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Witz v. Social Security Administration

United States District Court, M.D. Tennessee, Northeastern Division

March 12, 2019

GREGORY W. WITZ, Plaintiff,
v.
SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION, Defendant.

          Crenshaw, Chief Judge.

          REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

          Joe B. Brown, United States Magistrate Judge.

         To: The Honorable Waverly D. Crenshaw, Jr., Chief United States District Judge.

         Pending before the court is Plaintiff's motion for judgment on the administrative record (Docket Entry No. 15), to which Defendant Commissioner of Social Security (“Commissioner”) filed a response (Docket Entry No. 17). Upon consideration of the parties' filings and the transcript of the administrative record (Docket Entry No. 11)[1] and for the reasons given herein, the Magistrate Judge RECOMMENDS that Plaintiff's motion for judgment be GRANTED and that the decision of the Commissioner be REVERSED and REMANDED for further administrative proceedings consistent with this Report and Recommendation.

         I. PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         Plaintiff, Gregory Witz, filed an application for Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”) under Title II and an application for Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”) under Title XVI of the Social Security Act on December 15, 2014 and July 28, 2015, respectively, alleging disability onset as of April 2, 2013, due to spinal injury/stenosis and arm/hand pain. (Tr. 15, 68, 78, 106). Plaintiff's claims were denied at the initial level on May 27, 2015, and on reconsideration on February 11, 2016. (Tr. 15, 107, 115, 122). Plaintiff subsequently requested de novo review of his case by an administrative law judge (“ALJ”). (Tr. 15, 129, 131). The ALJ heard the case on March 14, 2017, when Plaintiff appeared with counsel and gave testimony. (Tr. 15, 32-59). Testimony was also received by a vocational expert. (Tr. 60-65). At the conclusion of the hearing, the matter was taken under advisement until September 15, 2017, when the ALJ issued a written decision finding Plaintiff not disabled. (Tr. 12-23). That decision contains the following enumerated findings:

1. The claimant meets the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act through December 31, 2017.
2. The claimant has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since April 2, 2013, the alleged onset date (20 CFR 404.1571 et seq., and 416.971 et seq.).
3. The claimant has the following severe impairment: degenerative disc disease of the cervical spine, degenerative disc disease of the lumbar spine, and osteoarthritis of the bilateral shoulders (20 CFR 404.1520(c) and 416.920(c)).
4. The claimant does not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals the severity of one of the listed impairments in 20 CFR Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1(20 CFR 404.1520(d), 404.1525, 404.1526, 416.920(d), 416.925 and 416.926).
5. After careful consideration of the entire record, I find that the claimant has the residual functional capacity to perform light work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b) and 416.967(b). He is limited to sitting six hours in an eight-hour workday, and standing and/or walking six hours in an eight-hour workday, however, he is limited to no more than 30 minutes of continuous sitting, standing, or walking. He can frequently handle, finger, and reach bilaterally. He can occasionally balance, stoop, kneel, crouch, and/or crawl.
6. The claimant is unable to perform any past relevant work (20 CFR 404.1565 and 416.965).
7. The claimant was born on August 4, 1964 and was 48 years old, which is defined as a younger individual age 18-49, on the alleged disability onset date. The claimant subsequently changed age category to closely approaching advanced age (20 CFR 404.1563 and 416.963).
8. The claimant has at least a high school education and is able to communicate in English (20 CFR 404.1564 and 416.964).
9. Transferability of job skills is not material to the determination of disability because using the Medical-Vocational Rules as a framework supports a finding that the claimant is “not disabled, ” whether or not the claimant has transferable job skills (See SSR 82-41 and 20 CFR Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 2).
10. Considering the claimant's age, education, work experience, and residual functional capacity, there are jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy that the claimant can perform (20 CFR 404.1569, 404.1569(a), 416.969, and 416.969(a)).
11. The claimant has not been under a disability, as defined in the Social Security Act, from April 2, 2013, through the date of this decision (20 CFR 404.1520(g) and 416.920(g)).

(Tr. 17, 18, 22, 23).

         On March 15, 2018, the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review of the ALJ's decision (Tr. 1-5), thereby rendering that decision the final decision of the Commissioner. This civil action was thereafter timely filed, and the Court has jurisdiction. 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and 1383(c)(3).

         II. REVIEW OF THE RECORD

         The following summary of the medical record is taken from the ALJ's decision:

The claimant was injured on-the-job in April 2013. He injured his neck and bilateral shoulder. (See Hearing Transcript). X-rays of the claimant's cervical spine, dated April 2013, revealed severe spondylitic change at ¶ 3. (See Exhibit lF). Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) of the claimant's cervical spine, dated August 2013, revealed marked spondylosis[2] with multi-level disc space height narrowing and degeneration. (See Exhibit lF). The claimant received medication management, physical therapy, chiropractic care, and epidural steroid injections in the months following his initial injury. (See Exhibits l F, 2F, and 4F). A follow-up MRI, dated October 2013, revealed the same results. (See Exhibit 1F). He was given permanent restrictions to light duty, up to 30 pounds, as of January 20, 2014. (See Exhibit lF).
As of September 2014, the claimant reported doing fine with his medication regimen, consisting of hydrocodone, as he was awaiting a referral to a pain management clinic. He was noted to have weakness at ¶ 5 and C6, upon physical examination. (See Exhibit 3F). The claimant was noted to have a five percent whole body impairment and to be at maximum medical improvement, as of September 3, 2014. (See Exhibit 13F).
In September 2014, the claimant began receiving pain management for his cervical condition. Upon his initial evaluation, he had tenderness at ¶ 8. He was treated monthly until July 2015, and his condition was noted as improved with pain level at a six on a scale of 10. He was then referred for treatment on a bimonthly basis. (See Exhibits 6F, 7F, and 9F). He also received some pain management treatment from his primary care provider on an overlapping basis. (See Exhibit 8F).
The claimant received more chiropractic care in 2015 and 2016. (See Exhibit 18F). An X-ray of the claimant's lumbar spine, dated February 2016, revealed moderate to marked spondylosis with multi-level disc space height narrowing and low-grade lumbar facet arthropathy. (See Exhibit 22F). X-ray of the claimant's cervical spine, also dated February 2016, revealed marked spondylosis with multi-level disc space height narrowing. (See Exhibit 22F). X-rays of the claimant's left shoulder, also dated February 2016, revealed arthritic changes in the AC joint and the bony glenoid. (See Exhibit 22F). A[n] MRI of the ...

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