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Barrick v. Colvin

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

June 8, 2015

SUSAN A. BARRICK, Plaintiff,
CAROLYN COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, Defendant.


JOHN E. JONES, III, District Judge.

In the above-captioned action, Plaintiff seeks review of a decision of the Commissioner of Social Security denying her application for disability and disability insurance benefits. For the reasons that follow, we shall vacate the decision of the Commissioner and remand for further proceedings.


A. Procedural

On April 13, 2012, Plaintiff protectively filed an application for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits, alleging a disability beginning on August 28, 2011. (Tr. 14).[1] Her claim was denied, and, thereafter, Plaintiff requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"). (Tr. 14). An ALJ conducted a hearing on September 5, 2013, at which Plaintiff was represented by counsel and the testimony of Plaintiff and an impartial vocational expert ("VE") was offered. (Tr. 14). The ALJ issued his decision on September 10, 2013, determining that Plaintiff was not under a disability for the relevant period. (Tr. 24).

On October 17, 2013, Plaintiff filed a request for review of the ALJ's decision. (Tr. 8). On May 29, 2014, the Appeals Council denied the request (Tr. 1), making the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner.

Thereafter, on July 28, 2014, Plaintiff commenced the present action by filing a Complaint (Doc. 1), seeking review of the ALJ's decision. Defendant filed an Answer on October 31, 2014 (Doc. 8), and, on the same day, the administrative record was submitted (Doc. 9). Plaintiff filed a brief on December 12, 2014 (Doc. 10), and Defendant filed opposition papers on January 13, 2015. (Doc. 11). Plaintiff submitted a reply on January 23, 2015. (Doc. 12). Accordingly, this matter is ripe for disposition.

B. Factual

Plaintiff was born on December 8, 1969, and was 41 years-old on the alleged disability onset date. (Tr. 23). Before claiming disability, Plaintiff worked as a housekeeper, a produce clerk, a meat department manager, and a meat department clerk. (Tr. 23, 39). She testified that she lives in a home with her husband, children, grandchildren, and two nieces. (Tr. 34). At the time of the administrative hearing, her children were 23, 19, 7, and 4 years-old, and the two grandchildren and two nieces in her home were under 10 years-old. (Tr. 34, 291). She stated that her husband is not employed and receives disability. (Tr. 35).

1. Physical health

As stated, Plaintiff is a 45 year-old woman, who is 5' 7" and around 170 pounds. (Tr. 55). Her primary physical complaint involves back pain. ( E.g., Tr. 214).

The medical evidence of record is summarized below.

On May 18, 2011, Plaintiff underwent a hysterectomy. (Tr. 250). Medical documents reflect that she was scheduled to return to work on August 3, 2011, and that, upon her request, her doctor issued her a note restricting her lifting to 15 pounds or less until August 29, 2011. (Tr. 264-65).

Plaintiff presented to a primary care physician, Dr. Bryan Reid, on August 18, 2011. (Tr. 285). She was apparently treated as a "new patient, " having not visited the office in seven years. (Tr. 285). Plaintiff represented that she had been suffering from low back pain, stating that she had trouble sitting or standing for too long and lifting heavy objects. (Tr. 285). She related that a physician had previously informed her that she had narrowing of her spine. (Tr. 285). She reported that, because her employer was about to put her back on regular duty ( i.e., involving heavy-lifting), she had to quit and would lose her job on August 29, 2011. (Tr. 285). Plaintiff also stated that she had been under a lot of stress due to family and financial issues. (Tr. 285). Dr. Reid performed a physical examination, relevantly reporting a normal neuromuscular exam and that Plaintiff's joints were normal but she had some discomfort in her lower lumbar zone (paraspinal) near L5. (Tr. 286). Plaintiff had previously been prescribed citalopram hydrobromide for an adjustment disorder with anxiety/depression, and it appears that Dr. Reid renewed the prescription. (Tr. 286).

On November 11, 2011, Plaintiff again presented to Dr. Reid. (Tr. 283). She reported back pain, stating that she had pain in her low and mid back while sitting, standing, or lying down. (Tr. 283). She represented that she had to change positions often, at least 4 to 6 times an hour. (Tr. 283). According to Plaintiff, she has had back problems since the 1990s, and her condition worsened in the 2000s; specifically, in 2005, she bent down to retrieve a box of pickles while at work and her back seized up on her. (Tr. 283). As a result, Plaintiff stated that she had trouble with laundry, standing to wash dishes, doing other household tasks, and caring for her children. (Tr. 283). After examining Plaintiff, Dr. Reid assessed that she had an unspecified back disorder. (Tr. 284). He noted that Plaintiff presented an almost exaggerated lumbar lordosis. (Tr. 284). He observed that she was tender with some spasms in the lower lumbar region and that there was more noticeable pain on the lumbar spinal column than on the paraspinous muscles on either side. (Tr. 284). Dr. Reid noted that Plaintiff was able to twist, had pain while completing a torque-situp, and that her back gave her pain with ...

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