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Bradley v. Commissioner of Social Security

United States District Court, E.D. Michigan, Southern Division

June 19, 2019


          HON. NANCY G. EDMUNDS U.S. District Judge.



         Plaintiff Lenise Bradley (“Plaintiff”) brings this action under 42 U.S.C. §405(g), challenging a final decision of Defendant Commissioner (“Defendant”) denying her application for Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”) and Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”) under the Social Security Act. Both parties have filed summary judgment motions which have been referred for a Report and Recommendation pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B). For the reasons set forth below, I recommend that Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment [Docket #16] be GRANTED to the extent that the case is remanded for further administrative proceedings, and that Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment [Docket #20] be DENIED.


         On December 11, 2015 and February 4, 2016 respectively, Plaintiff filed applications for SSI and DIB, alleging disability as of June 15, 2015 (Tr. 220, 222). After the initial denial of the claim, Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) Roy E. LaRoche, Jr. held a hearing on June 19, 2017 in Detroit, Michigan (Tr. 34). Plaintiff, represented by attorney Lloyd Pont, testified (Tr. 38-59) as did Vocational Expert (“VE”) Scott Silver (Tr. 59-68). On November 17, 2017 ALJ LaRoche found that Plaintiff was not disabled (Tr. 20-29). On April 16, 2018, the Appeals Council denied review (Tr. 1-3). Plaintiff filed for judicial review of the final decision on June 18, 2019.


         Claimant, born November 13, 1971, was 46 when the ALJ made the non-disability determination (Tr. 29, 220). She completed 11th grade and worked previously as a deli worker, laborer, and quality control inspector (Tr. 255-256). Her application for benefits alleges disability due to lower back conditions (Tr. 254).

         A. Plaintiff's Testimony

         Plaintiff offered the following testimony:

         She lived in a one-story house with her 77-year-old mother (Tr. 38). The washer and dryer at the house were in the basement (Tr. 38). She was right-handed (Tr. 38). She stood 5' 6" and weighed 186, adding that she recently lost around 36 pounds (Tr. 39). She avoided driving due to medication side effects, limiting her driving when she took her mother to her monthly doctor's appointment (Tr. 39). Plaintiff's fiancé drove her to her own doctor's appointments (Tr. 40). She stopped working at her most recent job as a quality control expert after experiencing leg numbness (Tr. 43). She received Workers' Compensation benefits after leaving work (Tr. 44).

         Plaintiff received treatment from an internist for diabetes and a neurologist for the back problems (Tr. 44). She saw both doctors on a regular basis (Tr. 53). Her diabetes was controlled with medication (Tr. 45). She had treated the back problems with physical therapy, steroid injections, and a TENS unit, none of which permanently improved her condition (Tr. 45). Her neurologist was contemplating the use of a spinal cord simulator (Tr. 46). She used a walker at the time of hearing due to recent multiple falls (Tr. 47). In response to the ALJ's citation to recent treating records noting the use of a cane, Plaintiff testified that she needed a walker at the hearing because she had refrained from taking pain medicine before her testimony and was in “extreme pain” (Tr. 49). She used a cane at home and a walker everywhere else (Tr. 54). She took Lyrica, Amitriptyline, Flexeril, Norco, and Metformin and experienced the side effect of drowsiness (Tr. 50). She did not smoke or use alcohol (Tr. 51). She stopped using marijuana in 2016 when she began taking prescription pain medication (Tr. 51).

         In addition to the back problems, Plaintiff experience left arm numbness and was unable to lift even a gallon of milk with the left arm (Tr. 52). She spent the majority of her day watching television and listening to music (Tr. 54-55). She was unable to perform any housework or laundry chores and relied on her fiancé and daughter to perform household chores (Tr. 55).

         In response to questioning by her attorney, Plaintiff noted that she needed to change positions frequently (Tr. 55). She reported that she would have been unable to stay alert for the hearing if she had taken her pain medication (Tr. 56). Aside from medication side effects, she disliked driving due to leg numbness and coldness (Tr. 56). Sitting in a recliner with her legs elevated above head level partially alleviated leg swelling, tingling, and numbness (Tr. 53). She also coped with the pain by taking long hot showers (Tr. 57). Reaching with the left upper extremity caused back pain (Tr. 58). She was unable to stand without support (Tr. 59).

         B. Medical Evidence

         1. Treating Sources

         In September, 2014, Plaintiff sought emergency treatment for numbness and pain of the left leg and toes (Tr. 323). She demonstrated a full strength of the leg with tenderness (Tr. 324). The same month, she also sought treatment for a ruptured Baker's cyst of the left knee (Tr. 312). Plaintiff reported pain but demonstrated 5/5 strength in all extremities (Tr. 315-316). She was given a nerve block and prescribed Norco on discharge (Tr. 322).

         Emergency room records from June, 2015 note Plaintiff's report of low right-sided back pain extending into the left leg for three months (Tr. 326, 408). She was diagnosed with low back pain “without signs of spinal cord compression . . .” (Tr. 327). The same month, primary care physician Ghazwan A. Atto, M.D. prescribed Norco for Plaintiff's report of level “10” back pain and “tingling, weakness and numbness” (Tr. 396-397).

         Records from the following month show that the “constant” back pain now radiated into her left leg (Tr. 329). At various times during the month she exhibited both a normal gait and range of motion and a reduced and painful range of lumbar spine motion (Tr. 331, 392, 416). An MRI of the lumbar spine showed a broad based disc herniation at ¶ 5-S1 causing moderate right-sided neural foraminal narrowing (Tr. 332, 353, 480). In August, 2015, she reported that she was unable to sit for more than 10 minutes and stand or walk for only “a few” minutes (Tr. 333). Treating records note that Plaintiff presentation was compromised by “pain distress” and she walked slowly with a limp (Tr. 335-336, 341, 420). She demonstrated a limited range of lumbar spine motion (Tr. 340). Dr. Atto noted her reports of continued back pain with weakness and numbness (Tr. 390). Physical therapy records from the same month state that Plaintiff was not able to sit for more than nine minutes (Tr. 343). Emergency room records state that she was given a walker “for stability with ...

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