United States District Court, E.D. Michigan, Southern Division
OPINION AND ORDER
STEVEN WHALEN, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
Patricia Marie Geibig (“Plaintiff”) brings this
action under 42 U.S.C. §405(g), challenging a final
decision of Defendant Commissioner denying her application
for Widow's or Widower's Insurance Benefits under
Title II of the Social Security Act. The parties have filed
cross motions for summary judgment. For the reasons set forth
below, Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment [Dock.
#21] is DENIED, Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment
[Dock. #16] is GRANTED to the extent that the case is
remanded for further administrative proceedings.
applied for benefits on September 19, 2014, alleging
disability as of September 19, 2009 (Tr.
123-124). Upon initial denial of the claim,
Plaintiff requested an administrative hearing, held May 2,
2016 in Livonia, Michigan (Tr. 20, 35). Administrative Law
Judge (“ALJ”) Henry Perez, Jr. presided.
Plaintiff, represented by attorney Elizabeth Warren,
testified (Tr. 38-50), as did Vocational Expert
(“VE”) Annette Holder (Tr. 50-54). On June 1,
2016, ALJ Perez found that Plaintiff was capable of
performing her past relevant work as a cashier (Tr. 28, 30).
On October 7, 2016, the Appeals Council denied review (Tr.
1-6). Plaintiff filed suit in this Court on December 8, 2016.
born August 21, 1962, was 53 at the time of the
administrative decision (Tr. 30, 124). She completed
12th grade and worked as a retail clerk and
laborer before the alleged onset of disability (Tr. 151). She
alleges disability as a result of bipolar disorder, Post
Traumatic Stress Disorder (“PTSD”), Attention
Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (“ADHD”),
depression, herniated spinal discs, a hernia, asthma,
vertigo, arthritis, Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
(“CTS”), hypertension, prior substance abuse, and
a hearing impairment (Tr. 149).
offered the following testimony:
former work included a job as a shipping supervisor,
requiring her to lift up to 35 pounds and stand or walk most
of the day (Tr. 40). She also worked at a pharmacy as
“a cashier and general help” worker, requiring
her to work at the register and straighten shelves (Tr.
40-41). The pharmacy job required her to lift up to 35 pounds
low back and neck pain was becoming progressively worse (Tr.
41). She was unable to turn her neck to the left or raise her
left arm (Tr. 42). In spite of pain medication and
injections, she experienced level “six to seven”
pain on a scale of one to ten (Tr. 42). The pain was
exacerbated by damp and cold weather (Tr. 43). Due to the
lower back condition, she experienced lower extremity
symptoms (Tr. 43). Epidural injections improved the condition
(Tr. 43). She otherwise coped with the condition by taking
Ibuprofen, using a heating pad, icing her back, using BenGay,
taking mineral baths, and stretching (Tr. 44). She spent 60
to 70 percent of her time addressing symptoms (Tr. 44).
Physical therapy improved her range of neck motion (Tr.
44-45). She was unable to lift more than 10 pounds, stand for
more than five minutes, sit for more than 20 minutes, or walk
for more than one quarter of a mile (Tr. 45, 50). After
standing or walking, she required time to sit or lie down
lived in a ground floor apartment with her boyfriend, noting
that she changed to a ground floor apartment because she was
unable to walk up stairs (Tr. 46). Her household chores were
limited to wiping off the sink, putting dishes in the
dishwasher, and wiping down the shower after bathing (Tr.
47). She cooked on an occasional basis (Tr. 48). She spent
most of the day watching television (Tr. 48). She experienced
concentrational problems due to both pain and bipolar
disorder (Tr. 48). Her bipolar episodes were characterized by
depressive episodes during which she became lethargic and
reclusive (Tr. 49). She became frustrated during manic phases
because her desire to be productive was hampered by physical
problems (Tr. 49).
March, 2014, Plaintiff was advised to get wrist splints (Tr.
535). The following month, she was referred to physical
therapy for chronic neck pain (Tr. 537). In June and August,
2014, Plaintiff sought urgent treatment for back pain (Tr.
529, 531). August, 2014 psychological intake records state
that Plaintiff's former substance abuse and anxiety
issues were complicated by chronic pain (Tr. 416). The same
month, Tendai K. Thomas, M.D. noted Plaintiff's report of
ongoing “aching, burning, and sharp” back pain
(Tr. 513). In September, 2014, Plaintiff reported that she
experienced lower extremity numbness (Tr. 376). Imaging
studies of the chest were consistent with COPD (Tr. 382).
