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Kerbacher v. Colvin

United States District Court, Third Circuit

December 31, 2013

MARY A. KERBACHER, 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 Supplemental Security Income ("SSI") and Disability Insurance Benefits ("DIB") under the Social Security Act, ("Act"). 42 U.S.C. §§ 401-433, 1381-1383f.

I. PROCEDURAL HISTORY.

On July 23, 2009, the plaintiff filed an application for a period of DIB and SSI alleging her disability began on April 10, 2008. (Tr. 37). Her claim was initially denied on December 22, 2009 and she filed a written request for a hearing on January 12, 2010. (Id.). A hearing was held in front of an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) on November 16, 2010. (Id.). After taking testimony from the plaintiff, questioning a vocational expert, and reviewing the medical records, the ALJ found the plaintiff was not disabled within meaning of the Social Security Act at anytime between April 10, 2008 to the date of the decision. (Tr. 38). 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 the ALJ issued her decision. The plaintiff claims three errors: (1) the ALJ afforded inadequate weight to the opinion of the treating physician thereby making his hypothetical question improper; (2) the ALJ's credibility determination of the plaintiff was unsupported by substantial evidence; and (3) the reliance on the vocational expert was flawed due to the exclusion of some of the treating physician's exclusions and limitations. (Doc. No. 10). The plaintiff filed a brief in support of her appeal on March 25, 2013, (Id.), and the defendant filed a brief in opposition on April 29, 2013. (Doc. No. 11). The plaintiff filed a reply brief on May 13, 2013. (Doc. No. 12). The case is now ripe for decision.

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. 39-48). At step one, the ALJ found that the plaintiff has not engaged in substantial gainful work activity at any time since her alleged onset date of April 10, 2008. (Tr. 39). At step two, the ALJ concluded that the plaintiff's impairments (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Anxiety, Polysubstance Abuse, Major Depressive Disorder, and Personality Disorder) were severe within the meaning of the Regulations. (Tr. 40). 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. 40-42).

The ALJ found at that the plaintiff has the residual functional capacity ("RFC"), to perform a range of unskilled and semiskilled work. (Tr. 42-47). At step four, the ALJ found that through the date of the decision, the plaintiff was unable to perform any past relevant work. (Tr. 47). At step five, the ALJ concluded that considering the plaintiff's residual functional capacity, age, education, and work experience, there were significant jobs in the national economy that the plaintiff could perform. (Tr. 48-49).

The ALJ therefore concluded that the plaintiff had not been under a disability, as defined in the Act, at any time from April 10, 2008 through the date of decision. 20 ...


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