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Roll v. Colvin

United States District Court, Third Circuit

December 20, 2013

TALLIE A. ROLL, Plaintiff,


CATHY BISSOON, District Judge.


For the reasons that follow, Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. 7) will be granted, and Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. 10) will be denied.

Plaintiff Tallie A. Roll ("Roll") protectively applied for supplemental security income ("SSI") benefits on August 1, 2009, alleging that she had become "disabled" on September 1, 2006. (R. at 138, 152). Pennsylvania's Bureau of Disability Determination denied the application on December 8, 2009. (R. at 91, 97). Roll responded on January 11, 2010, by filing a request for an administrative hearing. (R. at 103-105). On March 22, 2011, a hearing was held in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, before Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") Alma S. de Leon. (R. at 55). Roll, who was represented by counsel, appeared and testified at the hearing. (R. at 57-83). Charles M. Cohen ("Cohen"), an impartial vocational expert, provided testimony about the expectations of employers existing in the national economy. (R. at 83-85). In a decision dated April 14, 2011, the ALJ determined that Roll was not "disabled" within the meaning of the Act. (R. at 13-26).

On April 25, 2011, Roll sought administrative review of the ALJ's decision by filing a request for review with the Appeals Council. (R. at 10). The Appeals Council denied the request for review on August 30, 2012, thereby making the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner") in this case. (R. at 1). Roll commenced this action on October 29, 2012, seeking judicial review of the Commissioner's decision. (Docs. 1 & 2). Roll and the Commissioner have filed Motions for Summary Judgment, see Docs. 7 & 10, which are ripe for adjudication.

Roll was born on January 27, 1975. (R. at 58). She obtained her General Educational Development ("GED") certification in 1995 and subsequently enrolled in college courses. (R. at 59). The courses were designed to prepare her for a career as a medical assistant. (R. at 59). Although Roll held several different jobs on a short-term basis, none of them lasted long enough to constitute "past relevant work" under the Commissioner's regulations. (R. at 84). At the time of the hearing, Roll was divorced with two children. (R. at 59). She testified that she had herniated discs in her neck and back. (R. at 61). Roll attributed her physical impairments to domestic abuse. (R. at 83).

At the second step of the sequential evaluation process, Roll was found to be suffering from "severe" back and mood disorders. (R. at 18). In accordance with 20 C.F.R. § 416.945, the ALJ assessed Roll's residual functional capacity as follows:

After careful consideration of the entire record, I find that the claimant has the residual functional capacity to perform sedentary work as defined in 20 CFR 416.967(a) except the hypothetical individual[1] is limited to lift and carry no more than 10 pounds, to have a sit-stand option, at her discretion, and to push and pull is limited in her upper and lower extremities. Further, the hypothetical individual is limited to deal directly with the public, to have minimal interaction with peers and supervisors, to make complex decisions such as sorting work priorities, and to follow detailed instructions (no more than 3 steps).

(R. at 19). In light of this assessment, the ALJ concluded that Roll could work as a surveillance systems monitor, an inspector or a packer. (R. at 25). Cohen's testimony established that those jobs existed in the national economy. (R. at 85).

In support of her request for review, Roll submitted evidence to the Appeals Council that had never been presented to the ALJ. (R. at 6-9). That evidence consisted of a psychological assessment from Dr. Tod R. Marion suggesting that Roll's mental capacity was "markedly" limited in various areas, and that she would be expected to miss more than four days of work per month if she were to be employed on a full-time basis. (R. at 7-9). Dr. Marion completed the assessment on July 28, 2011, which postdated the ALJ's decision by more than three months. (R. at 9).

The Act authorizes judicial review only over a "final decision" of the Commissioner. Califano v. Sanders , 430 U.S. 99 (1977); Bacon v. Sullivan , 969 F.2d 1517, 1519-1521 (3d Cir. 1992). A federal court has no jurisdiction to entertain a challenge to a decision by the Appeals Council denying a claimant's request for review. Matthews v. Apfel , 239 F.3d 589, 594 (3d Cir. 2001). When the Appeals Council denied Roll's request for review, the ALJ's decision became the Commissioner's "final decision" in this case. Sims v. Apfel , 530 U.S. 103, 106-107 (2000). Only the evidence that was before the ALJ at the time of her decision can be considered for the purpose of determining whether the Commissioner's factual findings are supported by substantial evidence. Chandler v. Commissioner of Social Security , 667 F.3d 356, 360 (3d Cir. 2011).

The sixth sentence of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) provides that a reviewing court "may at any time order additional evidence to be taken before the Commissioner of Social Security, but only upon a showing that there is new evidence which is material and that there is good cause for the failure to incorporate such evidence into the record in a prior proceeding." 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). This provision permits a court to remand a case "because new evidence has come to light that was not available to the claimant at the time of the administrative proceeding." Melkonyan v. Sullivan , 501 U.S. 89, 98 (1991). "[T]he materiality standard requires that there be a reasonable probability that the new evidence would have changed the outcome of the [Commissioner's] determination." Szubak v. Secretary of Health & Human Services , 745 F.2d 831, 833 (3d Cir. 1984). A remand under sentence six is warranted only where the claimant demonstrates that "good cause" existed for his or her failure to procure the relevant evidence at a time when it could have been considered in connection with his or her application for benefits. Chandler , 667 F.3d at 360. Roll does not move for a sentence-six remand. (Docs. 7, 8 & 12). It is worth noting that she failed to appear for a consultative psychological evaluation that had been scheduled to assess her potential eligibility for SSI benefits. (R. at 409-410). For these reasons, the assessment completed by Dr. Marion is not relevant to the Court's analysis in this case. Matthews , 239 F.3d at 593-595.

On November 10, 2009, Dr. Ryon Hurh performed a consultative physical examination of Roll in connection with her application for benefits. (R. at 401-408). After completing the examination, Dr. Hurh indicated that Roll could frequently lift or carry objects weighing up to three pounds and occasionally lift or carry objects weighing up to ten pounds. (R. at 405). He reported that she could sit for up to four hours, and stand or walk for an additional four hours, during the course of an eight-hour workday. (R. at 405). Roll's pushing, pulling and reaching abilities were deemed to be limited. (R. at 405-406). Dr. Hurh asserted that Roll could engage in only occasional postural maneuvers. (R. at 406). He also stated that exposure to temperature extremes most likely would exacerbate her pain. (R. at 406).

Dr. Daniel Palmeri, a treating physician, completed a residual functional capacity questionnaire on January 3, 2011. (R. at 609-611). He reported that, over the course of a standard workday, Roll could sit for four hours and stand or walk for an additional four hours. (R. at 610). Dr. Palmeri responded in the affirmative when asked whether Roll needed a job permitting her to shift from sitting, standing and walking positions at will. (R. at 610). Although Dr. Palmeri indicated that Roll occasionally could lift or carry objects weighing up to ten pounds, he asserted that she could never lift or carry objects weighing twenty pounds or more. (R. at 611). Dr. Palmeri also posited that Roll's impairments limited the amount of time that she could engage in "repetitive reaching, handling or fingering." (R. at 611). He predicted that she would need to miss three to four ...

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