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McGinnis v. Social Security Administration

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

June 26, 2019



          Juan R. Sánchez, C.J.

         Plaintiff John F. McGinnis, Jr. asks this Court to review the denial of his application for disability insurance benefits (DIB) and supplemental security income (SSI) prior to June 13, 2009 by Defendant the Social Security Administration. McGinnis claims he was disabled beginning on June 14, 2004 due to degenerative disc disease of the cervical spine, cervical radiculopathy, and carpal tunnel syndrome. McGinnis asks the Court to reverse the Administration's decision and order a finding of disability beginning on June 14, 2004, or, in the alternative, remand for a new administrative hearing to resolve alleged errors in the administrative law judge's (ALJ) determination.

         United States Magistrate Judge Henry S. Perkin issued a Report and Recommendation (R&R) recommending McGinnis's requested relief be denied and the Administration's decision be affirmed. McGinnis objects to the R&R, arguing the ALJ's errors in determining his residual functional capacity (RFC) warrant reversal and remand. For the reasons set forth below, McGinnis's objections will be overruled, the R&R will be approved and adopted, and the decision of the Administration will be affirmed.


         On November 21, 2006, McGinnis filed for DIB and SSI, alleging disability beginning February 12, 2003. Administrative Record (A.R.), 59-60. On April 17, 2007, McGinnis's applications were denied by the state agency and he requested a hearing before an ALJ. Id. at 61- 72. On October 3, 2008, a hearing was held. Id. at 18-57. On December 1, 2008, the ALJ decided McGinnis was not disabled as of the alleged onset date. Id. at 7-17. McGinnis requested review of the ALJ's decision, which the Appeals Council denied on July 27, 2010. Id. at 1-5. McGinnis filed an action for review in this Court, McGinnis v. Soc. Sec. Admin., Civil Action No. 11-5957 (E.D. Pa. filed Sept. 21, 2011), and the Administration moved for remand to, inter alia, “reevaluate the weight given to the consultative examiners, Drs. Abraham and Person.” See A.R., 296-97. On May 22, 2012, this Court remanded the case to the Administration for additional administrative proceedings. Id. at 295. The Appeals Council referred the case to an ALJ for an additional hearing. Id. at 319-22.

         On December 18, 2012, the second administrative hearing was held. Id. at 265-88. At the hearing, McGinnis amended his alleged onset date to June 14, 2004, his 50th birthday. Id. at 269. He alleged disability due to degenerative disc disease, cervical radiculopathy, and carpal tunnel syndrome. Id. McGinnis testified he experienced radiating neck pain. Id. at 277. He experienced numbness, but no pain, in his hands and he dropped objects, like the TV remote, keys, and newspapers. Id. at 277, 283-84. He stated his neck locked, preventing him from turning it. Id. at 280. McGinnis's back pain also caused him difficulty sleeping. Id. at 281. He testified he became exhausted from the pain “after 15 minutes, ” id. at 283, and expressed difficulty sitting, standing, and bending. Id. at 284. McGinnis also testified he would not be able to stand for 6 hours in a workday. Id. at 285. McGinnis estimated he could lift 5 pounds without being in pain. Id. McGinnis stated he took Advil, which eased his pain, but did not resolve it. Id. at 280.

         McGinnis was a mail carrier for the United States Postal Service for approximately 29 years, ending in February of 2003. Id. at 135. At the December 18, 2012, hearing, McGinnis testified he went to the library and to Burger King, where he talked with friends for three or four hours. Id. at 272. Once or twice a week, McGinnis went to the casino, occasionally requiring multi-hour bus trips. See Id. at 273-75 (testifying he took occasional trips to Atlantic City or Wilkes Barre). He took monthly trips to the mall. Id. at 273-74. McGinnis occasionally cleaned the cellar but did not otherwise work on his house or in the yard. See Id. at 283. He testified he did the laundry but got exhausted after 15 minutes. Id. at 283. McGinnis had previously documented that he prepared food daily and had no problems with personal care. Id. at 141-42.

         Cheryl Collier-Brown, M.D. treated McGinnis from at least January 4, 2002 to August 30, 2002, and once on September 13, 2005. See Id. at 176, 181-204. Dr. Collier-Brown received a January 4, 2002, orthopedist report and EMG/nerve conduction study. Id. at 176-77, 207-08. Dr. Collier-Brown also received a March 6, 2002, MRI study. Id. at 205. Dr. Collier-Brown's notes indicate an x-ray of McGinnis was taken and he was referred to a hand specialist. Id. at 201-03.

