THOMAS J. REID, JR., Plaintiff,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, ACTING COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant
JAMES M. MUNLEY, District Judge.
The above-captioned action is one seeking review of a decision of the Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner") denying Plaintiff Thomas J. Reid, Jr.'s claim for social security disability insurance benefits.
Reid protectively filed his application for disability insurance benefits on September 12, 2008. Tr. 14, 70, 72-75 and 107. The application was initially denied by the Bureau of Disability Determination on March 4, 2009. Tr. 14 and 72-75. On April 3, 2009, Reid requested an administrative hearing. Tr. 78. After 11 months had passed, a hearing was held on March 18, 2010, before an administrative law judge. Tr. 48-69. On April 7, 2010, the administrative law judge issued a decision denying Reid's application. Tr. 14-27. On April 30, 2010, Reid filed a request for review with the Appeals Council. Tr. 8-10. After over 16 months had passed, the Appeals Council concluded that there was no basis upon which to grant Reid's request for review. Tr. 1-5. Thus, the administrative law judge's decision stood as the final decision of the Commissioner.
Reid then filed a complaint in this court on October 27, 2011. Supporting and opposing briefs were submitted and the appeal became ripe for disposition on June 1, 2012, when Reid elected not to file a reply brief.
Disability insurance benefits are paid to an individual if that individual is disabled and "insured, " that is, the individual has worked long enough and paid social security taxes. The last date that a claimant meets the requirements of being insured is commonly referred to as the "date last insured." It is undisputed that Reid met the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act through December 31, 2009. Tr. 14, 16, 95 and 107. In order to establish entitlement to disability insurance benefits Reid was required to establish that he suffered from a disability on or before that date. 42 U.S.C. § 423(a)(1)(A), (c)(1)(B); 20 C.F.R. §404.131(a)(2008); see Matullo v. Bowen , 926 F.2d 240, 244 (3d Cir. 1990).
Reid, who was born in the United States on April 18, 1974,  graduated from high school in 1992, and can read, write, speak and understand the English language and perform basic mathematical functions. Tr. 26, 52-53, 111, 117, 131 and 173. During his elementary and secondary schooling, Reid attended regular education classes. Tr. 117. After graduating from high school, Reid attended college for two years at Nassau Community College in East Garden City, New York, on Long Island, but did not obtain a degree. Tr. 117 and 173. Reid has a driver's license and he is able to drive. Tr. 53. Reid drove himself to the administrative hearing from Athens, Pennsylvania, to Wilkes-Barre which he testified was about a 20 minute drive. Tr. 53.
Reid held five jobs which can be considered past relevant employment. Those positions were as a maintenance supervisor and a carpet/upholstery cleaner described by a vocational expert as skilled, medium work as generally performed but heavy as actually performed by Reid; a store manager described as skilled, light work; a fence worker described as semi-skilled, medium work as generally performed but light work as actually performed by Reid; and as a textile salesperson described as semi-skilled, medium work. Tr. 66-67.
Reid reported that he worked in textile sales from September 2004 to December 2004. Tr. 136 and 138. He stated that he would work 8 hours per day, 5 days per week, driving a truck and delivering uniforms and doormats. Id . With respect to the fence installation position, Reid stated that he held that position from March 2002 to September 2004. Tr. 136. He reported that he worked 3 to 6 hours per day, 3 to 5 days per week, and that his duties primarily consisted of running errands for his cousin who owned the company. Tr. 61 and 137. From September 1996 to January 2002, Reid reported that he was engaged in carpet and upholstery cleaning/sales 8 to 10 hours per day, 5 days per week. Tr. 136 and 142. He would walk 5 to 6 hours and sit 3 to 4 hours per day. Tr. 142. The heaviest amount lifted was 50 pounds and he would frequently lift 10 pounds. Id . From January 2002 to March 2002, Reid was also involved in carpet and upholstery cleaning/sales. Tr. 136 and 139. During that period, he worked from 4 to 8 hours per day, 3 to 5 days per week,  driving a van from house to house negotiating carpet cleaning contracts. Tr. 139. From June 1994, to June 1996, Reid stated that he worked as a "floor maintenance supervisor" 8 hours per day, 5 days per week and that he supervised several crews and drove tucks with equipment to job sites. Tr. 141. Reid also stated that he worked 8 hours per day, 5 days per week, as a manager of a tuxedo rental store from June 1992 to June 1994. Tr. 136 and 140.
In another document filed with the Social Security Administration, Reid described his work history as a retail clerk from 1992 to 1994, a carpet laborer from April 1996 to December 2006, and a maintenance supervisor from 1994 to 1996. Tr. 119.
Records of the Social Security Administration reveal that Reid had earnings in the years 1990 and 1992 through 2006. Tr. 96. Reid's highest annual earnings were $15, 696.50 in 1997 when he was employed in the field of carpet and upholstery cleaning/sales. Tr. 96 and 136. Reid's total reported earnings from 1990 through 2006 were $112, 760.99. Id . Reid has no reported earnings after 2006. Id.
