United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania
STEPHEN M. BARROWS, Plaintiff
NANCY A. BERRYHILL,  Defendant
REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION
KAROLINE MEHALCHICK UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
an action brought under Section 205(g) of the Social Security
Act, 42 U.S.C. §405(g), seeking judicial review of the
final decision of the Deputy Commissioner for Operations of
the Social Security Administration (“Deputy
Commissioner”) denying the claim of Plaintiff Stephen
M. Barrows (“Mr. Barrows”) for disability
insurance benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act.
This 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, and upon
detailed consideration of the arguments raised by the parties
in their respective briefs, it is respectfully recommended
that the Deputy Commissioner's decision be AFFIRMED and
that Mr. Barrows' request for the award of benefits or a
new administrative hearing be DENIED.
Background and Procedural History
Barrows' disability claim relates to a history of back
pain starting in 2005, in connection with a diagnosis of
degenerative disc disease. (Admin. Tr. 166; Doc. 9-6 p. 19). Mr.
Barrows received his GED and took some college courses.
(Admin. Tr. 154; Doc. 9-6 p. 7); (Admin. Tr. 63; Doc. 9-2 p.
64). His past relevant work consists of a variety of
positions, including cable technician, railroad conductor,
landscape laborer, and car sales representative. (Admin. Tr.
176; Doc. 9-6 p. 29).
Mr. Barrows' second application for Social Security
benefits. On November 14, 2011, Mr. Barrows protectively
filed a claim for disability insurance benefits under Title
II of the Social Security Act, alleging a disability onset
date of April 9, 2009. (Admin. Tr. 86; Doc. 9-3 p. 5). This
initial 2009 application was denied on January 20, 2012.
(Id.) Mr. Barrows requested a hearing before an
Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”), which took
place on December 6, 2012. (Id.) On February 13,
2013, the ALJ issued a decision, denying Mr. Barrows'
application for disability insurance benefits. (Admin. Tr.
98; Doc. 9-3 p. 17). A little over one year later, on May 13,
2014, Mr. Barrows filed a second application for disability
insurance benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act,
alleging a disability onset date of April 9,
2009. (Admin. Tr. 136-137; Doc. 9-5 p. 2-3). In
his application, he alleged he is disabled due to the
following conditions: displacement of lumbar intervertebral
disc; sciatica; adult body mass index 45.0-49.9;
osteoarthritis; post-traumatic stress disorder; paroxysmal
supraventricular tachycardia; chronic pain; type 2 diabetes;
bipolar type 2; and arthritis in hands, feet, and joints.
(Admin. Tr. 53; Doc. 9-6 p. 6). Mr. Barrows was born on July
16, 1969 and was forty-years old on the alleged disability
onset date. (Admin. Tr. 136; Doc. 9-5 p. 2).
Barrows has a history of medical ailments dating back to
2009, which is when he stopped working. In 2009, Mr. Barrows
was attending physical therapy and also went through rounds
of epidural injections for pain relief. (Admin. Tr. 223-233;
Doc. 9-7 pp. 9-19); (Admin. Tr. 412; Doc. 9-9 p. 52). Several
years later, on March 20, 2013, after complaining of back
pain to his primary care physician, Mr. Barrows underwent a
functional capacity evaluation to determine his current safe
work limits. (Admin. Tr. 375-381; Doc. 9-9 pp. 15-21).
Physical therapist Mary Ann Gimbel (“Ms. Gimbel”)
conducted the evaluation in order to determine Mr.
Barrows' current functional capacities, as well as to
rule out symptom exaggeration. (Admin. Tr. 378; Doc. 9-9 p.
18). Ms. Gimbel opined that Mr. Barrows was limited to the
following functional limitations: bending with hands below
the knees or extending with hands overhead to rare exposure
less than one time every 15 minutes or 15 minutes cumulative
per day; standing/walking to occasional exposure to less than
three hours per day; sitting to occasional exposure of three
hours or less per day; limit stair climbing; restricted
ladder climbing or work at unprotected heights; and limit
lifting, carrying, pushing or pulling to 20 pounds
occasionally, ten pounds frequently or five pounds
repetitively. (Admin. Tr. 379; Doc. 9-2 p. 19). Ms. Gimbel
opined that Mr. Barrows would only be capable of performing
part time work of two to three hours per day. (Id.)
