United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania
CHARLES J. HARRISON, Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL Acting Commissioner of Social Security Defendant.
C. Carlson, United States Magistrate Judge.
plaintiff, Charles Harrison, (“Mr. Harrison”) is
an adult individual who resides within the Middle District of
Pennsylvania. On November 28, 2012, Harrison filed a claim
for disability insurance benefits, alleging his disability
began on September 21, 2011. This claim was denied in a final
decision of the Acting Commissioner of the Social Security
Administration (“Commissioner”). He now appeals.
matter has been assigned to the undersigned United States
Magistrate Judge on consent of the parties, pursuant to the
provisions of 28 U.S.C. § 636(c) and Rule 73 of the
Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. (Doc. 13; Doc. 14). Upon a
careful review of the administrative record, and following
consideration of the arguments of counsel, for the reasons
expressed herein, we have found that the final decision of
the Commissioner is supported by substantial evidence.
Accordingly, we will affirm the Commissioner's decision.
Background and Procedural History
record of Mr. Harrison' medical treatment for physical
and mental health issues is extensive. On August 16, 2011, a
few weeks prior to his alleged September 21, 2011, date of
onset of disability, Mr. Harrison underwent back surgery to
relieve pressure on his nerve root at L5. About a week after
the surgery, Nicholas Pandelidis, M.D., the orthopedist who
performed the procedure, noted that Mr. Harrison's leg
pain was “much better, ” but he would need
physical therapy. (Admin. Tr. 569-70; Doc. 12-15 pp. 4-5).
Shortly after his alleged date of onset of disability, Mr.
Harrison conducted a work-conditioning physical therapy
program at the Drayer Physical Therapy Institute. (Admin. Tr.
498, 516; Doc. 12-12 pp. 48, 66).
October 12, 2011, Dr. Pandelidis found Mr. Harrison's
sciatica was resolving. (Admin. Tr. 471; Doc. 12-12 p. 21).
He indicated that Mr. Harrison “could do light work,
but no frequent bending, twisting, or lifting and no lifting
greater than 20 pounds. Ultimately he should be able to get
back to moderately heavy work. He should not go back to jack
hammering.” (Admin. Tr. 571; Doc. 12-15 p. 6). This
assessment was upgraded at the next scheduled appointment on
November 23, 2011. Based on the evaluation of physical
therapists at Drayer, Dr. Pandelidis released Mr. Harrison to
“medium duty” work. (Admin. Tr. 572, 593-96; Doc.
12-15 pp. 7, 28-31). Finally, at the next appointment, on
December 27, 2011, Dr. Pandelidis released Mr. Harrison back
to work without restrictions but also stated he should avoid
the heaviest work. (Admin. Tr. 573; Doc. 12-15 p. 8). Dr.
Pandelidis reported that although Mr. Harrison's neck
mobility was “somewhat decreased, ” his gait was
“good” and he had some tenderness but not spasm.
Pandelidis referred Mr. Harrison to Ali Yousufuddin, M.D. On
March 23, 2012, Dr. Yousufuddin examined Mr. Harrison for his
complaint of chronic low back pain that had continued after
surgery. (Admin. Tr. 579; Doc. 12-15 p. 14). Dr. Yousufuddin
reported that Mr. Harrison's straight leg-raising was
normal bilaterally at 90 degrees. (Admin. Tr. 580; Doc 12-15
p. 15). Mr. Harrison's motor strength in his legs was
5/5. Id. He had tenderness over the left sacroiliac
joint, but no numbness in his legs or feet. Id. Dr.
Yousuffuddin recommended injections at the left lumbar facet
and sacroiliac joint. (Admin. Tr. 581; Doc. 12-15 p. 16). Mr.
Harrison stated he had fifty percent less pain from his
left-sided lower back one month after the injections. (Admin.
Tr. 582; Doc. 12-15 p. 17). Dr. Yousufuddin noted Mr.