Reid claims that he became disabled on February 24, 2001, because of both physical and mental problems. Tr. 78 and 91. The physical problems alleged include herniated intervertebral discs of the lumbar spine, degenerative disc disease of the lumbar spine and the pain and other symptoms associated with those conditions. Tr.
9, 78 and 112. The mental impairments alleged include depression, anxiety and panic attacks. Tr. 9 and 78.
The impetus for Reid's alleged disabling conditions was an injury sustained to his back when he was working as a carpet cleaner on February 24, 2001. Tr. 161, 163, 165 and 287. He apparently was attempting to move a heavy carpet cleaning unit as well as holding a door open at the same time when this injury occurred. Id . Reid alleges that he can not sit, stand or walk for long periods of time; and that he cannot lift, squat, bend, reach, kneel or climb stairs because of his low back and leg pain. Tr. 133. He claims that "every movement is affected [by his] back injury" and that his "memory has gotten worse from pain or medications." Id.
In a "Function Report - Adult" submitted during the administrative proceedings, Reid indicated that he performed a range of daily activities. Tr. 128-135. Reid watches TV with his children. Tr. 129. Reid prepares simple meals and performs household chores including sitting on a lawn mower. Tr. 130. Reid goes outside everyday and is able to drive and ride in a motor vehicle. Tr. 131. Reid is able to go out alone and shop in stores. Id . He is also able to shop by phone, mail and the computer. Id.
Reid is able to pay bills, count change, handle a savings account, and use a checkbook and money orders. Id . He enjoys reading, watching TV and spending time with family. Id . In the "Function Report, " Reid when asked to check items which his "illnesses, injuries, or conditions affect" did not check hearing, seeing, understanding, following instructions and getting along with others. Tr. 133
For the reasons set forth below we will affirm the decision of the Commissioner denying Reid's application for disability insurance benefits.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
When considering a social security appeal, we have plenary review of all legal issues decided by the Commissioner. See Poulos v. Commissioner of Social Security , 474 F.3d 88, 91 (3d Cir. 2007); Schaudeck v. Commissioner of Social Sec. Admin. , 181 F.3d 429, 431 (3d Cir. 1999); Krysztoforski v. Chater , 55 F.3d 857, 858 (3d Cir. 1995). However, our review of the Commissioner's findings of fact pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) is to determine whether those findings are supported by "substantial evidence." Id .; Brown v. Bowen , 845 F.2d 1211, 1213 (3d Cir. 1988); Mason v. Shalala , 994 F.2d 1058, 1064 (3d Cir. 1993). Factual findings which are supported by substantial evidence must be upheld. 42 U.S.C. §405(g); Fargnoli v. Massanari , 247 F.3d 34, 38 (3d Cir. 2001)("Where the ALJ's findings of fact are supported by substantial evidence, we are bound by those findings, even if we would have decided the factual inquiry differently."); Cotter v. Harris , 642 F.2d 700, 704 (3d Cir. 1981)("Findings of fact by the Secretary must be accepted as conclusive by a reviewing court if supported by substantial evidence."); Keefe v. Shalala , 71 F.3d 1060, 1062 (2d Cir. 1995); Mastro v. Apfel , 270 F.3d 171, 176 (4th Cir. 2001); Martin v. Sullivan , 894 F.2d 1520, 1529 & 1529 n.11 (11th Cir. 1990).
Substantial evidence "does not mean a large or considerable amount of evidence, but rather such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.'" Pierce v. Underwood , 487 U.S. 552, 565 (1988)(quoting Consolidated Edison Co. v. N.L.R.B. , 305 U.S. 197, 229 (1938)); Johnson v. Commissioner of Social Security , 529 F.3d 198, 200 (3d Cir. 2008); Hartranft v. Apfel , 181 F.3d 358, 360 (3d Cir. 1999). Substantial evidence has been described as more than a mere scintilla of evidence but less than a preponderance. Brown , 845 F.2d at 1213. In an adequately developed factual record substantial evidence may be "something less than the weight of the evidence, and the possibility of drawing two inconsistent conclusions from the evidence does not prevent an administrative agency's finding from being supported by substantial evidence." Consolo v. Federal Maritime Commission , 383 U.S. 607, 620 (1966).
Substantial evidence exists only "in relationship to all the other evidence in the record, " Cotter , 642 F.2d at 706, and "must take into account whatever in the record fairly detracts from its weight." Universal Camera Corp. v. N.L.R.B. , 340 U.S. 474, 488 (1971). A single piece of evidence is not substantial evidence if the Commissioner ignores countervailing evidence or fails to resolve a conflict created by the evidence. Mason , 994 F.2d at 1064. The Commissioner must indicate which evidence was accepted, which evidence was rejected, and the reasons for rejecting certain evidence. Johnson , 529 F.3d at 203; Cotter , 642 F.2d at 706-707. Therefore, a court reviewing the decision of the Commissioner must scrutinize the record as a whole. Smith v. Califano , 637 F.2d 968, 970 (3d Cir. 1981); Dobrowolsky v. Califano , 606 F.2d 403, 407 (3d Cir. 1979).
SEQUENTIAL EVALUATION PROCESS
To receive disability benefits, the plaintiff must demonstrate an "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 ...