April of 2013, Mr. Barrows presented to Dr. Kozlowski, his
primary care physician, for ongoing chronic disease
management. (Admin. Tr. 849; Doc. 9-15 p. 2). He reported
that he was doing okay. (Id.) Mr. Barrows'
examination was normal, and Dr. Kozlowski recommended that he
continue his same medications and treatment. (Admin. Tr. 850;
Doc. 9-15 p. 3). At a follow up in August of 2013, Mr.
Barrows reported that he had lost weight and that he was
trying to exercise for an hour daily. (Admin. Tr. 862; Doc.
9-15 p. 15).
Barrows followed up with Dr. Decolli of Marshall-Rismiller
and Associates in relation to his diabetes on August 20,
2013. (Admin. Tr. 459; Doc. 9-10 p. 7). It was noted that Mr.
Barrows had not been to this office for approximately two
years. (Id.) Upon examination, Mr. Barrows had full
range of motion and walked with a normal gait. (Id.)
Dr. Decolli diagnosed Mr. Barrows with
hypertension-unspecified, palpitations, and cardiac
dysrhythmia-unspecified, and prescribed him new medication.
(Id.) On November 23, 2013, Mr. Barrows presented to
the Schuylkill Medical Center's emergency department,
complaining of recurring palpitations. (Admin. Tr. 447; Doc.
9-9 p. 87). He explained that he has a history of
supraventricular tachycardia, and that his symptoms
previously improved but are now reoccurring. (Id.)
After receiving the medication Adenocard and undergoing an
EKG, Mr. Barrows was released and instructed to follow up
with his family physician. (Admin. Tr. 448-449; Doc. 9-9 pp.
August of 2013, Mr. Barrows presented to Dr. Ko of
Comprehensive Pain Center, complaining of chronic back pain.
(Admin. Tr. 490; Doc. 9-10 p. 38). Dr. Ko ordered an MRI of
Mr. Barrows' cervical spine, which revealed mild
uncovertebral joint arthropathy at ¶ 5-C6. (Admin. Tr.
551; Doc. 9-10 p. 99). On December 31, 2013, Mr. Barrows
returned to his primary care physician's office
complaining of neck pain. (Admin. Tr. 899; Doc. 9-15 p. 52).
The attending physician noted that Mr. Barrows had mild
cervical degenerative disc disease and that he revealed no
signs of neuropathy on examination. (Admin. Tr. 902; Doc.
9-15 p. 55).
January 28, 2014, at a follow up appointment with Dr. Ko in
relation to his back pain, Mr. Barrows revealed that the
epidural injections he was receiving were greatly improving
the pain in his lower back. (Admin. Tr. 481; Doc. 9-10 p.
29). Upon examination, Mr. Barrows had limited range of
motion, a right side positive straight leg raising test, and
cervical facet joint tenderness. (Admin. Tr. 482; Doc. 9-10
p. 30). Mr. Barrows received a cervical facet injection one
month later. (Admin. Tr. 478; Doc. 9-10 p. 26).
Barrows continued to follow up with Dr. Decolli. On February
14, 2014, Mr. Barrows reported that he was doing well and had
no chest pain or shortness of breath. (Admin. Tr. 460; Doc.
9-10 p. 8). Six months later, at a regular follow up
appointment, Mr. Barrows reported that he had no chest pain
or shortness of breath and that any episodes in relation to
his supraventricular tachycardia had greatly reduced in the
past year. (Admin. Tr. 704; Doc. 9-12 p. 66).
1, 2014, Mr. Barrows' claim was denied at the initial
level of administrative review. (Admin. Tr. 115-119; Doc. 9-4
pp. 2-6). During the initial evaluation of Mr. Barrows'
claim, the disability examiner determined that Mr. Barrows
had the following severe impairments: cardiac dysrhythmias;
diabetes mellitus; obesity; osteoarthrosis and allied
disorders; and anxiety disorders. (Admin. Tr. 109; Doc. 9-3
p. 28). The disability examiner concluded that Mr.
