United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania
MARK R. HORNAK, District Judge.
Mariann Beth Grosskinsky ("Plaintiff') brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), seeking review of the final determination of the Commissioner of Social Security ("Defendant" or "Commissioner") denying her application for disability insurance benefits ("DIB") and supplemental security income ("SSI") under Titles II and XVI of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 401-433, 1381-1383f ("Act"). This matter comes before the Court on cross motions for summary judgment. (ECF Nos. 9, 12). The record has been developed at the administrative level. For the following reasons, Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment will be DENIED, and Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment will be GRANTED.
II. PROCEDURAL HISTORY
Plaintiff applied for DIB and SSI on March 11, 2009, claiming a disability onset of August 15, 2007. (R. at 208-17). Plaintiff claimed that her inability to work was a result of functional limitation stemming from "back and neck pain." (R. at 230). Plaintiff was initially denied DIB and SSI on May 1, 2009. (R. at 116-24). A hearing was scheduled for September 8, 2010, and Plaintiff testified, represented by counsel. (R. at 41-78). A vocational expert was also present to testify, as was Plaintiff's mother. (R. at 41-78). The Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") issued her decision denying benefits to Plaintiff on October 28, 2010. (R. at 24-40). Plaintiff filed a request for review of the ALJ's decision by the Appeals Council, which request was denied on July 18, 2012, thereby making the decision of the ALJ the final decision of the Commissioner. (R. at 1-3).
Plaintiff filed her Complaint in this Court on September 25, 2012. (ECF No. 3). Defendant filed an Answer on December 20, 2012. (ECF No. 5). Cross motions for summary judgment followed. The matter has been fully briefed. (ECF Nos. 10, 13, 15, 16).
III. STATEMENT OFF ACTS
A. General Background
Plaintiff was born on May 30, 1985, was twenty-two years of age at the time of her application for benefits, and was twenty-five years of age at the time of the ALJ's decision. (R. at 226). Plaintiff graduated from high school and received an Associate's Degree to work as a veterinary technician. (R. at 234). Plaintiff's past relevant work included positions as a cashier, kennel worker in a veterinary hospital, and veterinary technician in a veterinary hospital. (R. at 231). Plaintiff lived in a house with her fiance and two-and-one-half year old daughter. (R. at 46). Plaintiff's mother lived in an adjacent house. (R. at 62). Plaintiff stayed at home to care for her daughter following her last period of employment, and subsisted on her fiance's income. (R. at 34, 131).
In a self-report of functional abilities completed by Plaintiff for the purpose of her application for benefits, Plaintiff indicated that she was her daughter's primary caretaker, she cleaned her residence, she prepared three complete meals per day, she went shopping, she cleaned the laundry, she could walk approximately one mile before needing rest, she drove independently, she spent at least four hours per day outside her horne, and she paid her bills and handled her checking/savings accounts. (R. at 245-48). Plaintiff also made meals for her fiance, and cared for two cats. (R. at 246). Plaintiff had no issues with self-care. (R. at 246).
Plaintiff averred that she had daily pain in her back following her pregnancy with her daughter. (R. at 253). Activity worsened the pain. (R. at 253). She stated that her pain woke her up multiple times throughout the night. (R. at 246). She had to sit in certain positions to watch television, and she had to limit playtime with her daughter. (R. at 249). However, at that time, Plaintiff did not take any pain medications. (R. at 254). She had sought treatment from a chiropractor, but had not attempted physical therapy or treatment with a psychiatrist or psychologist. (R. at 254).
Plaintiff indicated that she became easily irritated with other people. (R. at 250). Yet, Plaintiff did not need reminders to go places, she did not require accompaniment to go shopping or attend appointments, she could pay attention for "long periods of time, " she finished what she started, she followed instructions "very well, " she got along well with authority figures, and she had never lost a job due to problems getting along with other people. (R. at 250-51). Plaintiff handled changes in routine "pretty well, " and handled stress "as best as possible." (R. at 251).
B. Treatment History
Plaintiff began treating with primary care physician Hugh Shearer, D.O. on September 25, 2008. (R. at 274). Plaintiff's initial complaints included depression, lack of motivation, sadness, crying, and sleepiness. (R. at 274). She claimed that anti-depressants had not been helpful for depressive symptoms in the past. (R. at 274). Plaintiff also described experiencing back pain in the area of her thoracic spine that started during her pregnancy six months earlier, but had not improved. (R. at 274). Upon examination, Dr. Shearer observed some tenderness in the mid thoracic spine and paraspinal muscles, but no spasm. (R. at 274). Plaintiff also had intact reflexes. (R. at 274). Dr. Shearer prescribed Celexa and Naprosyn. (R. at 274).
