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Schade v. Colvin

United States District Court, Third Circuit

January 29, 2014

JAMES W. SCHADE, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

CYNTHIA REED EDDY, [1] Magistrate Judge.

I. Introduction

Plaintiff James W. Schade brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and 1383(c)(3), seeking judicial review of the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security ("Defendant" or "Commissioner") denying his applications for disability insurance benefits ("DIB") and supplemental security income ("SSI") under Titles II and XVI of the Social Security Act ("Act"). See 42 U.S.C. §§ 401-434, 1381-1383(f). The parties have submitted cross motions for summary judgment and the record has been fully developed at the administrative proceedings. For the following reasons, Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 7) will be denied. The Commissioner's Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 9) will be granted and the administrative decision of the Commissioner will be affirmed.

II. Procedural History

Plaintiff protectively filed for DIB on August 26, 2010 and filed for SSI on September 17, 2010, alleging onset of disability on November 1, 2009. (R. at 34, 150-165).[2] The applications were denied by the state agency on November 9, 2010. (R. at. 85-94). Plaintiff responded on December 27, 2010, by filing a timely request for an administrative hearing. (R. at 95-96). On October 6, 2011, an administrative hearing was held in Johnstown, Pennsylvania, before Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") Lawrence J. Neary. (R. at 29-69). Plaintiff, who was represented by counsel, appeared and testified. ( Id. ). Additionally, Plaintiff's wife, Lisa Schade, and an impartial vocational expert, Timothy Mahler, testified at the hearing. (R. at 58-69).

In a decision dated January 11, 2012, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff was not "disabled" within the meaning of the Act since Plaintiff's alleged onset of disability, so his claims for disability benefits were denied. (R. at 14-24). The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review on June 7, 2013, thereby making the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner in this case. (R. at 1-6). Plaintiff commenced the present action on July 23, 2013, seeking judicial review of the Commissioner's decision. (ECF No. 1). Plaintiff and the Commissioner filed cross-motions for summary judgment on November 1, 2013 and December 16, 2013, respectively. (ECF Nos. 7, 9). These motions are the subject of this memorandum opinion.

III. Statement of Facts

A. Background

Plaintiff was born on October 7, 1970 and was forty years of age at the time of the administrative hearing. (R. at 14, 34). Plaintiff graduated from high school and went to college for two years. (R. at 36). Previously, Plaintiff worked as an air traffic controller, driver for an ice company, and pressure washer. (R. at 36, 186). After two years of working as a pressure washer, Plaintiff started his own pressure washing company. (R. at 37, 186). At the time of the hearing, Plaintiff was still working at his pressure washing company three to four times per week.[3] (R. at 37).

B. Medical History

On December 28, 2009, Plaintiff went to the Emergency Room, stating he had "body aches throughout all [of his] body" and that all of his joints were painful. (R. at 242). Plaintiff reported that his pain was a ten out of ten. ( Id. ). The medical records indicate an impression of arthritis and Crohn's disease. (R. at 240).

In April 2010, Plaintiff had a colonoscopy with biopsies performed by gastroenterologist Rupam Sharan, M.D., which suggested Plaintiff had "mildly active ulcerative colitis" and "longstanding ulcerative pancolitis."[4] (R. at 255). In June 2010, Dr. Sharan's medical notes reveal that Plaintiff had "been advised multiple times by multiple physicians to start Humira."[5] (R. at 247). Plaintiff also treated with Rohit Aggarwal, M.D., at the UPMC Arthritis and Autoimmunity Center from May 2010 to October 2010. (R. at 313-333). After being urged by his treating physicians, Plaintiff began taking Humira in July 2010, which resulted in "definite improvement" in Plaintiff's synovitis. (R. at 328). Dr. Aggarwal observed that Humira improved Plaintiff's range of motion in his right shoulder. (R. at 330). Further, the medical records provide that Humira had "significantly improved" Plaintiff's ulcerative colitis, alleviating his diarrhea.[6] (R. at 328). Dr. Aggarwal stated that Plaintiff had "improved clinically after starting [H]umira although [Plaintiff] reports worsening in joint pains." (R. at 330).

On September 27, 2010, Plaintiff treated with Lindsay Groves, Psy.D., for the first and only time. (R. at 373). Dr. Groves examined Plaintiff for forty-five minutes and filled out a mental impairment questionnaire that was provided by Plaintiff's counsel. (R. at 370-381). Dr. Groves found that Plaintiff met the following Social Security Listings of Impairments: Affective Disorders, Anxiety Related Disorders, and Substance Addiction Disorder. (R. at 373). In response to a question asking whether "given the claimant's above impairments and/or deficits, could he/she engage in in [sic] employment on a regular, sustained, competitive and productive basis, " Dr. Groves answered "not at this time." ( Id. ).

IV. Administrative Decision

On January 11, 2012, the ALJ issued a written decision, finding that Plaintiff had not been under a disability within the meaning of the Act since his alleged onset of disability, November 1, 2009. (R. at 14). The ALJ found that Plaintiff had engaged in substantial gainful activity since his alleged onset of disability because Plaintiff had earnings of $15, 654 in 2010 and worked three days per week for three hours each time.[7] (R. at 16, 169). Nonetheless, the ALJ continued his analysis through Step 5 of the evaluation process. (R. at 16). After reviewing the medical record, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff had the following severe impairments: seronegative spondyloarthritis, ulcerative colitis, and psoriasis. (R. at 16-18). The ALJ found that Plaintiff did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals the severity of one of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 ("Listings"). (R. at 18). The ALJ concluded that Plaintiff has the residual functional capacity ("RFC") to

perform light work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b) and 419.967(b) except he is limited to lifting and carrying 10 pounds frequently and 10 pounds occasionally; is limited to standing and walking for four hours in an eight-hour day; is able to sit for about six hours in an eight-hour day; has no limitation in pushing and pulling; is limited to occasional postural maneuvers but should never climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolding; is limited to reaching overhead with his right upper extremity; must avoid concentrated exposure to extreme heat and cold temperatures, wetness, vibration, and hazards such as machinery and heights; is limited to simple, routine, repetitive tasks ...

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