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McDonald v. Berryhill

United States District Court, D. Delaware

September 1, 2017



         Plaintiff, Michelle D. McDonald, appeals the decision of Defendant, Nancy A. Berryhill, the Acting Commissioner (the "Commissioner") of the Social Security Administration, which denied Ms. McDonald's application for Social Security disability insurance benefits ("DIB") or Supplemental Security Income ("SSI") under Titles II and XVI, respectively, of the Social Security Act. 42 U.S.C. §§ 401-34, 1381-1383f. This Court has jurisdiction pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), which grants original jurisdiction to the District Courts to review a final decision of the Commissioner.

         Presently pending before the Court are cross-motions for summary judgment filed by Ms. McDonald and the Commissioner. (D.I. 9, D.I. 14).

         The motions were referred to the United States Magistrate Judge (D.I. 11), who issued a Report and Recommendation recommending that Ms. McDonald's motion be denied, and the Commissioner's motion be granted. (D.I. 17). Ms. McDonald filed objections (D.I. 18) to which the Commissioner has responded. (D.I. 20). I review the objections to the Report and Recommendation de novo. See Brown v. Astrue, 649 F.3d 193, 195 (3d Cir. 2011).

         Ms. McDonald has requested that the Court reverse the decision of the Commissioner and find her disabled, or in the alternative, remand this matter for further administrative proceedings. (D.I. 18 at 4). For the reasons set forth below, the Court sustains Plaintiffs objection with regards to the credibility of her treating physician and requires that a new hearing be granted consistent with this order.

         I. BACKGROUND

         a. Procedural History

         Ms. McDonald filed for DIB, and later for SSI, alleging disability beginning on November 15, 2011 due to severe physical ailments, including degenerative disc disease of the cervical spine and carpal tunnel syndrome. (D.I. 7-6 at 382, 384). A hearing was held before an ALJ on September 10, 2014. (Id. at 382). The ALJ subsequently found that Ms. McDonald did not qualify as "disabled" under the Act and denied her request for benefits. After the ALJ's denial, Plaintiff requested review by the Social Security Appeals Council, but was denied. She then filed a timely appeal to this Court.

         b. Plaintiffs Medical History, Condition, and Treatment

         At the time of her alleged disability, Ms. McDonald was 46 years old, which is defined as a younger individual under 20 CFR § 404.1563 (c). (D.I. 7-6 at 390). Ms. McDonald has past relevant work as a sales representative and possesses a high school education. (Id. at 389-90).

         Ms. McDonald's detailed medical history is contained in the record, but the Court will provide a brief summary. On November 15, 2011, McDonald stopped working. She said it was"because of [her] condition(s) [and] other reasons." (D.I. 7-11 at 569). She elaborated: "The main reason was due to lay-off. I'm finding it hard [to] find work as I had limitations. The work I was performing prior to lay-off was worsening my medical conditions." (Id.). Since that time, Ms. McDonald has developed increased neck and back pain, worsening arthritic changes in the cervical spine, and worsening carpal tunnel syndrome, for which she has undergone two surgeries on the right hand to date. (D.I. 7-6 at 387-89). Ms. McDonald has also experienced gastrointestinal issues and associated chest pain, which began in November 2013. (D.I. 7-7 at 409). She has also had numerous endoscopies, saw various specialists, and had gallbladder surgery in January 2014. (Id.). Ms. McDonald is currently taking Linzess for bowel issues, which forces her to remain close to a bathroom for most of the day. (Id. at 410).

         Ms. McDonald has been treated by Dr. James Kirkland Beebe, M.D. since November, 2011. (D.I. 7-21 at 1185). Six months after beginning treatment with Dr. Beebe, Ms. McDonald complained of difficulty sleeping and problems related to arthritis in both of her shoulders. (D.I. 7-12 at 692). X-rays of the cervical spine showed significant arthritic changes. (Id. at 708). She also complained of increased neck pain on July 2, 2012 and Dr. Beebe diagnosed osteoarthritis of the cervical spine and prescribed Aleve and Tylenol. (Id. at 690). In September 2012, she complained of right hand numbness and was diagnosed with right carpal tunnel syndrome. (Id. at 750). X-rays of the spine and knees have also shown significant damage in these areas. (Id. at 907).

         On November 20, 2012, Dr. Beebe completed a Doctor's Certificate for the Delaware Department of Labor, where he diagnosed cervical radiculopathy and bilateral carpal tunnel syndrome, concluding that Ms. McDonald was "disabled from all work indefinitely." (D.I. 7-16 at 928). In an assessment of Ms. McDonald noted in a Multiple Impairment Questionnaire dated July 2, 2013, Dr. Beebe diagnosed "cervical degenerative disc disease, osteoarthritis with bilateral cervical radiculopathy, bilateral carpal tunnel syndrome, and cubital tunnel syndrome." (D.I. 7-19 at 1105) Dr. Beebe estimated that Ms. McDonald's pain varied from moderate to moderately severe (5-8 on a scale of 10) and her level of fatigue was moderately severe (7 on a scale of 10). (Id. at 1107). In Dr. Beebe's July opinion, Ms. McDonald could not stand/walk continuously, must stand and move around for a period of 20 minutes each 15-20 minute interval if sitting, could not lift any weight, and could not carry more than five pounds and then only occasionally. (Id. at 1108)

         Dr. Beebe examined Ms. McDonald again on August 15, 2013 and noted: generalized osteoarthritis, cervical spondylosis without myelopathy, lumbosacral neuritis/radiculitis, and carpal tunnel syndrome. (D.I. 7-20 at 1122). A month later on September 17, 2013, he completed a second Multiple Impairment Questionnaire. (D.I. 7-21 at 1185). In this submission, his opinions were that she could only sit for shorter periods, and that she could not lift more than ten pounds occasionally. (Id. at 1187-88).

         Dr. Beebe noted "severe pain in the right wrist" on November 5, 2013. ...

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