United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania
REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION
F. SAPORITO, JR. U.S. MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
plaintiff Michael Grant (“Mr. Grant”), an adult
individual who resides within the Middle District of
Pennsylvania, seeks judicial review of the final decision of
the Commissioner of Social Security
(“Commissioner”) denying his applications for
disability insurance benefits and supplemental security
income under Titles II and XVI of the Social Security Act.
Jurisdiction is conferred on this Court pursuant to 42 U.S.C.
Grant alleges that he suffers from severe, intractable pain
as a result of two workplace injuries that have caused
lasting impairment to his back. (Admin. Tr. 47).
first of these injuries occurred on June 28, 2011. (Admin.
Tr. 321). Shortly after this injury, Mr. Grant returned to
work on limited duty. He returned to full duty one month
after his injury. (Admin. Tr. 323)(directing Mr. Grant to
return to work with no restrictions on August 13, 2011).
Grant injured his back a second time on December 19, 2011.
(Admin. Tr. 323, 326). As before, Mr. Grant returned to work
on limited duty after a short period of time. Unlike his
first injury, however, his symptoms did not permanently
resolve. Although Mr. Grant's condition improved during
the course of work-hardening physical therapy, he stopped
going to work on August 16, 2012, due to severe back pain.
Records reflect that Mr. Grant stopped going to physical
therapy around the same time. (Admin. Tr. 692)(noting that,
as of September 7, 2012, Mr. Grant had not been to physical
therapy in three weeks).
Grant alleges that his back impairment affects his ability to
lift, squat, bend, stand, reach, walk, sit, kneel, climb
stairs, complete tasks, and get along with others. (Admin.
Tr. 183). He reported that he has difficulty bending,
standing more than five or ten minutes or walking for more
than a quarter mile on a “good day, ” occasional
numbness in his legs, and difficulty lifting twenty pounds or
more without pain, (Admin. Tr. 44, 46).
matter has been referred to the undersigned United States
Magistrate Judge to prepare a report and recommended
disposition pursuant to the provisions of 28 U.S.C.
§636(b) and Rule 72(b) of the Federal Rules of Civil
Procedure. For the reasons expressed herein, we find that the
final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security is not
supported by substantial evidence. Accordingly, it is
recommended that the final decision of the Commissioner
denying Mr. Grant's applications for benefits be VACATED
and that this case be REMANDED to the Commissioner to conduct
a new administrative hearing.
Background and Procedural History.
September 11, 2012, Mr. Grant filed an application for
disability insurance benefits under Title II of the Social
Security Act. On September 26, 2012, Mr. Grant protectively
filed an application for supplemental security income under
Title XVI of the Social Security Act. In both applications,
Mr. Grant alleged that he became totally disabled on August
16, 2012, as a result of the following conditions: arthritis
and degenerative disc disease. (Admin. Tr. 169).
January 4, 2013, Mr. Grant's applications were denied at
the initial level of administrative review. The adjudicator
found that, despite his impairments, Mr. Grant could engage
in sedentary work. (Admin. Tr. 61).
March 31, 2014, Mr. Grant appeared and testified during an
administrative hearing before Administrative Law Judge
Charles Bridges (“ALJ”). Mr. Grant was
represented by counsel throughout the proceedings. Impartial
vocational expert Paul A. Anderson (“VE
Anderson”) also appeared and testified.
April 11, 2014, the ALJ issued a written decision denying Mr.
Grant's applications. The ALJ concluded that Mr. Grant
could engage in a range of sedentary work that did not
preclude him from engaging in other work.
Mr. Grant sought review of the ALJ's decision by the
Appeals Council of the Office of Disability Adjudication and
Review. Together with his request Mr. Grant submitted new
evidence that was not before the ALJ when he issued his
decision. (Admin. Tr. 9-19, 854-874).
August 13, 2015, the Appeals Council denied Mr. Grant's
request for review. This denial makes the ALJ's 2014
decision the final decision of the Commissioner subject to
judicial review by this Court.
