370 F.3d 357 (3rd Cir. 2004), 03-3261, McCrea v. Commissioner of Social Sec.

Docket Nº:03-3261.
Citation:370 F.3d 357
Case Date:May 27, 2004
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit

Page 357

370 F.3d 357 (3rd Cir. 2004)

Shirley MCCREA, Appellant



No. 03-3261.

United States Court of Appeals, Third Circuit

May 27, 2004

Argued April 15, 2004.

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Abraham S. Alter (Argued), Langton & Alter, Rahway, for Appellant.

Anthony J. LaBruna, Jr., Office of the U.S. Attorney, Newark, Stephen P. Conte (Argued), Social Security Administration, Office of General Counsel--Region II, New York, for Appellee.

Before RENDELL, STAPLETON and LAY, [*] Circuit Judges.


LAY, Circuit Judge.

Shirley McCrea appeals from an order of the district court affirming the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security denying her application for disability benefits under Titles II and XVI of the Social Security Act (the "Act"), 42 U.S.C. §§ 401 et seq. Jurisdiction in the district court was proper by virtue of 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g), 1383(c)(3), and our jurisdiction is conferred by 28 U.S.C. § 1291. For the reasons that follow, we reverse the district court's order and remand the matter to the Commissioner for further proceedings.


McCrea is a fifty-two-year-old native of Jamaica with prior relevant work history as a nurses' aide. On April 8, 1997, she filed an application for disability insurance benefits and supplemental security income payments, alleging an inability to work since February 15, 1995, due to constant pain in her neck, lower back, and spine, as well as frequent headaches. Her application was denied both initially and on reconsideration. At McCrea's request, a hearing

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was held before an administrative law judge ("ALJ") on January 7, 1999.

At the hearing, McCrea testified in further detail regarding her condition. She stated that the onset of her pain coincided with an automobile accident on February 15, 1995. McCrea testified that since the accident, she suffered from constant stiffness in her neck, making it difficult for her to turn her head from side to side. She believed that these neck injuries were the source of her constant headaches, which in turn compromised her concentration and memory. McCrea also testified that following the accident, she experienced lower back pain that not only made it difficult for her to bend, but also radiated into her legs, causing stiffness and impairing her ability to stand and walk. Finally, McCrea testified to suffering from continuous shoulder pain as a result of the accident.

Also testifying at the hearing was a non-examining physician, Albert G. Mylod, Jr., M.D., a board-certified orthopedic surgeon. Dr. Mylod concluded that based upon his review of her medical file, McCrea suffered from two small herniated discs in her lumbosacral region at L4-L5 and L5-S1. In Dr. Mylod's opinion, these herniations not only substantiated her complaints of lower back pain, but also potentially accounted for her complaints of leg pain. Regarding McCrea's complaints of neck pain and headaches, Dr. Mylod acknowledged that an MRI of her cervical spine showed no abnormalities. He nevertheless opined that it was possible that "some of these headaches could be from a cervical strain which we just haven't seen." Tr. at 46. 1 As a more likely potential source for her headaches, Dr. Mylod identified an MRI of what he believed to be McCrea's brain, 2 the results of which were consistent with a prior trauma.

On June 25, 1999, the ALJ rendered a decision denying McCrea's application for benefits. The ALJ determined that after considering all of the evidence, including the opinions of several physicians and McCrea's records of treatment, McCrea failed to demonstrate that she suffered from an impairment or combination of impairments that was "severe" within the meaning of the Act. After McCrea's request for review by the Appeals Council was denied, the decision of the ALJ became the final ruling of the Commissioner.

Having exhausted her...

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