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Lehr v. Colvin

United States District Court, Third Circuit

December 31, 2013

DAWN LEHR, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, [1] Acting Commissioner of Social Security Defendant.

MEMORANDUM

MALACHY E. MANNION, District Judge.

The record in this action has been reviewed pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§405(g) to determine whether there is substantial evidence to support the Commissioner's decision denying the plaintiff's claim for Disability Insurance Benefits ("DIB") under the Social Security Act, ("Act"). 42 U.S.C. §§ 401-433, 1381-1383f.

I. PROCEDURAL HISTORY.

On July 10, 2009, the plaintiff filed an application for a period of DIB alleging her disability began on April 15, 2007. (Tr. 20). Her claim was initially denied on December 10, 2009 and she filed a written request for hearing on February 5, 2010. (Id.). A hearing was held before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) on January 20, 2011. (Id.). After taking testimony and reviewing the medical records, the ALJ found the plaintiff was not disabled within meaning of the Social Security Act ay anytime between April 15, 2007 and September 30, 2010, the date last insured. 20 C.F.R. 404.1520(g). The Appeals Council denied the plaintiff's request for review, making the ALJ's decision final. See 42 U.S.C. §405(g).

At issue before this court is whether substantial evidence supports the Commissioner's decision that the plaintiff was not disabled because she was capable of performing a limited range of light work prior to the date when her insured status expired for purposes of disability insurance benefits. The plaintiff claims four errors: (1) the ALJ failed to consider all of the plaintiff's limitations; (2) the ALJ erred in not giving "controlling weight" to the treating physician's opinions; (3) the ALJ erred in not considering the side effects of the plaintiff's medications; and (4) the ALJ did not sustain his burden of proof when determining suitable work the plaintiff could do. (Doc. No. 12). The acting commissioner of Social Security filed a brief in opposition on May 21, 2013. (Doc. No. 15). The case is ripe for the court's ruling.

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW.

When reviewing the denial of disability benefits, we must determine whether the denial is supported by substantial evidence. Brown v. Bowen, 845 F.2d 1211, 1213 (3d Cir. 1988); Johnson v. Commissioner of Social Sec., 529 F.3d 198, 200 (3d Cir. 2008). 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 (1988); Hartranft v. Apfel, 181 F.3d 358, 360. (3d Cir. 1999), Johnson, 529 F.3d at 200. It is less than a preponderance of the evidence but more than a mere scintilla. Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971).

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 continuous period of not less than 12 months." 42 U.S.C. §432(d)(1)(A). Furthermore,

[a]n individual shall be determined to be under a disability only if [her] physical or mental impairment or impairments are of such severity that [she] is not only unable to do [her] previous work but cannot, considering [her] 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 [she] lives, or whether a specific job vacancy exists for [her], or whether [she] would be hired if [she] applied for work. For purposes of the preceding sentence (with respect to any individual), 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.

42 U.S.C. §423(d)(2)(A).

III. DISABILITY EVALUATION PROCESS.

A five-step evaluation process is used to determine if a person is eligible for disability benefits. See 20 C.F.R. §404.1520. See also Plummer v. Apfel, 186 F.3d 422, 428 (3d Cir. 1999). If the Commissioner finds that a plaintiff is disabled or not disabled at any point in the sequence, review does not proceed any further. See 20 C.F.R. §404.1520. The Commissioner must sequentially determine: (1) whether the claimant is engaged in substantial gainful activity; (2) whether the claimant has a severe impairment; (3) whether the claimant's impairment meets or equals a listed impairment; (4) whether the claimant's impairment prevents the claimant from doing past relevant work; and (5) whether the claimant's impairment prevents the claimant from doing any other work. See 20 C.F.R. §404.1520.

Here, the ALJ proceeded through each step of the sequential evaluation process and concluded that the plaintiff was not disabled within the meaning of the Act. (Tr. 22-29). At step one, the ALJ found that the plaintiff has not engaged in substantial gainful work activity at any time during the period from her alleged onset date of April 15, 2007 through her date last insured of September 30, 2010. (Tr. 22). At step two, the ALJ concluded that the plaintiff's impairments (anxiety and lumbar degenerative disc disease) were severe within the meaning of the Regulations. (Id.). At step three, the ALJ found that the plaintiff did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals one of the listed impairments in Subpart P, Appendix 1, Regulations No. 4. (20 C.F.R. §404.1520(d), §404.1520(d) and §416.920(d)). (Tr. 22).

The ALJ found that the plaintiff has the residual functional capacity ("RFC"), to perform a range of light work. (Tr. 24). At step four, the ALJ found that through the date last insured, the plaintiff was unable to perform her past relevant work. (Tr. 28). At step five, the ALJ concluded that considering the plaintiff's residual functional capacity, age, education, and work ...


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