Barrows' impairments did not significantly limit his
physical or mental ability to do basic work activities, and
ultimately found that he was not disabled. (Admin. Tr. 113;
Doc. 9-3 p. 32). Mr. Barrows filed a timely request for a
hearing before an ALJ. (Admin. Tr. 120-121; Doc. 9-4 pp.
Barrows presented to Dr. Kaufman of Orthopedic Specialists on
July 14, 2014, complaining of ongoing left foot pain. (Admin.
Tr. 605; Doc. 9-11 p. 53). Dr. Kaufman diagnosed Mr. Barrows
with plantar fasciitis, pain in lower limb, peroneus brevis
tenosynovitis, and short Achilles tendon. (Admin. Tr. 606;
Doc. 9-11 p. 54). Mr. Barrows continued to follow up with Dr.
Kaufman in relation to his foot pain and on September 14,
2014, Dr. Kaufman recommended that Mr. Barrows undergo
surgery on his left foot. (Admin. Tr. 591; Doc. 9-11 p. 39).
Kozlowski conducted a pre-operation clearance examination on
Mr. Barrows on October 3, 2014. (Admin. Tr. 943; Doc. 9-16 p.
40). Dr. Kozlowski noted that he was doing well and medically
stable but she wanted to await his cardiology report before
clearing him for surgery. (Admin. Tr. 946; Doc. 9-16 p. 43).
Dr. Kozlowski cleared Mr. Barrows for surgery on October 26,
2014, after receiving Mr. Barrows' normal cardiac stress
test results. (Admin. Tr. 947; Doc. 9-16 p. 44). Mr. Barrows
underwent a successful left open plantar fasciectomy, left
tenosynovectomy common peroneal tendon sheath, left repair of
peroneus brevis tendon, and a steroid injection to the first
metatarsophalangeal joint on October 27, 2014. (Admin. Tr.
634; Doc. 9-11 p. 82). At his post-operative appointment, he
reported that he was doing well. (Admin. Tr. 582; Doc. 9-11
9, 2015, Mr. Barrows presented to the emergency department
complaining of recurrent palpitations and rapid heart rate.
(Admin. Tr. 813; Doc. 9-14 p. 2). After receiving the
medication Adenocard and undergoing an EKG, Mr. Barrows was
released and instructed to follow up with his family
physician. (Admin. Tr. 814; Doc. 9-14 p. 3). Mr. Barrows
followed up with Dr. Decolli one week later and reported that
he felt well and had no further episodes since the last
emergency department visit. (Admin. Tr. 705; Doc. 9-12 p.
67). At Dr. Decolli's suggestion, Mr. Barrows underwent
an echocardiogram the following month, which revealed no
structural heart disease and a 67% ejection fraction, which
Dr. Decolli characterized as “good.” (Admin. Tr.
708; Doc. 9-12 p. 70).
October 29, 2015, Mr. Barrows appeared and testified at an
administrative hearing before ALJ Timothy Wing. (Admin. Tr.
56-82; Doc. 9-2 pp. 57-83). At the start of the hearing, Mr.
Barrows amended his disability onset date to March 20,
2013. (Admin. Tr. 58; Doc. 9-2 p. 59). Mr.
Barrows testified that he is unable to work because of back
pain, drowsiness associated with the treatment of h is back
pain, as well as a heart condition. (Admin. Tr. 66; Doc. 9-2
p. 67). Mr. Barrows explained that he tried to work since his
amended disability onset date but he had to stop working
because he was unable to maintain sitting at a computer for
longer than four hours and his medication made him drowsy.
(Admin. Tr. 64; Doc. 9-2 p. 65). He reported that on his best
day, he can walk ten to fifteen minutes. (Admin. Tr. 67; Doc.