Counseling notes state that her dose of Abilify was increased
(Tr. 421). In October, 2014, Dr. Thomas prescribed physical
therapy for cervical and lumbar spine pain and radiculopathy
of the upper and lower extremities (Tr. 329, 500, 502).
Plaintiff reported “pins and needles” pain of the
neck and shoulders (Tr. 330). Therapy records state that she
attributed the spinal problems to motor vehicle accidents,
falls, domestic abuse, and manual labor (Tr. 336). The
following month, Plaintiff reported an improvement of
symptoms of 75 percent but noted “consistent”
pain at the “seven to eight” level (Tr. 337).
Plaintiff reported chronic back pain to Dr. Thomas (Tr. 497).
An MRI of the cervical spine from the same month showed
“mild flattening of the spinal cord” at ¶
5-C6 and C6-C7 (Tr. 373). An MRI of the lumbar spine showed
“severe disc space narrowing and degenerative end plate
change of the L5-L1 level” (Tr. 374). She was diagnosed
with mild to moderate lumbar spondylosis (Tr. 375).
March, 2015, Plaintiff reported increasing anxiety (Tr. 424).
She was prescribed Neurontin along with psychotropic
medications (Tr. 425). In June, 2015 epidural injections,
physical therapy, and home exercises were recommended (Tr.
372). Counseling records state that Plaintiff's
psychological condition had improved (Tr. 431). Dr.
Thomas' records from the same month note that the back
condition was “severe” and
“worsening” (Tr. 490). September, 2015 records
note Plaintiff's report of ongoing lumbar spine and left
shoulder pain (Tr. 360, 470). The same month, she sought
emergency treatment for a shoulder injury (Tr. 557). Dr.
Thomas noted a history of radiating musculoskeletal back pain
(Tr. 474, 479, 484). She exhibited reduced range of lumbar
spine motion (Tr. 361). Epidural injections were administered
without complications (Tr. 362). Counseling notes state that
she was medication compliant but reported sleep disturbances
October, 2015, James Moravek, M.D. noted Plaintiff's
report of continuing left shoulder pain despite the use of
Oxycodone and Norco (Tr. 509). He recommended physical
therapy, reduction of narcotic medication use, and icing (Tr.
510). October, 2015 therapy records note the diagnosis of
impingement syndrome of the left shoulder (Tr. 341).
Discharge records note that Plaintiff's shoulder pain was
reduced to a “two” out of “ten” (Tr.
reported “no improvement” in a psychiatric
medication review of February, 2016 (Tr. 438). In April,
2016, Dr. Thomas completed a medical source statement stating
that due to chronic neck and low back pain with radicular
symptoms, Plaintiff was unable to stand or walk for more than
15 minutes or sit for more than 30 (Tr. 556). Dr. Thomas
found that she was limited to standing or walking for 60
minutes in an eight-hour workday (Tr. 556). He limited her to
lifting only 10 pounds on an occasional basis and only
occasional pushing or pulling (Tr. 556). He found that she
would be required to take unscheduled work breaks due to
fatigue and poor motor strength (Tr. 556).
Consultative and Non-Examining Sources
December 2014, Thomas Martin Horner, Ph.D. performed a
consultative psychological examination on behalf of the SSA,
noting Plaintiff's report of a 2011 hospitalization after
a drug overdose and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder
(“PTSD”) as a result of her husband's 2009
suicide (Tr. 305). She reported that she last worked in 2003
at a pharmacy as a cashier and “straightening
shelves” (Tr. 305). She left due to back and emotional
problems (Tr. 305). She admitted to a history of alcohol and
Vicodin abuse (Tr. 306). Plaintiff reported that she used
braces for CTS at night (Tr. 307). Dr. Horner found that
Plaintiff was “not a shirker by nature or by
attitude” (Tr. 308). He found her capable of coping
with ordinary work stresses but noted that her work abilities
could be complicated by the physical conditions (Tr. 308).
same month, Adam McKenzie, D.O. examined Plaintiff on behalf
of the SSA, noting Plaintiff's report of spinal disc
problems diagnosed in October, 2014 (Tr. 310). Plaintiff
reported that she experienced radiating pain in all
extremities (Tr. 310). She reported symptoms of CTS but
stated that she never wore wrist braces (Tr. 310).
McKenzie observed a normal gait and the absence of fine
manipulative limitations (Tr. 311). Plaintiff did not
experience problems squatting (Tr. 311). She exhibited a
limited range of spinal motion (Tr. 313). Plaintiff reported
that the condition of asthma was not controlled with inhaler