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Thompson v. Astrue

June 21, 2010


The opinion of the court was delivered by: David Stewart Cercone United States District Judge

Electronic Filing



Plaintiff Cathy Thompson ("Thompson") brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1383(c)(3), seeking judicial review of the final determination of the Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner") denying her application for supplemental security income ("SSI") benefits under Title XVI of the Social Security Act ("Act") [42 U.S.C. §§ 1381-1383f]. The parties have filed cross-motions for summary judgment pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56, and the record has been developed at the administrative level. For the reasons that follow, plaintiff's motion will be granted, defendant's motion will be denied, the decision of the Commissioner will be reversed, and the matter will be remanded with direction to grant benefits consistent with an onset date of February 13, 2006.


Thompson protectively applied for SSI benefits on October 26, 2005, alleging disability as of February 22, 2001. R. 17, 57, 82. The application was administratively denied on February 27, 2006. R. 43. Thompson responded on April 24, 2006, by filing a timely request for an administrative hearing. R. 48. On October 9, 2007, a hearing was held in Johnstown, Pennsylvania, before Administrative Law Judge Patricia C. Henry (the "ALJ"). R. 512. Thompson, who was represented by counsel, appeared and testified at the hearing. R. 516-546. Testimony was also taken from Irene Montgomery ("Montgomery"), an impartial vocational expert. R. 546-550. During the course of the hearing Thompson amended her alleged onset date to October 26, 2005, which had been her protective filing date. R. 63, 521-522. In a decision dated December 27, 2007, the ALJ determined that Thompson was not "disabled" within the meaning of the Act. R. 14-30. The Appeals Council denied Thompson's request for review on January 28, 2009, thereby making the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner in this case. R. 6. Thompson commenced this action on March 9, 2009, seeking judicial review of the Commissioner's decision. Doc. No. 1. Thompson and the Commissioner filed motions for summary judgment on September 15, 2009, and October 14, 2009, respectively. Doc. Nos. 10 & 12. These motions are the subject of this memorandum opinion.


The documentary record indicates that Thompson suffers from multiple impairments. On October 8, 2002, she underwent surgery to alleviate symptoms associated with carpal tunnel syndrome in her right wrist. R. 310-312. The operation was performed by Dr. Gregg L. Goldstrohm. R. 310-312. Thompson evidently fell into a bathtub later that night, inadvertently immersing her right hand in water. R. 311. Dr. Goldstrohm redressed her right hand the next day. R. 311. Thompson's sutures were removed on October 18, 2002. R. 310. On November 26, 2002, Dr. Goldstrohm performed surgery to alleviate symptoms associated with carpal tunnel syndrome in Thompson's left wrist. R. 309. The sutures from Thompson's second carpal tunnel operation were removed on December 6, 2002. R. 308. Thompson was instructed to wear a splint. R. 308. As of February 21, 2003, Thompson was still experiencing "basilar incision pain." R. 307. Dr. Goldstrohm started her on "a therapy program for range of motion, desensitization and scar massage." R. 307.

Thompson suffers from gastroesophageal reflux disease ("GERD"), Barrett's esophagus, and chronic dysphonia due to acid reflux laryngopharyngitis. R. 19. On January 20, 2003, a biopsy of her esophagus revealed that she was suffering from acute and chronic inflammation.

R. 19-20, 135-137, 144. Dr. Augusto Sotelo reported on January 28, 2003, that Thompson had reflex laryngitis. R. 144. It was recommended that Thompson take antireflex medication. R. 144.

Thompson underwent a laparoscopic Nissen fundoplication on July 31, 2003. R. 154. The procedure was performed by Dr. Robert Keenan. R. 154. During a March 29, 2004, appointment with Dr. Juan Lora, Thompson complained about having "severe gas." R. 154. Dr. Lora advised Thompson to avoid eating "gas-producing foods," to chew her food well, to eat more slowly, and to take anti-gas medication. R. 154. An x-ray of Thompson's chest yielded normal results. R. 154.

