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Sinker v. Colvin

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

October 3, 2014

ROSE M. SINKER, Plaintiff,


CHRISTOPHER C. CONNER, Chief District Judge.


Plaintiff Rose M. Sinker has filed this action seeking review of a decision of the Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner") denying Sinker's claim for social security disability insurance benefits.

Disability insurance benefits are paid to an individual if that individual is disabled and "insured." Sinker met the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act through December 31, 2009. Tr. 23.[1] Thus, Sinker must establish that she suffered from a disability on or before that date. 42 U.S.C. ยง 423(a)(1)(A).

Sinker protectively filed her application for disability insurance benefits on April 6, 2011, alleging that she became disabled on April 24, 2004. Tr. 21, 116. By operation of the doctrine of res judicata , Sinker's period of disability was limited to February 8, 2008. Tr. 22, 23. Sinker has been diagnosed with several disorders, including: degenerative disc disease of the lumbar spine, degenerative disc disease of the cervical spine, fibromyalgia, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, hypertension, carpal tunnel syndrome, and hyperlipidemia. Tr. 23-24, 510. On May 26, 2011, Sinker's application was initially denied by the Bureau of Disability Determination. Tr. 95.

A hearing was conducted by an administrative law judge ("ALJ") on March 23, 2012, where Sinker was represented by counsel. Tr. 38-71. On June 25, 2012, the ALJ issued a decision denying Sinker's application. Tr. 21-30. On July 30, 2013, the Appeals Council declined to grant review. Tr. 1. Sinker filed a complaint before this Court on September 5, 2013, and this case became ripe for disposition on March 31, 2014, when Sinker filed a reply brief.

Sinker appeals the ALJ's determination on two grounds: (1) the ALJ erred in discounting Sinker's credibility, and (2) the ALJ erred in finding at Step Five that Sinker was not disabled. For the reasons set forth below, the case is remanded to the Commissioner for further proceedings.

Statement of Relevant Facts

Sinker was forty-eight years of age at the time the ALJ rendered his decision; she has a tenth grade education and is able to read, write, speak and understand the English language. Tr. 42, 130, 132. Sinker has past relevant work experience as a warehouse worker and forklift operator, which is classified as medium, unskilled work, and as a resort housekeeper, which is classified as light, unskilled work. Tr. 63.

A. Sinker's Relevant Physical Impairments

In 2007, just prior to the relevant period, Sinker began experiencing low back pain as well as muscle pain and fatigue. Tr. 251, 405. Sinker began treating with Ranju Singh, M.D. for her muscle pain and fatigue. Tr. 252. In late 2007, Dr. Singh noted that Sinker had a good range of motion in all joints and full strength throughout her extremities, although she did have a limited rotation of the hips. Tr. 248. However, Dr. Singh noted that all eighteen "triggerpoints" indicative of fibromyalgia were tender to palpation.[2] Id . Consequently, Dr. Singh diagnosed Sinker with "[s]evere fibromyalgia syndrome." Id.

On May 1, 2008, Sinker returned to Dr. Singh complaining of continued low back pain, fatigue, and occasional headaches. Tr. 247. A physical examination revealed good range of motion in the shoulders, elbows, and wrists, although Sinker experienced pain in the inguinal region during hip rotation. Id . Sinker had normal muscle strength throughout. Id . Dr. Singh noted crepitus in Sinker's knees, and again noted positive tenderpoints of fibromyalgia. Id.

Dr. Singh noted that a "recent" MRI revealed a moderate disc herniation at the L5-S1 level, as well as "impingement of the thecal sac traversing [the] left S1" vertebrae. Id . Dr. Singh reiterated a diagnosis of "severe fibromyalgia syndrome" but noted that Sinker had a good response to Lyrica. Id . Dr. Singh also diagnosed Sinker with "extensive degenerative disc disease" of the lumbar spine. Id.

On August 28, 2008, Sinker presented to Dr. Singh for a follow-up appointment. Tr. 246-47. Sinker complained of severe "aches and pains" as well as stiffness in her muscles, particularly in her neck muscles. Tr. 247. Sinker stated that she was "very tired, and unable to exercise and do her duties of daily life." Id . She also complained of constant headaches and generalized fatigue. Tr. 246. Sinker had good range of motion in her shoulders, elbows, wrists, and hips, although she experienced pain at the extremes of her hip motion. Id . Sinker had normal grip strength, but had crepitus in the knees and a "very restricted" range of motion in her cervical spine. Id . Dr. Singh noted ...

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