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Toth v. Colvin

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

February 14, 2014

GARY TOTH, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, ACTING COMMISSIONER OF THE SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION, Defendant.

REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

THOMAS M. BLEWITT, Magistrate Judge.

I. PROCEDURAL HISTORY.

Plaintiff, Gary Toth, filed, through counsel, a Complaint on June 28, 2013, appealing the final decision denying his application for Social Security Disability Insurance Benefits, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §405(g). (Doc. 1). Plaintiff paid the filing fee. The Complaint named as Defendant Michael J. Astrue former Commissioner of Social Security. As both parties recognize, Defendant is now Carolyn W. Colvin, Acting Commissioner of Social Security.

This Court has jurisdiction over this case pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §405(g) and 42 U.S.C. § 1383(c)(3).

On August 29, 2013, the Defendant filed an Answer to the Complaint. (Doc. 7). Defendant also filed the complete administrative record. (Doc. 8). On October 2, 2013, the Plaintiff filed his Brief in support of his Complaint. (Doc. 9). On October 31, 2013, the Defendant filed her Brief. (Doc. 10). Plaintiff did not file a Reply Brief.

Plaintiff Toth, born on December 12, 1964, filed an application for Disability Insurance Benefits ("DIB"), pursuant to Title II of the Social Security Act (the "Act"), 42 U.S.C. §§401-434, on March 28, 2010, alleging disability due to his degenerative disc disease back condition and pain since October 16, 2009. (TR. 20).[1] Plaintiff has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since his alleged onset date. Plaintiff met the insured status requirements of the Act through September 13, 2013. Plaintiff s DIB application was initially denied by the Agency on September 21, 2010. (TR, p. 16). The Plaintiff filed a written request for a hearing. On December 2, 2011, a hearing was held before the Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") in Scranton, Pennsylvania. (TR, pp. 13-26). Plaintiff, who at the time was 46 years old, testified at the hearing and vocational expert Giorgio also testified at the hearing.

On May 24, 2012, the ALJ issued a decision denying Plaintiff's application for disability benefits and finding that Plaintiff was not under a disability within the meaning of the Act from October 16, 2009, through the date of the decision. (TR, p. 16). The ALJ found that Plaintiffs back pain prevented him from performing his past relevant work at the heavy exertional level. However, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had the capacity to perform a limited range of sedentary work with a sit/stand option. The Plaintiff appealed the ALJ's decision to the Appeals Council. On June 5, 2013, the Appeals Council denied the Plaintiff's appeal. The Plaintiff then initiated the instant civil action in this federal Court. (Doc. 1).

For the reasons set forth below, we will recommend that the Plaintiff's appeal from the decision of the Commissioner of Social Security denying his claim for DIB benefits be denied.

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 ...


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