The opinion of the court was delivered by: Mitchell, M.J.
Presently before the Court for disposition are cross motions for summary judgment. For the reasons set forth below, the plaintiff's motion for summary judgment (Docket No. 9) will be denied; the defendant's motion for summary judgment (Docket No. 11) will be granted; the determination of the Commissioner will be affirmed and judgment entered accordingly.
On May 11, 2009, Ralph J. Redman, by his counsel, filed a complaint pursuant to Section 205(g) of the Social Security Act, as amended, 42 U.S.C. §405(g) for review of the Commissioner's final determination disallowing his claim for a period of disability or for disability insurance benefits under Sections 216(i) and 223 of the Social Security Act, as amended, 42 U.S.C. §§416(i) and 423.
On February 20, 2004, the plaintiff filed an application for disability benefits alleging that he had been disabled since September 28, 1999 (R.54-57), and benefits were denied on March 29, 2004 (R. 38-42). On April 13, 2004, the plaintiff requested a hearing (R.43) and pursuant to that request a hearing was held on March 9, 2005 (R.431-455). In a decision dated March 18, 2005, benefits were denied (R.12-24), and on April 18, 2005, reconsideration was requested (R.11). Upon reconsideration and in a decision dated October 15, 2005, the Appeals Council affirmed the prior determination (R.7-10) An appeal was filed in this Court at 2:05-cv-1687 and on July 28, 2006, judgment was entered against the plaintiff.
The plaintiff filed a second application for disability benefits on July 21, 2006 (R.520-522) and benefits were denied on Aug 23, 2006 (R.490-493). The plaintiff requested a hearing on November 14, 2006 (R.494) and pursuant to that request a hearing was conducted on January 29, 2008 (R.778-815). On April 1, 2008 benefits were denied (R.461-472) and on March 12, 2008, the Appeals Council affirmed the denial of benefits (R.11). On May 11, 2009, the instant complaint was filed.
In reviewing an administrative determination of the Commissioner, the question before any court is whether there is substantial evidence in the agency record to support the findings of the Commissioner that the plaintiff failed to sustain his burden of demonstrating that he was disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act. Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389 (1971); Adorno v. Shalala, 40 F.3d 43 (3d Cir. 1994).
It is provided in 42 U.S.C. Section 405(g) that:
The court shall have power to enter, upon the pleadings and transcript of the record, a judgment affirming, modifying, or reversing the decision of the Commissioner of Social Security, with or without remanding the cause for a rehearing. The findings of the Commissioner of Social Security as to any fact, if supported by substantial evidence, shall be conclusive....
Substantial evidence is "'more than a mere scintilla. It means such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.' Consolidated Edison Co. v. NLRB, 305 U.S. 197, 229 (1938)." Richardson v. Perales, supra., at page 401; Plummer v. Apfel, 186 F.3d 422 (3d Cir. 1999). However, the relevant period of inquiry in the instant case is the time period from March 19, 2005 through June 30, 2005, when the plaintiff was last insured under the Act (R.472). That is, in order to be entitled to benefits, the plaintiff must demonstrate that his total disability occurred during that time period.
At the hearing held on January 29, 2008, (R. 778-815), the plaintiff appeared with counsel (R.784) who acknowledged that in order to prevail, the plaintiff had to demonstrate that he became disabled during the period of March 19, 2005 through June 30, 2005.
At that hearing the plaintiff testified that he was born on January 13, 1960 (R.787); that he graduated from high school and completed one semester of college (R.789) and that he worked as a warehouseman from 1988 through 1999 when he was injured at work (R.790-791).
The plaintiff also testified that he sustained a back injury at work in 1999; that he had back surgery performed in 2001; that he also experiences knee and foot problems (R.793, 797); that his back pain is continuous and radiates to his legs (R 799-800); that he also experiences balance and breathing problems (R.801, 802); that he takes medication for pain (R.794); that he can sit for about twenty minutes and lift about ten pounds (R. 798) and that he does not perform any household chores (R.803).
At the hearing a vocational expert was also called upon to testify (R.805-814). The witness characterized the plaintiff's past work as medium unskilled labor (R.806). If the plaintiff was limited to light work, the witness testified that he could not perform his prior work (R.807). However, the witness also testified that if the plaintiff could perform sedentary work, then there was a wide range of employment in which he could engage (R.812). But, if the plaintiff's testimony was totally credited, the witness testified there was no form of gainful employ in which he could engage (R.813-814).
The issue before the Court for immediate resolution is a determination of whether or not there is substantial evidence to support the findings of the Commissioner that the plaintiff was not disabled within the meaning of the Act during the time period from March 19, 2005 through June 30, 2005.
The term "disability" is defined in 42 U.S.C. Section 423(d)(1)(A) as: inability to engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment which can be expected to result in death or which has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than 12 months....
For purposes of the foregoing, the requirements for a disability determination are provided in 42 U.S.C. Section 423(d)(2)(A):
An individual shall be determined to be under a disability only if his physical or mental impairment or impairments are of such severity that he is not only unable to do his previous work but cannot, considering his age, education, and work experience, engage in any other kind of substantial gainful work which exists in the national economy, regardless of whether such work exists in the immediate area in which he lives, or whether a specific job vacancy exists for him, or whether he would be hired if he applied for work. For purposes of the preceding sentence... "work which exists in the national economy" means work which exists in significant numbers either in the region where such individual lives or in several regions of the country.
A "physical or mental impairment" is "an impairment that results from anatomical, physiological, or psychological abnormalities which are demonstrable by medically acceptable clinical and laboratory diagnostic techniques." 42 U.S.C. Section 423(d)(3). These provisions are also applied for purposes of establishing a period of disability. 42 U.S.C. Section 416(i)(2)(A).
While these statutory provisions have been regarded as "very harsh," nevertheless, they must be followed by the courts. NLRB v. Staiman Brothers, 466 F.2d 564 (3d Cir. 1972); Choratch v. Finch, 438 F.2d 342 (3d Cir. 1971); Woods v. Finch, 428 F.2d 469 (3d Cir. 1970). Thus, it must be determined whether or not there is substantial evidence in the record to support the conclusion of the Commissioner that the plaintiff was not disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act.
For this purpose, certain medical evidence was reviewed.
The plaintiff was awarded workers' compensation settlement benefits on February 9, 2004 as a result of a November ...