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Gloria v. Berryhill

United States District Court, D. Delaware

September 27, 2017

LOUIS GLORIA, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL[1]Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          Oderah C. Nwaeze, DUANE MORRIS LLP, Wilmington, DE Attorney for Plaintiff.

          David C. Weiss, Acting United States Attorney, and Patricia A. Stewart, Special Assistant United States Attorney, UNITED STATES ATTORNEY'S OFFICE, Wilmington, DE

          Nora Koch, Acting Regional Chief Counsel, Region III and Nicole A. Schmid, Assistant Regional Counsel, of the Social Security Administration, Philadelphia, PA Attorneys for Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          STARK, U.S. DISTRICT JUDGE

         I. INTRODUCTION

         Plaintiff Louis Gloria (“Gloria” or “Plaintiff) appeals the decision of Defendant Nancy A. Berryhill, the Acting Commissioner of Social Security (“the Commissioner” or “Defendant”), denying his claim for Social Security Disability Insurance benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. § 423(a)(1)(A) and (C). The Court has jurisdiction pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).

         Before the Court are the parties' cross-motions for summary judgment. (D.I. 10, 12, 13) Plaintiff Gloria seeks reversal of the Commissioner's decision, or alternatively, a remand to the Commissioner for proper consideration of the record. (D.I. 11 at 17) The Commissioner requests that the Court affirm the decision denying Gloria's claim for benefits. (D.I. 14 at 13)

         For the reasons stated below, the Court will deny Plaintiffs motion for summary judgment and grant Defendant's motion.

         II. BACKGROUND

         A. Procedural History

         On March 13, 2012, Gloria filed a Title II application for benefits, alleging disability beginning August 6, 2007. (D.I. 6 (“Tr.”) at 305-06) Gloria's claim was denied initially on May 24, 2012 and again upon reconsideration on March 13, 2013. (Tr. at 250-54, 257-61) Gloria then requested a hearing before the Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) on April 11, 2013. (Tr. at 262-63) The hearing took place on June 12, 2014, at which Gloria amended his onset date of disability to September 30, 2009. (Tr. at 160, 162-63) Both Gloria and an impartial vocational expert (“VE”) testified. (Tr. at 161) After the hearing, on August 21, 2014, the ALJ issued a decision finding that Gloria has severe impairments of Multiple Sclerosis (“MS”) and a seizure disorder but was not disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act and could perform jobs existing in significant numbers in the national economy. (Tr. at 145-54) Gloria requested review of this decision on September 4, 2014, which was denied on February 25, 2016, making the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner. (Tr. at 1, 140)

         On April 25, 2016, Gloria filed suit in the District of Delaware seeking judicial review of the Commissioner's denial of benefits. (D.I. 1) The parties completed briefing on their cross-motions for summary judgment on October 24, 2016. (D.I. 11, 14)

         B. Factual History

         At the time he was last insured, Gloria was 44 years-old and defined as a younger individual under 20 C.F.R. § 404.1563. (Tr. at 152) He has a college education and past relevant work as an employee trainer, community outreach worker, and quality assurance administrative social worker. (Tr. at 166, 197-98) In seeking benefits, Gloria asserts that he is unable to work because of MS and a seizure disorder. (Tr. at 149)

         1. Medical History, Treatment, and Conditions

         Gloria was diagnosed with MS based on MRIs in October 2005 and a lumbar puncture in January 2006. (Tr. at 410, 412) The relevant medical history begins at Gloria's alleged onset date of September 30, 2009, and continues through his last insured date of September 30, 2013. (Tr. at 147)

         a. Delaware Neurology Associates

         During the relevant period, Gloria was treated at Delaware Neurology Associates. (Tr. at 438-51, 477-528, 655-65) Treating neurologists observed that Gloria did not exhibit decreased memory, dizziness, loss of consciousness, speech difficulty, or mental status change. (Tr. at 439, 444, 448, 480, 601, 658)