         On January 8, 2002, Dr. Collier-Brown indicated in her treatment notes McGinnis was unable to work. Id. at 203. On April 12, 2002, Dr. Collier-Brown noted McGinnis could return to light duty for 2-4 hours a day, could lift no more than 15-20 pounds, and was not ready to return to a mail route. See Id. at 196. On April 29, 2002, Dr. Collier-Brown completed a “Medical Examination and Assessment” for the U.S. Postal Service.[1] Id. at 178-79. Dr. Collier-Brown limited McGinnis to “no heavy or moderate lifting/carrying.” Id. She added notes to the assessment on May 8, 2002, indicating lifting and carrying should be limited to less than or equal to 15-20 pounds. Id. at 179. She limited McGinnis to light lifting, packing, and sorting. Id. She did not indicate any time limits on McGinnis's restricted duty. Id.

         On June 17, 2002, in her treatment notes, Dr. Collier-Brown indicated McGinnis could return to carrying mail for 1-2 hours a day. Id. at 193. On July 23, 2002, Dr. Collier-Brown noted McGinnis's neck was improved and that his left hand was doing well, “70-80%” back to normal. Id. at 189. On August 30, 2002, Dr. Collier-Brown stated McGinnis was carrying mail 2 hours a day without problems. Id. at 187. She wrote McGinnis could return to work full duty as of September 4, 2002. Id. There are no other documented visits with Dr. Collier-Brown until September 13, 2005.[2] Id. at 183. On that date, she noted McGinnis was dropping things because of decreased strength/numbness. Id. She also wrote “[c]annot medically support [permanent] disability as he has not had [workup], treatment, specifically [evaluations, ] since ~2002. May get [significant] relief and improvement [with] treatment.” Id.

         On March 19, 2007, Jeffrey Perlson, D.O. examined McGinnis for the Pennsylvania Bureau of Disability Determination. Id. at 213. Dr. Perlson recounted McGinnis's degenerative spine disease and carpal tunnel diagnoses. Id. He noted McGinnis complained of neck pain and, “[t]he paresthesias in both arms are somewhat worse on the left than on the right and occasionally will awaken him at night.” Id. Dr. Perlson also cited the EMG and MRI studies ordered by Dr. Collier-Brown. Id. In his medical source statement, Dr. Perlson limited McGinnis to lifting “10 pounds occasionally, 2 to 3 pounds frequently.” Id. Dr. Perlson recommended no further weight “on the basis of [McGinnis's] history.” Id. Dr. Perlson did not limit McGinnis's standing and walking. Id. Dr. Perlson recommended modest restrictions on upper extremity pushing and pulling. Id. As for lower extremity pushing and pulling restrictions, Dr. Perlson wrote, “[n]o restrictions whatsoever based on the history of carpal tunnel syndrome and propensity for pain, weakness and tingling in the upper extremities and the history of dropping objects at times.” Id. Dr. Perlson observed McGinnis's mobility getting on and off an examination table, walking, squatting, and getting in and out of a chair, and noted it was not affected. Id. at 217.

         On approximately February 5, 2008, Ronald Abraham, D.O. examined McGinnis for the Pennsylvania Bureau of Disability Determination. Id. at 227. Dr. Abraham noted McGinnis's complaints of back, neck, shoulder, and left arm pain. Id. Dr. Abraham noted McGinnis had “difficulties reaching overhead, carrying objects, reaching behind his back, bending, and prolonged sitting increased pain [sic].” Id. Dr. Abraham examined McGinnis and reviewed his medical history. Id. at 228. Dr. Abraham concluded McGinnis had “chronic cervical dorsal pain underlying cervical degenerative changes, right C6 radiculopathy, bilateral carpal tunnel syndrome, [and] chronic cervical pain syndrome.” Id. at 229. In his medical source statement, Dr. Abraham limited McGinnis's lifting and carrying to 2-3 pounds frequently and 10 pounds occasionally, his standing and walking to 30 minutes in an 8-hour day, and his sitting to 30 minutes in an 8-hour day. Id. at 230. Dr. Abraham limited McGinnis's upper extremity pushing and pulling. Id. Dr. Abraham indicated McGinnis could occasionally bend and kneel, but never stoop, crouch, balance, or climb. Id. at 231. Dr. Abraham also indicated McGinnis's reaching was impaired. Id.

         After taking testimony, the ALJ applied the sequential, five-step process used by the Administration to make a disability determination.[3] Id. at 333-44. At step four, the ALJ determined that McGinnis retained the RFC to perform “light work.” Id. at 334. As defined by the Administration regulations, “light work, ”

involves lifting no more than 20 pounds at a time with frequent lifting or carrying of objects weighing up to 10 pounds. Even though the weight lifted may be very little, a job is in this category when it requires a good deal of walking or standing, or when it involves sitting most of the time with some pushing and pulling of arm or leg controls. To be considered capable of performing a full or wide range of light work, [the claimant] must have the ability to do substantially all of these activities. If someone can do light work, we determine that he or she can also do ...

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