Thompson sought treatment from Dr. Daniel L. Haffner for foot ailments. On May 7, 2004, Thompson reported that she had been experiencing pain in her lower left extremity for several months. R. 164. This consisted of pain throughout her left knee, foot and heel. R. 164. Dr. Haffner's examination revealed that Thompson's plantar fascia was tender. R. 164. Thompson was given separate cortisone injections to relieve the pain in her knee and heel. R. 164. She indicated on June 22, 2004, that the pain in her knee had been somewhat relieved by the injection, but that the pain in her heel had not been relieved at all. R. 163. Dr. Haffner suggested that Thompson take oral anti-inflammatory medications and wear a fixed Walker boot.

R. 163.

Thompson returned to Dr. Haffner's office on August 27, 2004, reporting that neither the medications nor the Walker boot had alleviated the pain in her left heel. R. 162. Another cortisone injection was administered. R. 162. Although Thompson experienced momentary relief, her pain persisted. R. 161-162. An additional cortisone injection was administered on September 10, 2004, but it did not provide Thompson with long-term relief. R. 160-161. On October 19, 2004, Thompson told Dr. Haffner that she experienced pain whenever she needed to spend extended periods of time on her feet. R. 160. A magnetic resonance imaging ("MRI") scan was recommended to ascertain the source of Thompson's heel pain. R. 160.

The MRI scan, which was conducted on November 10, 2004, revealed that Thompson had a moderate-sized plantar calcaneal spur and minimal plantar fasciitis. R. 165-166. Thompson was also experiencing pain in her lower back. R. 159. An MRI scan of her lumbar spine showed that she had multiple "bulging" discs. R. 159. On November 19, 2004, Dr. Haffner told Thompson that he had no further medical suggestions. R. 159. He indicated that Thompson simply needed to decrease her level of activity. R. 159.

Thompson's foot problems apparently continued throughout the ensuing year. Shock wave therapy conducted on March 14, 2005, initially improved Thompson's heel pain by roughly 50%. R. 194. As of September 6, 2005, however, her pain had returned. R. 194. An endoscopic plantar fasciotomy was performed on September 26, 2005. R. 192-193. The procedure was performed by Dr. James Montgomery. R. 192-193.

Dr. Maria J. Sunseri referred Thompson for a polysomnography, which was conducted on August 9, 2005. R. 255-258. Dr. Bharat Jain reported that Thompson was suffering from obstructive sleep apnea syndrome. R. 257. Thompson underwent an ultrasound of her thyroid on September 19, 2005. R. 252. Her thyroid was found to be mildly enlarged. R. 252. The ultrasound was conducted because a goiter had previously been found. R. 252. A mammogram conducted on September 22, 2005, revealed that Thompson had a well-defined lesion on the posterior of her right breast. R. 251. She was advised to undergo a follow-up mammogram in six months. R. 251.

Dr. Donald P. Breneman performed an outpatient psychiatric evaluation of Thompson on September 22, 2005. R. 187-188. He indicated that Thompson was suffering from a dysthymic disorder. R. 188. Thompson's Global Assessment of Functioning ("GAF") rating was between 55 and 60. R. 188.

Thompson underwent a thyroidectomy on January 10, 2006. R. 411-412. The procedure was performed by Dr. Mark Klingensmith. R. 411-412. The resulting pathology yielded benign results, "showing a follicular hyperplasia without malignancy." R. 20, 379.

On February 13, 2006, Dr. Geneen Dashefsky performed a consultative physical examination of Thompson. R. 228-236. He indicated that Thompson was suffering from "restless leg syndrome," which significantly inhibited her ability to work. R. 228. Dr. Dashefsky reported that Thompson could frequently lift or carry objects weighing up to twenty pounds, but that she could only sit, stand or walk for one to two hours during the course of an eight-hour workday. R. 235. He further stated that Thompson could engage in only occasional bending, kneeling, stooping, crouching, balancing or climbing. R. 236.

On March 7, 2006, it was determined that Thompson had cysts on her liver. R. 459. An epidermal inclusion cyst was surgically removed from Thompson's left breast on April 13, 2006.

R. 449-451. It had apparently appeared three months earlier. R. 451. Thompson's decision to have it removed was influenced by the fact that it had ...

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