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Downs v. Secretary of Health and Human Services

October 12, 2010


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Amy Reynolds Hay Chief United States Magistrate Judge

Chief Magistrate Judge Amy Reynolds Hay


HAY, Chief Magistrate Judge

Acting pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), 1383(c)(3), David A. Downs ("Downs" or "the Claimant") appeals from a May 14, 2009 decision of the Commissioner denying his application for disability insurance and supplemental security income benefits. Cross Motions for Summary Judgment are pending. The Motion filed by Downs (ECF No.19 ) will be denied, and the Motion filed by the Commissioner (ECF No. 24) will be granted.


Downs, who was born in 1954 and holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Electrical Engineering, was employed for some twenty years as a senior information analyst at the Westinghouse Research Center in Churchill. (T. 26-27). In that capacity, he worked with computer programming and maintenance of computer systems - planning computer facilities, training staff, and implementing procedures having to do with computer operations. He took occasional business trips, and "gradually became responsible for making recommendations with regard to the hardware." (T. 27-28). On January 31, 1998, he was laid off due to corporate downsizing and, for purposes of this opinion, did not work again. (Id. at 28).

On April 13, 2007, Downs protectively filed an application for disability insurance benefits*fn1 and supplemental security income benefits, alleging that he became disabled on June 1, 1999, due to depression and anxiety disorder, severe allergy problems, and asthma. (T. 143). The claim was denied initially in a decision dated August 31, 2007. He then requested a hearing which took place in Latrobe, Pennsylvania on March 10, 2009. Downs, who was represented by counsel, testified, as did a vocational expert. On May 14, 2009, the Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") issued a decision in which he found that the Claimant was not disabled. (T.8). A request for review was denied by the Appeals Council on August 27, 2009, making the ALJ's opinion the final decision of the Commissioner. This appeal followed.


The Social Security Act ("the Act") limits judicial review of the Commissioner's final decision regarding benefits to two issues: whether the factual findings are supported by substantial evidence, and whether the correct law was applied. See Brown v. Bowen, 845 F.2d 1211, 1213 (3d Cir. 1988); Coria v. Heckler, 750 F.2d 245, 247 (3d Cir. 1984). "Where the ALJ's findings of fact are supported by substantial evidence, [the Court is] bound by those findings, even if [it] would have decided the factual inquiry differently." Fargnoli v. Massanari, 247 F.3d 34, 38 (3d Cir. 2001).


The ALJ arrived at his finding that Downs was not disabled within the meaning of the Act by applying the sequential five step analysis articulated at 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a) and 416.9020(a).*fn2 A claimant bears the burden of proof at the first four steps, and the Commissioner bears the burden at the fifth. See Fargnoli, 247 F.3d at 39. The ALJ resolved this matter at Step Five.

At Step One, the ALJ found that the Claimant had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since June 1, 1999. (T. 10). At Step Two, the ALJ concluded that the Plaintiff had "the following severe impairments: a major depressive disorder, recurrent, mild to moderate, an adjustment disorder with depressed mood, and a personality disorder." (Id.) He found at Step Three that none of these impairments met or was equivalent to any of the impairments listed in 20 CFR Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. (T.11). The ALJ considered the listed impairments falling within Listing 12.00, particularly the criteria for affective disorders listed at 12.04, and those for personality disorders listed at 12.08. (T.12). Focusing on the "paragraph B" criteria of the listings, the ALJ wrote:

To satisfy the "paragraph B" criteria, the mental impairments must result in at least two of the following: marked restriction of activities of daily living; marked difficulties in maintaining concentration, persistence, or pace; or repeated episodes of decompensation, each of extended duration. A marked limitation means more than moderate but less than extreme. Repeated episodes of decompensation, each of extended duration, means three episodes within 1 year, or an average of once every four months, each lasting for at least 2 weeks. (Id.). The ALJ found that the evidence failed to show that Downs had any restriction in activities of daily living, or marked difficulties in social functioning, concentration, persistence, or pace. Furthermore, he had not experienced any extended episodes of decompensation. (Id.).

At Step Four, the ALJ concluded that Downs's severe limitations prevented him from returning to his past relevant work as a computer systems analyst. Downs's prior work, as it was actually performed, required heavy exertion, and was skilled. (T.17). Because "[t]he claimant is limited to no more than unskilled work by her [sic] impairments . . . [he] is unable to perform past relevant work." (T.16).

After reviewing the medical evidence and considering Downs's description of his symptoms and activities, the ALJ found that Downs's "subjective allegations [were] exaggerated and not fully credible." (T. 13). Based on his evaluation of the evidence as a whole, the ALJ found that the Downs had: the residual functional capacity to perform . . . work at all exertional levels, but with the following non-exertional limitations: the claimant can perform no more than simple, routine, low stress work (no deadlines or fast-paced production), and is limited to jobs that require no interaction with the public, no more than occasional interactions with co-workers and supervisors, and no teamwork.

(T. 13). Given this residual functional capacity, the vocational expert testified that Downs could perform work available in significant numbers in the national economy. (T. 54). As a result, the ALJ concluded that Downs was not disabled within the meaning of the Act. (T. 18).


A. The Subjective Evidence of Pain

The Claimant raises three allegations of error. (T. 13). First, Downs contends that the ALJ failed to consider the subjective testimony and medical evidence regarding pain: "The ALJ does not mention pain in his analysis of the case," and "the Secretary must produce specific medical evidence to disprove the claimant['s] testimony as to pain[,] and his findings concerning the allegations of pain must be specific." (ECF No. 20 at 5). According to Downs, "[p]ain evidence is completely uncontradicted in the record developed by the ALJ." (Id.).

Downs argues that the ALJ's failure to address the evidence bearing on pain is particularly problematic given what he characterizes as the interrelationship between pain and his sleep-related issues. Downs contends that the record establishes that prescription pain relievers caused dizziness, vertigo, and sleepiness. "The sleep period to try to deal with the pain could take hours and no control is possessed by the [claimant] to keep the need from arising during work hours." (Id). This fact, says Downs, negates his ability to hold a job: "The vocational expert testified that an inability to keep on schedule at least ninety percent (90%) of the time would preclude all work." (Id.).

The Court has carefully reviewed the opinion of the ALJ and the remainder of the record in order to assess Down's first allegation of error: "Despite testimony about head pain associated with Plaintiff's anxiety disorder and reference to medication to treat this pain, that only partly does treat it, and citation to chronic pain by treating doctors the ALJ does not mention pain in his analysis of the case." (Id. at 45) (emphasis added). The Court finds it significant that in framing this argument, Downs himself does not list ...

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