October 11, 2015, Mr. Grant filed the complaint in the
instant matter. (Doc. 1). In his complaint, Mr. Grant alleges
that the ALJ's decision denying his applications is not
in accordance with the law or regulations, and is not
supported by substantial evidence. As relief he requests that
this Court enter an order awarding benefits, or in the
alternative remand this matter for a new administrative
December 21, 2015, the Commissioner filed her answer, in
which she maintains that the ALJ's final decision is in
accordance with the law and regulations, and is based on
findings of fact that are supported by substantial evidence.
(Doc. 9). Together with her answer, the Commissioner filed a
certified transcript of the administrative proceedings in
this case. (Doc. 10).
matter has been fully briefed by the parties and is ripe for
decision. (Doc. 16; Doc. 18; Doc. 19).
voluminous record in this case includes more than
eight-hundred pages of evidence, including diagnostic
studies, physical activity assessments, and medical opinions
by Mr. Grant's treating medical sources. For the benefit
of the Court we have summarized the evidence most relevant to
the issues raised on appeal.
of Mr. Grant's lumbar spine taken on July 20, 2011, after
his first injury but before his second, revealed mild to
moderate multilevel degenerative changes at ¶ 3-L4 and
L4-L5. (Admin. Tr. 376). There was minimal neuroforaminal
compromise at ¶ 3-L4, and moderate neuroforaminal
compromise with minimal effacement of the spine at ¶
4-L5. Id. There was no significant spinal stenosis.
performed on January 13, 2012, one month after Mr.
Grant's second injury, revealed the impression of a
chronic L5-S1 radiculopathy on the left. (Admin. Tr. 377).
second MRI taken on August 31, 2012, two weeks after Mr.
Grant's alleged onset date, revealed the impression of
minimal bulging changes of the L5-S1 disc, and a possible
small disc protrusion on the left side at ¶ 4-L5.
(Admin. Tr. 370).
of Mr. Grant's lumbar spine taken on January 8, 2014,
revealed moderate degenerative changes of the lumbar spine,
most significant at ¶ 3-L4 and L4-L5. (Admin. Tr. 739).
the course of a work hardening physical therapy program, an
occupational therapist conducted two comprehensive physical
first evaluation took place on June 6, 2012, two months
before Mr. Grant's alleged onset date, and was performed
by registered and licensed occupational therapist David
Raptosh (“OTR/L Raptosh”). (Admin. Tr. 632-656).
Mr. Grant demonstrated the ability to: occasionally lift up
to sixty pounds from waist to shoulder and thirty pounds from
floor to waist; occasionally carry forty pounds; sit
constantly, stand frequently (required positional change to
sitting after twenty-two minutes); walk occasionally;
constantly reach (at desk level), handle, and grasp;
frequently reach (overhead), balance, crouch, and finger;
and, occasionally climb stairs, reach (to the floor), and
stoop. Based on this assessment, OTR/L Raptosh
assessed that Mr. Grant could engage in “medium”
The second evaluation took place on July 9, 2012, one month
before Mr. Grant's alleged onset date, and was performed
by OTR/L Raptosh. (Admin. Tr. 405-406). Mr. Grant
demonstrated the ability to: occasionally lift sixty pounds
and occasionally carry forty pounds, and frequently lift
between twenty and thirty pounds and frequently carry thirty
pounds; constantly sit; frequently stand (with positional
change), walk, reach (at desk level), reach (to floor level),
balance stoop, and crouch; occasionally climb stairs, reach
(overhead); and never crawl. OTR/L Raptosh assessed that Mr.
Grant could engage in “medium” work. The July 9,
2012 physical An activity or condition is
“constant” when it exists two-thirds or more of
the time. Id. abilities assessment was signed by Mr.
Grant's primary care physician Francis Brescia
(“Dr. Brescia”) as well as OTR/L Raptosh. (Admin.
record also includes multiple “work excuses”
issued by Dr. Brescia, and one work excuse issued by spinal