United States District Court, Middle District of Pennsylvania
SARA E. LOPEZ-RIVERA, Plaintiff,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN,  Acting Commissioner of Social Security Defendant
MALACHY E. MANNION United States 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”) under the Social Security Act, (“Act”). 42 U.S.C. §§401-433.
I. PROCEDURAL HISTORY.
The plaintiff applied for SSI on April 23, 2009. (Tr. 23). In the application, she claimed disability starting on September 1, 2007. Her claim was initially denied on August 19, 2009 and the plaintiff filed a request for a hearing on August 26, 2009. (Id.). The Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) held a hearing on April 11 and August 3, 2011, taking testimony from the plaintiff and a vocational expert. After the hearing, the ALJ concluded the plaintiff could perform a range of sedentary work including jobs such as surveillance system monitor, semiconductor bonder, and as a stuffer. (Tr. 33-34). The ALJ then concluded the plaintiff was not disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act. (Tr. 33). 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 sedentary work prior to the date of the decision.
The plaintiff filed her brief in support of this appeal on June 4, 2013. (Doc. No. 9). The defendant filed a brief in opposition on July 3, 2013, (Doc. No. 10), and plaintiff did not file a reply brief. The case is now ripe for the court’s decision.
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. §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. 25-34). 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 application date of April 23, 2009 through the date of the decision. (Tr. 25). At step two, the ALJ concluded that the plaintiff’s impairments (fibromyalgia, obesity, and schizoaffective disorder) were severe within the meaning of the Regulations. (Tr. 25). 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. (20 C.F.R. §404.1520(d), §404.1520(d) and §416.920(d)). (Tr. 26).
The ALJ then found that the plaintiff has the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform a range of sedentary work. (Tr. 27-28). At step four, the ALJ found the plaintiff had no past relevant work as defined by 20 C.F.R. §416.965. (Tr. 32-33). 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. 33-34).
The ALJ therefore concluded that the plaintiff had not been under a disability, as defined in the Act, at any time from April 23, 2009, the date of application for SSI, through the date of the decision. 20 C.F.R. §§404.1520(g) and 216.920(g). (Tr. 34).
The plaintiff was born on July 21, 1985, was 23 at the time she alleges her disability began, and was 26 at the time of the hearing in front of the ALJ. (Tr. 57). She completed high school through the tenth grade and speaks English. (Tr. 71). She resides with her fiancé, her fiancé’s father, and her twin daughters, who were six years old at the time of the hearing. (Tr. 68). She lives on the second floor of an apartment building that requires her to walk up stairs on a daily basis. (Tr. 69).
In terms of her personal life, the plaintiff takes care of her own hygiene and dresses herself. She also wakes her daughters up in the morning and, with her fiancé driving, takes them to school. (Tr. 71-75). She spends most of the day on the social networking site Facebook where she communicates with friends, family, and a fibromyalgia support group. She also watches television, looks through movies available on Netflix, and plays her PlayStation 3, a video game console. (Tr. 75-77). The video game console requires her to manipulate a game controller with her hands to play games. (Tr. 77). She routinely talks with family on the phone and through social media as well. (Tr. 79-80).
She does some of the cleaning in the apartment including dusting, dish washing, and cooking frozen meals in the oven or microwave. She reported that all of these activities occur while sitting down or standing for a short period of time. (Tr. 84, 94). She also goes grocery shopping approximately four times a month with those trips lasting approximately twenty ...