9-2 p. 68). Mr. Barrows testified that he cannot lift
anything heavier than a gallon of milk because of arm and
back problems. (Admin. Tr. 67-68; Doc. 9-2 pp. 68-69). He
discussed his typical day, in which he awakens between 4:00
a.m. and 5:00 a.m. to get his sons up to get them ready for
school and then he spends time surfing the internet or taking
photographs before he is ready for a nap. (Admin. Tr. 71;
Doc. 9-2 p. 72). Charlotte Carney Abraham, an impartial
vocational expert, also testified at the hearing. (Admin. Tr.
56-82; Doc. 9-2 pp. 57-83).
months after Mr. Barrows' hearing, on December 2, 2015,
Dr. Kakodkar conducted an internal medical consultative
examination in relation to Mr. Barrows' disability claim.
(Admin. Tr. 1035-1049; Doc. 9-18 pp. 18-32). Dr. Kakodkar
completed a Medical Source Statement of Ability to do
Work-Related Activities (Physical) for Mr. Barrows and opined
that he could frequently lift and carry twenty pounds;
continuously lift up to ten pounds; sit for six hours per
workday for forty minutes at a time; stand for five hours per
workday for twenty minutes at a time; and walk three hours
per workday up to one block at a time. (Admin. Tr. 1041-1042;
Doc. 9-18 pp. 24-25). Dr. Kakodkar found that Mr. Barrows
could continuously reach, handle, finger, and feel;
frequently reach overhead with his right hand and
continuously reach overhead with his left hand; occasionally
push and pull with his right hand and continuously push and
pull with his left hand; frequently operate foot controls;
occasionally climb stairs and ramps, stoop, kneel, crouch,
and crawl; frequently balance; and never climb ladders or
scaffolds. (Admin. Tr. 1043-1044; Doc. 9-18 pp. 26-27).
Finally, Dr. Kakodkar found that Mr. Barrows could never be
exposed to unprotected heights, humidity, wetness, extreme
cold, and vibrations; occasionally operate a motor vehicle;
frequently be exposed to extreme heat; and continuously be
exposed to dust, odors, fumes, pulmonary irritants. (Admin.
Tr. 1045; Doc. 9-18 p. 28).
denied Mr. Barrows' claim in a written decision dated
February 2, 2016 in which the ALJ concluded that Mr. Barrows
was not disabled, as he possesses the RFC to perform the
following jobs: bench worker, assembler; inspector; and
information clerk.(Admin. Tr. 29; Doc. 9-2 p. 30). Mr.
Barrows requested review of the ALJ's decision by the
Appeals Council of the Office of Disability Adjudication and
Review (“Appeals Council”). (Admin. Tr. 135; Doc.
9-4 p. 22). The Appeals Council ultimately denied his
request. (Admin. Tr. 1-5; Doc. 9-2 pp. 2-8).
August 4 2017, Mr. Barrows initiated this action by filing a
complaint. (Doc. 1 pp. 1-4). In his complaint, Mr. Barrows
alleges that the ALJ's decision was not based on
applicable law, was not rational, and was not based on
substantial evidence of record. (Id. at 3). As
relief, he requests that this Court reverse the ALJ's
decision and award benefits. (Id). On September 22,
2017, the Deputy Commissioner filed her answer. (Doc. 8 pp.
1-4). In her response, the Deputy Commissioner maintains that
the ALJ's final decision denying Mr. Barrows' claim
was made in accordance with the law and the regulations, and
is supported by substantial evidence. (Id. at 2).
Together with her answer, the Deputy Commissioner filed a
certified transcript of the record of the administrative
proceedings in this case. (Doc. 9). This matter has been
fully briefed by the parties and is ripe for decision.
(Doc.10; Doc. 19).
Standard of Review
receive benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act,
the claimant must demonstrate an inability to “engage
in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any
medically determinable physical or mental impairment which
can be expected to result in death or which has lasted or can
be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than
12 months.” 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A). To satisfy
this requirement, the claimant must have a severe physical or
mental impairment that makes it impossible to do his or her
previous work or any other substantial gainful activity that
exists in significant number in the ...