 50, 52, 55, 57).
Wilson's conclusions to the Wilmington Housing Authority,
the ALJ gave the evidence little weight because "the
definition of disability used on [that] form [was] not
comparable to the sequential evaluation process used for
determining such status" under the Social Security Act.
(D.I. 9-2 at 31). However, the ALJ assigned Wilson's
other medical conclusions- for example, Brown's ability
to carry weight or length of time sit or stand-moderate
weight. Id. Regarding McCrossan's conclusions
that Brown's symptoms were disabling, the ALJ gave the
evidence little weight because they were conclusions
"address[ing] an issue reserved to the
Commissioner" and were inconsistent with other medical
findings in the record such as those discussed above.