At a follow-up with Dr. Shearer on October 17, 2008, Plaintiff continued to complain of back pain and issues with crying spells and mood swings. (R. at 273). Upon examination, Dr. Shearer noted no weakness, "minimal" tenderness in the thoracic spine, full range of motion, no spasm, and intact reflexes. (R. at 273). Plaintiff had a flat affect, but made good eye contact and interacted appropriately with Dr. Shearer. (R. at 273). Plaintiff was prescribed Prozac and Diclofenac. (R. at 273).
Plaintiff reappeared at Dr. Shearer's offices on October 23, 2008, complaining of rectal bleeding she attributed to her prescription medications. (R. at 272). She still complained of "some thoracic pain, " and felt no improvement with medication. (R. at 272). Upon examination, Dr. Shearer found "some tenderness" in the thoracic area, no spasm, and a full range of motion. (R. at 272). He prescribed Ultram instead of Diclofenac and recommended a course of physical therapy. (R. at 272).
On November 14, 2008, Plaintiff was seen by Dr. Shearer for complaints of thoracic pain and depression. (R. at 271). Plaintiff stated that she was depressed and anxious. (R. at 271). She had not been taking her prescribed Prozac for two weeks, however, because of claimed rectal bleeding. (R. at 271). She also complained that pain medication was not helping her, and that she had even taken Vicodin prescribed to her fiance, but to no avail. (R. at 271). Dr. Shearer observed tenderness between Plaintiff's shoulder blades, but no spasm, radiculopathy, or weakness. (R. at 271). Plaintiff had intact reflexes and full range of motion. (R. at 271). She had a flat affect, but made good eye contact, dressed appropriately, and had normal speech. (R. at 271). Dr. Shearer prescribed Paxil and Mobic. (R. at 271).
Plaintiff sought treatment with chiropractor Ram N. Parikh, D.C. between February 16 and April 2, 2009. (R. at 287-301). At his initial evaluation, Mr. Parikh indicated that Plaintiff complained of pain equivalent to 9 on a scale of 1-10. (R. at 292). He also observed severe tenderness and muscle spasm in the neck and mid back. (R. at 292). Cervical range of motion was reportedly decreased, as was lumbosacral range of motion. (R. at 292-93). Mr. Parikh diagnosed thoracic sprain/strain, muscle spasm, myalgia, and cervical subluxation. (R. at 293). Plaintiff's prognosis was "fair." (R. at 293). Plaintiff saw modest improvement in pain and range of motion through her course of treatment with Mr. Parikh. (R. at 294-301).
On April 22, 2009, Plaintiff sought treatment from a new primary care physician, Lisa Guthrie, D.O. (R. at 366). Plaintiff complained of cervical and mid-back pain for approximately two years. (R. at 366). She received some relief by taking Motrin. (R. at 366). However, she claimed that she could not drive and could not stand long enough to wash her dishes. (R. at 366). Plaintiff endorsed experiencing mood swings, but did not believe that she was depressed. (R. at 366). Dr. Guthrie observed that Plaintiff had thoracic kyphosis and was obese. (R. at 366). Her range of motion was decreased. (R. at 366). She prescribed Darvocet, Trazadone, and Xanax. (R. at 366).
On April 29, 2009, Plaintiff was evaluated by Ellen Mustovic, M.D. for rehabilitative treatment recommendations with respect to back pain. (R. at 530-32). Dr. Mustovic observed Plaintiff to be very pleasant and cooperative. (R. at 532). Plaintiff was overweight, and Dr. Mustovic had difficulty eliciting reflex responses in the upper and lower extremities. (R. at 532). However, Plaintiff had intact sensation and full strength in all extremities, and full range of motion in the cervical spine, shoulders, elbows, and wrists. (R. at 532). She had 75% normal forward flexion in the lumbosacral spine, and increased kyphosis. (R. at 532). Plaintiff's physical examination was otherwise unremarkable. (R. at 531). She had a normal gait. (R. at 532). Plaintiff was diagnosed with degenerative changes and kyphosis of the thoracic spine. (R. at 532). Physical therapy and a rheumatologist consultation were recommended. (R. at 532).
State agency evaluator John Rohar, Ph.D. completed a Psychiatric Review Technique of Plaintiff on May 1, 2009. (R. at 313-25). Based upon his review of the medical record, Dr. Rohar concluded that the evidence did not support finding the existence of any severe mental health impairments. (R. at 313-25). Plaintiff was ...