HOFFMAN v. COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY
MEMORANDUM ORDER Remanding this action for further factual findings and conclusions of law consistent with the Opinion filed. Signed by Judge Peter G. Sheridan on 2/4/2015. (eaj)
Not for Publication
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE DISTRICT OF NEW JERSEY
Civil Action No.: 13-4557 (PGS)
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY,
This matter having come before the Court on the appeal Plaintiff, Michael Hoffman of the
Commissioner of Social Security’s final decision denying him continued disability insurance benefits;
and the Court having reviewed the briefs and having heard oral argument on the matter on
January 13, 2015.
The Administrative Law Judge (“AU”) in this matter found that Plaintiff was disabled from
October 20, 2006 through October 21, 2010, but after that date a “medical improvement occurred that is
related to the ability to work.” Where there is a medical improvement alleged, the AU must follow an
additional eight step evaluation. (20 CFR 404.159) as the AU sets forth in his decision. (T. 49-50).
The AU conducted a fair and reasonable hearing but there are two issues which were not
adequately explained in his decision. (T. 46-57).
First, the AU indicates that as of October 22, 2010 there was no longer any “evidence of nerve
root compression or positive straight leg raising.” (T. 53). The AU noted “Dr. Levine reported on June
24, 2010 that the claimant had negative straight leg raising, 5/5 strength in his lower extremity with
largely improved leg and back pain.” Despite that finding, the Court cannot comport that finding with
Dr. Levine’s September 30, 2010 report.
In his report, Dr. Levine discussed “several options regarding revision surgery for [Hoffman’s]
pain.” Dr. Levine noted:
We did discuss several options regarding revision surgery if his pain was
severe that he wishes to go in that direction. None of the options are
necessarily are with any great statistical chance of helping his current
discomfort. We discussed removing hardware posteriorly to see if we
remove the hardware posteriorly could help him. The down side of this is
that we need to be somewhat concerned with destabilizing his spine
particularly with the interbody device at the L3-4 level. We also discussed
perhaps removing interbody device which certainly is technically
challenging from either a posterior or anterior approach and revising the
fusion. At this point Mr. Hoffman will hold onto his current situation and
follow up with me in 6 months at which time we will repeat x-rays. If
prior to that time he wishes to engage more in surgical options he is
welcome to call me and follow up. At this point he will continue his pain
management with Dr. Roman.
A cardinal principle guiding disability eligibility determinations is that the AU
physicians’ reports great weight, especially “when their opinions reflect expert judgment based on a
continuing observation of the patient’s condition over a prolonged period of time.” Flurniner v. Apfel,
186 F.3d 422, 427 (3d Cir. Pa. 1999) (quoting Rocco v. Heckler, 826 F.2d 1348, 1350 (3d Cir. 1987));
Morales v. Apfel, 225 F.3d 310, 316 (3d Cir. Pa. 2000). Dr. Levine notes that more surgery may be
required, plaintiff must continue his pain management regiment, but also that “none of the options are
necessarily with any great statistical chance of helping his current discomfort.” The AU must review
this evidence and explain how this opinion of Plaintiffs treating physician is consistent with a showing
of medical improvement. The second issue concerns the vocational expert’s opinion that Plaintiff could
perform certain types of sedentary work such as “bench assembler”, “inserter” and “surveillance system
monitor.” (T. 79). The AU’s hypothetical question does not mention Dr. Levine’s opinion concerning
Plaintiffs ongoing pain, or Plaintiffs use of narcotics on an everyday basis. To the Court, this factor
may impact the types and amount of substantial gainful work, if any, Plaintiff can reasonably qualify for
and successfully perform.
IT IS on this 4th day of February, 2015;
ORDERED that based on the above, the matter is remanded for further factual findings and
conclusions of law consistent with this opinion.
PETER G. SHERIDAN, U.S.D.J.
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