Harrison had “marked tenderness present over the left
sacroiliac joint” but that his range of motion was
“adequate in all directions” and his straight
leg-raising test was again negative. (Admin. Tr. 583; Doc.
12-15 p. 18).
Harrison presented at Holy Spirit Hospital with a right arm
infection on November 19, 2012. (Admin. Tr. 717; Doc. 12-17
p. 49). Helen Makinde, M.D. reported that Mr. Harrison's
gait and musculoskeletal examination was normal. (Admin. Tr.
718; Doc. 12-17 p. 50). His memory was intact, his speech was
normal, his affect was appropriate, and his thought content
was normal. Id. Mr. Harrison denied any
hallucinations and suicidal/homicidal ideation. Id.
request of the state agency, Thomas McLaughlin, M.D. examined
Mr. Harrison on February 7, 2013. (Admin. Tr. 780; Doc. 12-18
p. 31). Dr. McLaughlin took note of the fact of Mr.
Harrison's 2011 back surgery and also noted that Mr.
Harrison continued to complain of back pain. Id. Mr.
Harrison also complained to Dr. McLaughlin of knee issues
dated back to a high school football injury in 1983 and ACL
replacement in both knees. (Admin. Tr. 781; Doc. 12-18 p.
McLaughlin opined Mr. Harrison could frequently lift two to
three pounds and occasionally ten pounds, and could walk one
to two hours a day and sit for eight hours a day with a
sit/stand option. (Admin. Tr. 787; Doc. 12-18 p. 38). Dr.
McLaughlin further opined that Mr. Harrison could
occasionally bend, but never kneel, stoop, crouch, balance,
or climb. (Admin. Tr. 788; Doc. 12-18 p. 39). X-rays of Mr.
Harrison's knees showed “minor osteoarthritic
changes involving the medial and, to a lesser extent, the
lateral joint compartments.” (Admin. Tr. 791; Doc.
12-18 p. 42). The x-rays did not show osseous injury or loose
body though, and there was no visible joint fluid.
April 25, 2013, Mr. Harrison was treated at Holy Spirit
Hospital for back pain he experienced after falling off his
back porch step a few weeks prior. (Admin. Tr. 872; Doc.
12-19 p. 37). Tamra Helmert, M.D. compared an x-ray of Mr.
Harrison's back with old x-ray images of Mr. Harrison
from May 23, 2011. (Admin. Tr. 875; Doc. 12-19 p. 40). Dr.
Helmert found anatomic alignment of the lumbar spine, with
vertebral body heights maintained, intervertebral disc space
narrowing at L 4/5 and L5/S1, no compression fracture, and
normal sacroiliac joints. Id. Dr. Helmert stated
that Mr. Harrison showed “[m]ild degenerative changes
with disc space narrowing with facet arthropathy at the level
L4/L5 and L5/S1, ” and did not show “acute
compression fracture[s] or malalignment.” Id.
request of the state agency, Stanley Schneider, Ed.D.
performed a clinical psychological evaluation of Mr. Harrison
on May 14, 2013. (Admin. Tr. 797; Doc. 12-18 p. 48). Mr.
Harrison reported to Dr. Schneider that he was not receiving
any outpatient mental health treatment. (Admin. Tr. 800; Doc.
12-18 p. 51). He also reported that he had been on Zoloft
“and had a positive response to the medication.”
Id. Dr. Schneider stated that Mr. Harrison was able
to perform serial fives, “slowly, but
accurately.” (Admin. Tr. 803; Doc. 12-18 p. 54). He
further stated that Mr. Harrison “was oriented to date
and place” although “[h]e incorrectly name [sic]
the day of the week.” Id. Mr. Harrison
exhibited no significant memory impairment. Dr. Schneider did
note that Mr. Harrison's attention and concentration were
impaired, though only mildly. Id. Mr. Harrison told
Dr. Schneider that he is able to do light cleaning, cook, and
pay bills. (Admin. Tr. 804; Doc. 12-18 p. 55). He also told
Dr. Schneider that he has a few friends and goes to church a
couple of times a week. Id.
