United States District Court, Middle District of Pennsylvania
MALACHY E. MANNION United States District Judge
The record is this action, (Doc. No. 8), 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 Social Security Income (“SSI”) and Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”) under the Social Security Act, (“Act”). 42 U.S.C. §§401-433, 1381-1383f.
I. PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND
Plaintiff Andrew Gorzkowski protectively applied to the Social Security Administration (“SSA”) for SSI and DIB under the Act on January 12, 2010. (Tr. 104-113). Plaintiff’s application was denied on June 2, 2010. Plaintiff requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”), which was held on June 2, 2011 in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. (Tr. 42-76). Plaintiff was represented by counsel. (Tr. 45). In addition to plaintiff’s testimony, (Tr. 48-67), the ALJ heard testimony from a vocational expert (“VE”). (Tr. 68-75). On August 12, 2011 the ALJ determined that plaintiff was not disabled within the meaning of the Act. (Tr. 14-27).
Plaintiff requested review of the ALJ’s decision by the Appeals Council. (Tr. 13). On October 1, 2012, the Appeals Council denied the request for review. (Tr. 1-5). Thus, the ALJ’s decision became the final decision of the Commissioner. 42 U.S.C. §405(g). Plaintiff filed the instant appeal of the Commissioner’s decision on November 23, 2012. (Doc. No. 1). The parties have filed briefs in support of their respective positions. (Doc. Nos. 15, 17).
II. STANDARD OF REVIEW
When reviewing the denial of disability benefits, the court 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. §423(d)(1)(A). Furthermore,
[a]n individual shall be determined to be under a disability only if [his] physical or mental impairment or impairments are of such severity that [he] is not only unable to do [his] previous work but cannot, considering [his] 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 [he] lives, or whether a specific job vacancy exists for [him], or whether [he] would be hired if [he] 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 DETERMINATION PROCESS
A five-step process is required to determine if an applicant is disabled under the Act. The Commissioner must sequentially determine: (1) whether the applicant is engaged in substantial gainful activity; (2) whether the applicant has a severe impairment; (3) whether the applicant’s impairment meets or equals a listed impairment; (4) whether the applicant's impairment prevents the applicant from doing past relevant work, and; (5) whether the applicant’s impairment prevents the applicant from doing any other work. 20 C.F.R. §§404.1520, 416.920.
Here, the ALJ determined that plaintiff is not disabled within the meaning of the Act. He determined that plaintiff meets the insured status required by the Act. (Tr. 19). At the first step, he determined that plaintiff has not engaged in substantial gainful work activity at any time since the alleged onset date of June 1, 2009. (Id.). At step two, the ALJ concluded that the plaintiff’s impairments (degenerative disc disease with chronic low back pain, stent placement for coronary artery disease, status as post elective sigmoid resection for diverticulitis, and suspected right shoulder ligament tear or inflamation) were severe within the meaning of the regulations. (Id.). At step three, he found that plaintiff did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals one of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R Part 404, Subpart 1 (20 C.F.R. §404.1520(d)). (Tr. 21).
The ALJ determined that plaintiff has the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform light work as defined in 20 C.F.R. §404.1567(b) and §416.967(b), with no restrictions on use of upper extremities, sitting, or using ramps and stairs occasionally. The ALJ found that he can frequently perform postural movements, and should have a sit/stand option every one and a half to two hour with a moderate production pace in a work environment with only occasional changes. (Tr. 21). At step four, he determined that the claimant is unable to perform past relevant work. (Tr. 25). At step five, he found that there are jobs in the national economy in significant numbers that the plaintiff ...