United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania
Legrome D. Davis, J.
NOW, this 12th day of June 2017, upon careful and independent
consideration of Plaintiff Jolene Feeney's Brief and
Statement of Issues in Support of Request for Review (Doc.
No. 6), Defendant's Response in Opposition (Doc. No. 7),
Plaintiff's Reply (Doc. No. 8), the Report and
Recommendation of United States Magistrate Judge Elizabeth T.
Hey (Doc. No. 11), Plaintiff's Objections to the Report
and Recommendation (Doc. No. 13), Defendant's Response to
Plaintiff's Objections, (Doc. No. 15), and the
administrative record (Doc. No. 5), it is hereby ORDERED as
1. Plaintiff's objections to the report and
recommendation (Doc. No. 13) are OVERRULED.
2. The report and recommendation (Doc. No. 11) is APPROVED
3. The decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security
Administration is AFFIRMED.
4. Plaintiff's request for review is DENIED. Judgment is
entered in the matter in favor of the Defendant and against
5. The Clerk of Court is directed to close this matter for
Jolene Feeney brings this action seeking review of the
decision of the Commissioner of Social Security denying her
disability benefits and supplemental security income
(“SSI”). The matter was referred to Magistrate
Judge Elizabeth T. Hey, who prepared a Report and
Recommendation proposing that the Commissioner's decision
be affirmed. After an independent review of the record, this
Court concurs with Magistrate Judge Hey's recommendation,
and will affirm the Commissioner's decision.
seeks disability benefits and SSI on the basis of several
conditions, including back and hip pain, depression, and
anxiety. R. at 79, 377. Feeney was in a car accident in March
2007 that necessitated back surgery, and alleges that began
suffering chronic back pain thereafter. R. at 389, 400.
According to Feeney, she was unable to work as a result of
these conditions from October 2008 until January 2012. R. at
initially filed this request for benefits in October 2010,
seeking benefits dating back to October 2008. R. at 258.
Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) Gerald Spitz
held a hearing in August 2012, and denied Feeney's
application for benefits, finding that she was capable of
performing light work with a sit/stand option. R. at 142.
Feeney requested a review of that decision, which the Social
Security Administration's Appeals Council granted;
remanding the case for further evaluation and a new decision
by ALJ Deborah Mande.
hearing was held before ALJ Mande on June 17, 2014. At the
hearing, Feeney testified to her symptoms, stating that on
some days she experienced severe pain in her left hip, severe
enough that it would interfere with her walking. R. at 79.
She also said she suffered from insomnia and depression.
Id. As a result of these symptoms, Feeney said she
did not work at all in 2009 and 2010. R. at 76. She testified
that in February 2011 she began taking care of her mother,
who was ill. R. at 76-77. She assisted her in showering,
managed her medication, and performed household tasks such as
cooking, grocery shopping, and taking out the trash. R. at
77, 83-84. This assistance was initially unpaid, but at some
point Feeney began receiving pay for providing this care. R.
at 77. She continued caring for her mother until October
2012, when her mother moved into a nursing home. R. at 81.
Her mother passed away in 2013. R. at 83.
Mande also reviewed Feeney's medical records. The report
and recommendation includes a detailed description of the
medical evidence in the record, but this Order will provide a
summary. In 2010, Feeney sought repeated medical attention,
complaining of back pain. R. at 396, 386, 389. At the first
two of these visits, at Jeanes Hospital in September 2010,
the treating physicians noted that she had pain and decreased
range of motion in her back, but that she could walk without
assistance and with a normal gait. R. at 385-391, 396-401.
She had an intact range of motion in her extremities and
there was no evidence of fracture or malalignment on X-rays
of her lumbar spine. Id. On both instances, the
hospital discharged Feeney with a prescription for pain
medication. R. at 387, 394, 401.
November 2010, Feeney was seen by an orthopedic surgeon at
the Rothman Institute. 432-33. Based on an MRI and X-rays,
the surgeon concluded that Feeney did not have “true
radiculopathy” or disc herniation, although he did note
some less significant degenerative changes of the spine. R.
at 433. The surgeon recommended against surgery at that
point, instead suggesting that Feeney should attempt to lose
weight and should engage in aqua-therapy. Id.
returned to the Rothman Institute in December 2010, and was
seen by a certified physician's assistant. R. at 531. She
again complained of back pain, saying that her symptoms were
“worse early in the morning, ” but that she was
otherwise “able to function with her normal daily
activities.” Id. The physician's
assistant, in consultation with the surgeon, recommended
weight loss and aerobic exercise. R. at 532. He recommended
against surgery in favor of “exhaust[ing] all
nonoperative treatment.” Id.
April 2011, Dr. John DeCarlo, M.D., conducted a consultative
examination of Feeney. DeCarlo noted that Feeney complained
of low back pain. R. at 445. His physical examination
revealed no palpable edema, no straight leg raising pain, and
no atrophy above or below the knee joints. R. at 447. DeCarlo
also tested Feeney's range of motion, which showed full
or nearly full range of motion in all instances. R. at
451-52. DeCarlo filled out a statement assessing Feeney's
ability to perform work-related physical activities, in which
he listed a number of restrictions, including that she could
not lift more than 10 pounds and could not stand or walk for