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McFarland v. Astrue

April 8, 2009


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Michael A. Telesca United States District Judge



Plaintiff, Patricia McFarland("McFarland") filed this action pursuant to the Social Security Act, codified at 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and 1383(c)(3), seeking review of a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner"), denying her application for Disability Insurance Benefits ("Disability"), and Supplemental Security Insurance ("SSI"). On October 7, 2008, the Commissioner moved for judgment on the pleadings pursuant to Rule 12(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure and on November 10, 2008, plaintiff cross-moved for judgment on the pleadings.

For the reasons that follow, I find that substantial evidence supports the decision of the ALJ. Accordingly, plaintiff's motion for judgment on the pleadings is denied and defendant's motion for judgment on the pleadings is granted.


Plaintiff is a 52 year old woman with an eleventh grade education. (Tr. 74, 85) She alleges that she has been disabled since July 9, 2004 because of carpal tunnel syndrome and cervical and lower back pain. On January 25, 2005, McFarland filed an application for Disability and SSI. (Tr. 74-76) Her application was denied initially on April 5, 2005. (Tr. 57-60) Plaintiff requested a hearing which was held on August 14, 2007 at which plaintiff appeared before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") and was represented by counsel and a vocational expert appeared and testified. (Tr. 352-388) By decision dated August 30, 2007, the ALJ found MacFarland was not disabled. (Tr. 14-25) Plaintiff requested review by the Appeals Council. The decision of the ALJ became final when the Appeals Council denied review on August 30, 2007. (Tr. 14-25) Plaintiff commenced this action on April 8, 2008 claiming that she was disabled by bilateral carpal tunnel syndrome, cervical and lower back pain and shoulder injury.

A. Medical Background

Plaintiff began experiencing tingling and numbness in her hands in 1987. (Tr. 204) On July 23, 2002, plaintiff sought treatment from Dr. David Mitten, an orthopedic surgeon, for bilateral hand numbness that she had since 1987. (Tr. 168) Dr. Mitten noted that given the duration of symptoms, physical exam, and nerve conduction studies, he recommended bilateral carpal tunnel releases. (Tr. 168) The release surgery resolved the numbness and tingling in the hands but plaintiff continued to complain of pain and that she had a tendency to drop things. (Tr. 204-5)

MacFarland injured her back twisting at work on April 17, 2003. She developed low back pain which would radiate to both buttocks and to groin areas. (Tr. 205) She was treated with physical therapy and by a chiropractor for stiff neck and upper back. (Tr. 204)

MacFarland began physical therapy at the McKenzie Institute, Lumbar Spine Assessment on September 20, 2004 for symptoms of lower back pain shooting into the groin and a left elbow that felt weak. (Tr. 112) She continued regular therapy through January 25, 2005. (Tr. 114-118)

Plaintiff complained to her family physician, Dr. Paul Rapoza, of recurrent back pain on January 22, 2004. An MRI of plaintiff's lumbar spine of February 12, 2004 indicated mild degenerative disc disease at L5-S1 level and superimposed disc herniation/extrusion which extended "slightly upwards along the dorsal lower aspect of the L5." (Tr. 119) However, the disc herniation "caused only a minimal impression on the ventral margins of the thecal sac" and there was no evidence of significant posterior disc herniation, spinal canal stenosis or foraminal narrowing. (Tr. 147)

Dr. Bakos examined plaintiff in August, 2004 and concluded that plaintiff did not have surgically correctable disc disease. She was taking Vioxx for carpal tunnel syndrome which also helped the back pain. (Tr. 175) It was noted that MacFarland did not fill the prescription for Vicodin which was prescribed for back pain. (Tr. 176)

Dr. Richard DellaPorta examined plaintiff on September 1, 2004 during which he found plaintiff to move independently, ambulating with a stiff but otherwise normal gait. (Tr. 119) Dr. DellaPorta noted normal cervical lordosis with tenderness over the cervical spine and no paracervical spasm. MacFarland had full neck flexion, extension and rotation but plaintiff complained of stiffness in her neck. Dr. DellaPorta referred plaintiff to Dr. Patel at the Spine Center and concluded that she had a "moderate partial disability at her low back." (Tr. 120) He instructed plaintiff to not lift more than 20 pounds and only doing so with proper back mechanics. She was directed to refrain from heavy pushing or pulling and from sitting more than two hours without a chance to stand. (Tr. 120)

Dr. Rajeev Patel, an orthopedist at Strong Memorial Hospital, examined plaintiff on September 13, 2004 by referral of Dr. Rapoza. (Tr. 128) Films of the lumbar spine showed no abnormalities and the MRI dated February 12, 2004 showed degenerative disc desiccation at L5-S1 with small central disc herniation at L5-S1. (Tr. 129) Dr. Patel diagnosed low back pain due to a "discogenic etiology with somatic referral". (Tr. 129) He instructed plaintiff to avoid bending, twisting, or lifting greater than 10 pounds and to initiate a lumbar spine stabilization program in extension bias. (Tr. 129) Dr. Patel treated MacFarland with ...

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