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Schwartz v. Berryhill

United States District Court, D. Delaware

January 7, 2019

NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          Gary C. Linarducci, New Castle, DE; Thomas D. Sutton, Leventhal Sutton & Gornstein, Trevose, PA - attorneys for Plaintiff

          Nora Koch, Regional Chief Counsel, Heather Benderson, Special Assistant United States Attorney Social Security Administration, Office of the General Counsel, Philadelphia, PA - attorneys for Defendant.




         Plaintiff Margaret Schwartz ("Ms. Schwartz" or "Plaintiff) appeals the decision of Defendant Nancy A. Berryhill, the Acting Commissioner of Social Security ("the Commissioner" or "Defendant"), denying her claim for Social Security Disability Insurance benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act. The Court has jurisdiction pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).

         Pending before the Court are Plaintiffs motion and Defendant's cross-motion for summary judgment. (D.I. 7, 9). Plaintiff, Ms. Schwartz, seeks reversal of the "decision of the Commissioner and order an award of the benefits to which she is entitled or, in the alternative, [that the Court] remand her claim to the Commissioner for a proper determination." (D.I. 8 at 1). The Commissioner requests that the Court affirm the decision denying Plaintiffs claim for benefits. (D.I. 10 at 20). For the reasons stated below, the Court will grant-in-part and deny-in-part Plaintiffs motion and deny Defendant's cross-motion for summary judgment. This matter will be remanded for further proceedings.


         A. Procedural History

         On February 29, 2012, Ms. Schwartz filed an application for Disability Insurance Benefits under Title II, alleging disability beginning October 31, 2011. (Tr. 26, 213 -214).[1] Plaintiff s claim was denied initially on December 20, 2012 and again upon reconsideration on May 23, 2013. (Tr. 121-124, 126-131). Plaintiff then requested a hearing before the Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") on July 29, 2013. (Tr. 132-133). The hearing took place on July 15, 2015 during which both Ms. Schwartz and Christina Cody ("Ms. Cody), an impartial vocational expert ("VE") testified. (Tr. 39-89). After the hearing, on August 24, 2015, the ALJ issued a decision finding that Plaintiff "has not been under a disability within the meaning of the Social Security Act from October 31, 2011, through the date of [the] opinion." (Tr. 17). Plaintiff requested review of the ALJ decision by the Appeals Council on October 23, 2015. (Tr. 8-9). On May 13, 2016, the Appeals Council denied Plaintiffs request for review, making the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner. (Tr. 1-7).

         On July 5, 2016, Plaintiff 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 the cross motions for summary judgment on April 14, 2017. (D.I. 7-10, 13).

         B. Factual History

         Plaintiff applied for Disability Insurance Benefits on March 1, 2012 when she was 56 years old. (Tr. 213 -14). Plaintiff became unable to work as of October 31, 2011 at the age of 5 6, which is "advanced age" as defined by 20 C.F.R. §404.1563(d). (Tr. 213). She is a high school graduate and completed specialized job training at the Court Reporting Institute in Philadelphia. According to her Work History report (Tr. 240-249), she had held jobs as a transcriptionist and a secretary[2]in the 18 years prior to becoming unable to work.

         1. Disability Report - March 1, 2012 (Form SSA-16)

         In her Disability Report dated March 1, 2012 (Form SSA-16) (Tr. 213-214), Plaintiff asserted that she has the following physical or mental conditions that limit her ability to work (Tr.251):

1. Diabetes, osteoarthritis, depression, sleep apnea;
2. Type 2 Diabetes;
3. Fibromyalgia;
4. Osteoarthritis of knees;
5. Osteoarthritis of shoulders;
6. Osteoarthritis of hips;
7. Sleep apnea;
8. Depression;
9. High blood pressure; and
10. High cholesterol.

         In her disability report, she indicates that she stopped working because of her conditions, [3]but that her conditions had not caused her to make changes to her work activity. (Id.). She also lists the following medications: Amaryl, Cymbalta, Janument, Lantus, Lipitor, Losartan, which were prescribed by Dr. James Lenhard at Christiana Care Diabetes and Metabolic Disease Center[4]and Dr. James Loughran at Concord Plaza Office Park. (Tr. 254). Plaintiff lists five providers in addition to Drs. Lenhard and Loughran who may have medical records about her physical and mental conditions: Dr. John Carlson, Drs. James Neman and Peter Rocca at Rheumatology Associates, Dr. James Purtill at Rothman Instititute and Dr. Brett Wharton. (Tr. 254-259).

         2. Medical History, Treatment, and Conditions

         The Court has reviewed all medical records submitted. The relevant medical history begins in February of 2011 and continues through October 27, 2015. (D.I. 5-9 - 5-11, Exhs 1F - 19F).

         A. Loughran Medical

         James P. Loughran MD is listed as Plaintiffs primary care physician throughout the relevant time. His records contain copies of the records obtained from other medical providers described below. His notes from visits in during the relevant time period indicate that Plaintiff suffered from persistent knee pain. (Tr. 400-401, Tr. 469; Tr. 484-85; Tr. 493).

         B. Christiana Care Endocrinology

         Plaintiff saw Dr. James Lenhard, an endocrinologist, regularly during the relevant time. In October of 2011, Dr. Lenhard noted that Plaintiff suffered from diabetes, hypertension, hyperlipidemia, osteoarthritis, back pain, and depression. (Tr. 338-39). In follow up visits in 2012, he reviewed Plaintiffs bloodwork and condition. In February of 2012, he noted the same conditions previously stated. He also noted that her glycemic control had worsened, but that Plaintiff had lost weight and "is/was" walking 20 minutes a day, her "regular exercise includes walking" and she did not report leg pain when walking. (Tr. 381-85). In the same notes, however, he noted that Plaintiff does not exercise and that her osteoarthritis makes exercise difficult. (Tr. 383-84). In November of 2012, Dr. Lenhard noted that Plaintiff has had knee pain from osteoarthritis, that Dr. Rocca had suggested knee replacement surgery but that she was hesitant to have that surgery. (Tr. 377). He noted that her weight had increased since the prior visit and included the same notes about exercise that had been previously stated. (Tr. 377-380). Dr. Lenhard's notes from March of 2013 indicated an additional weight gain but were otherwise largely the same as the November 2012 report. (Tr. 402-405)

         C. Rheumatology Associates (Drs. James Neman ...

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