Schneider opined that Mr. Harrison had a “mild”
restriction on the ability to understand and remember simple
instructions. (Admin. Tr. 806; Doc. 12-18 p. 58). He found
Mr. Harrison had a “marked” restriction on the
ability to carry out complex or simple instructions, the
ability to understand and remember complex instructions, and
the ability to make judgments on complex work-related
decisions. Id. In support of his assessment, Dr.
Schneider cited “Chronic pain - low tolerance for
sitting. Poor focus.” Id. In the area of
interaction with others, Dr. Schneider found Mr. Harrison had
“marked” restriction on the ability to interact
appropriately with the public, the ability to interact
appropriately with co-workers, and the ability to respond
appropriately to usual work situations and changes in a
routine work setting. (Admin. Tr. 807; Doc. 12-18 p. 59). He
found Mr. Harrison had a “moderate” restriction
on the ability to interact appropriately with supervisors.
Id. In support of those findings, Dr. Schneider
cited the fact that Mr. Harrison reported a loss of temper at
work and stated to Dr. Schneider, “I've been
fighting my whole life.” Id.
22, 2013, John Gavazzi, Psy.D. reviewed Mr. Harrison's
record, including Dr. Schneider's assessment, on behalf
of the agency. (Admin. Tr. 135-37; Doc. 12-4 pp. 12-14). Dr.
Gavazzi opined that Mr. Harrison “can understand,
retain, and follow simple job instructions, i.e., perform
one- [sic] and two-step tasks” and that Mr. Harrison
“can perform simple, routine, repetitive work in a
stable environment.” (Admin. Tr. 136; Doc. 12-4 p. 13).
Dr. Gavazzi reported that Mr. Harrison was moderately limited
in his ability to do the five following tasks: (1) understand
and remember detailed instructions; (2) carry out detailed
instructions; (3) interact appropriately with the general
public; (4) accept instructions and respond appropriately to
criticism from supervisors; and, (5) respond appropriately to
changes in the work setting. (Admin. Tr. 136-37; Doc. 12-4
Buenaventura, M.D., of Diakon Family Life Services performed
a psychiatric evaluation on Mr. Harrison on August 13, 2013.
(Admin. Tr. 881; Doc. 12-20 p. 2). Dr. Buenaventura reported
that Mr. Harrison was cooperative with good eye contact and
that his speech was normal in rate and tone. (Admin. Tr. 882;
Doc. 12-20 p. 3). Mr. Harrison appeared appropriately groomed
and also appeared his stated age. Id. Mr. Harrison
reported to Dr. Buenaventura that he had suicidal ideations
at times but he did not think he would harm himself. (Admin.
Tr. 882-83; Doc. 12-20 p. 3-4). He said he used to have
thoughts about having fights with people but he no longer had
those thoughts. (Admin. Tr. 883; Doc. 12-20 p. 4). He had no
hallucinations or delusions, though he did think people were
out to get him. Id. Mr. Harrison's thinking was
goal-directed and he was oriented in three spheres.
Id. Dr. Buenaventura found Mr. Harrison's memory
to be fair and his intellectual functioning to be average.
Id. However, he found Mr. Harrison's judgment to
be poor and opined that Mr. Harrison lacked insight.
Id. Dr. Buenaventura recommended Mr. Harrison
receive counseling from Rosemarie Holland, MA, LPC at Diakon
Family Life Services. Id.
August 24, 2014, George Wiswesser, M.D. authored a progress
note that reported Mr. Harrison had normal energy, was
generally cooperative, and had an unremarkable appearance and
psychomotor. (Admin. Tr. 920; Doc. 12-21 p. 5). Mr.
Harrison's speech rate was normal, his mood was euthymic,
and his affect was congruent. Id. His thought
process was linear and goal directed. Id. Mr.
Harrison was not suffering from any hallucinations or
delusions, nor did he have suicidal/homicidal ideations.
Id. His cognition was grossly intact. Id.