         More specifically, on October 9, 2009, Dr. William A. Thomas noted that Gloria's MS was stable and that Provigil was effective in increasing energy. (Tr. at 447) On July 9, 2010, Dr. Thomas reported that Gloria's MS was stable and his seizures had resolved. (Tr. at 488) On July 12, 2011, Gloria reported some arm pain and bilateral upper extremity fatigue following strenuous activity and lifting but also reported that Provigil continued to be effective in increasing energy. (Tr. at 483)

         During clinical examinations, Gloria consistently had 5/5 muscle strength, intact sensation, normal coordination, and a normal gait. (Tr. at 440, 445, 449, 481, 603, 658-59) On neuropsychiatric examination, Gloria was able to perform basic computations and apply abstract reasoning, and Gloria further displayed a normal attention span and a normal ability to maintain concentration. (Tr. at 440, 445, 449, 481, 603)

         An August 12, 2011 MRI revealed white-matter abnormalities consistent with MS and earlier MRIs. (Tr. at 464) Thereafter, he received treatment from physicians besides those at Delaware Neurology Associates, as described further below.

         b. Mid-Atlantic Family Practice

         On March 5, 2012, Gloria met with Carmelo DiSalvo, M.D., at Mid-Atlantic Family Practice. (Tr. at 545-56) During this treatment date and two others, Gloria denied joint and muscle pain, decreased memory, dizziness, paresthesia, or weakness. (Tr. at 545, 548, 554, 627, 630, 783, 785) Gloria also exhibited normal motor strength, normal sensation, normal coordination, a normal gait, and a full range of motion in all joints. (Tr. at 546)

         c. Jason Silversteen, D.O. - Treating Neurologist

         Gloria was referred to MS specialist Jason Silversteen, D.O. (Tr. at 617-18, 689) Gloria began treatment with Dr. Silversteen at Christiana Care Neurology Specialists on May 10, 2012. (Tr. at 683-86) Dr. Silversteen reported that while Gloria had cognitive dysfunction, including difficulty word-finding, multitasking, and retaining verbal memory, Gloria had normal muscle strength, normal sensation, and a normal gait without ataxia. (Tr. at 685) Dr. Silversteen further reported that although Gloria had done physically well since taking Copaxone for his MS, Gloria still experienced significant cognitive and fatigue issues. (Tr. at 685) Based on these observations, Dr. Silversteen opined that Gloria was disabled and recommended that Gloria undergo full neuropsychological testing. (Tr. at 685) Dr. Silversteen further recommended Adderall to increase Gloria's cognitive vigilance and energy, as well as Tysabri or Gilenya as potential options to treat Gloria's MS symptoms. (Tr. at 686)

         On July 5, 2012, Dr. Silversteen determined that Gilenya was a good option to treat Gloria's MS symptoms. (Tr. at 679) Dr. Silversteen reported that Gloria continued to display cognitive dysfunction, but Gloria denied urinary frequency, retained normal muscle strength, had normal sensation, and had normal gait without ataxia. (Tr. at 681) Dr. Silversteen also referred Gloria to Glen D. Greenberg, Ph.D., for neuropsychological testing. (Tr. at 682)

         On September 11, 2012, Dr. Greenberg performed the neuropsychological examination and found lowered general intelligence due to problems with processing speed and complex concentration. (Tr. 649, 654) Gloria also exhibited impaired memory when needing to actively encode significant amounts of information. (Tr. at 654) However, Dr. Greenberg also noted that Gloria was alert and attentive, showing no evidence of distractibility. (Tr. at 650) Gloria's intelligence assessments showed average full-scale intelligence, with average abilities for verbal comprehension, perceptual reasoning, and working memory, but low average results for processing speed. (Tr. at 650) Non-verbal and motor testing exhibited slightly below-average grip strength with the dominant right hand and slow fine motor skills. (Tr. at 652) Dr. Greenberg opined that Gloria was disabled from working due to his physical and cognitive issues. (Tr. at 654)

         On January 3, 2013, Gloria stated that Provigil was not particularly helpful for his fatigue, contrary to previous statements to his treating neurologists at Delaware Neurology Associates. (Tr. at 672) Gloria continued to display cognitive dysfunction, but denied urinary frequency, and continued to have ...


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