September 17, 2013 Dr. Buenaventura authored a psychiatric
progress note. (Admin. Tr. 891; Doc. 12-20 p. 12). Dr.
Buenaventura reported that Mr. Harrison's appetite had
increased while his energy had decreased. Id. Mr.
Harrison's sleep was “not good” and
complicated by anxiety. Id. Mr. Harrison's mood
was depressed. Id. However, he was generally
cooperative and his appearance and psychomotor were
unremarkable. Id. His speech rate was normal and his
affect was congruent. Id. Dr. Buenaventura observed
that Mr. Harrison's thought process was linear and goal
directed. Id. He did not suffer from hallucinations
or delusions. Id. Mr. Harrison had not
suicidal/homicidal ideations and his cognition was grossly
next psychiatric progress report, dated October 11, 2013,
this time by Dr. Wiswesser again, showed much improvement in
Mr. Harrison's condition. (Admin. Tr. 890; Doc. 12-20 p.
11). Specifically, his sleep, energy, and libido were now
normal, and his mood was upgraded from depressed to euthymic.
Id. The rest of the evaluation categories, which had
not shown any issues before, continued to present no issue.
Mr. Harrison was still generally cooperative and his
appearance and psychomotor were still unremarkable.
Id. His speech rate was still normal, and his affect
was still congruent. Id. Mr. Harrison still had a
linear and goal directed thought process and still did not
suffer hallucinations or delusions. Id. He still had
no suicidal/homicidal ideations and his cognition was still
grossly intact. Id.
Harrison continued to present no issue through the conclusion
of his treatment with Dr. Wiswesser sometime after August 26,
2014, a span of eight more psychiatric progress reports.
(Admin. Tr. 885-89, 920-26; Doc. 12-20 pp. 6-10, 4-10). Mr.
Harrison had normal appetite, energy, sleep, and libido.
Id. Mr. Harrison was generally cooperative and his
appearance and psychomotor were unremarkable. Id.
His speech rate was normal, his mood was euthymic, and his
affect was congruent. Id. Mr. Harrison had a linear
and goal directed thought process and did not suffer
hallucinations or delusions. Id. He had no
suicidal/homicidal ideations and his cognition was grossly
intact. Id. However, the nine reports of repeatedly
normal findings were contradicted in nearly every category by
Rosemarie Holland, MA, LPC in a single report, which was
dated February 12, 2014. (Admin. Tr. 911-16; Doc. 12-20 pp.
time of the hearing, Mr. Harrison was divorced with one
teenage child. (Admin. Tr. 801; Doc. 12-18 p. 52). He was
born in 1964 and is a high school graduate. (Admin. Tr. 288;
Doc. 12-7 p. 18). Mr. Harrison has past relevant work as a
roll tender and maintenance worker. (Admin. Tr. 50; Doc. 12-2
Harrison filed an application for disability insurance
benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act on
November 28, 2012. After his claim was denied at the initial
level of administrative review, a hearing was held on October
28, 2014 before an Administrative Law Judge
(“ALJ”). That hearing was continued until January
15, 2015, when the ALJ obtained testimony from a VE who was
present at the first hearing. (Admin. Tr. 49; Doc. 12-2 p.
50). The ALJ issued an opinion denying Mr. Harrison's
claim on January 26, 2015. (Admin. Tr. 37; Doc. 12-2 p. 38).
opinion at Step One of the five-step sequential analysis
process that applies to Social Security disability claims,
the ALJ found Mr. Harrison was not working at a substantial
gainful activity. (Admin. Tr. 25; Doc. 12-2 p. 26). At Step
Two, the ALJ found Mr. Harrison had the following eight
severe impairments: (1) degenerative disc disease of the
lumbar spine; (2) degenerative joint disease of the knees;
(3) major depressive disorder; (4) bipolar disorder; (5)
anxiety disorder; (6) substance abuse disorder; (7) ADHD;
and, (8) personality disorder. Id. At Steps Three
and Four, the ALJ found that Mr. Harrison's severe
impairments did not meet or equal a Listing that would cause