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Robbins v. Colvin

United States District Court, Middle District of Pennsylvania

February 27, 2014

ZEDD B. ROBBINS, Plaintiff
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, ACTING COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant

MEMORANDUM

RICHARD P. CONABOY United States District Judge

BACKGROUND

The above-captioned action is one seeking review of a decision of the Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner") denying Plaintiff Zedd B. Robbins’s claim for supplemental security income benefits.

Supplemental security income (SSI) is a federal income supplement program funded by general tax revenues (not social security taxes). It is designed to help aged, blind or other disabled individuals who have little or no income.

Robbins protectively filed[1] his application for supplemental security income benefits on January 19, 2007. Tr. 86, 134-140, 149 and 166.[2] The application was initially denied by the Bureau of Disability Determination[3] on July 2, 2007. Tr. 100-103. On August 1, 2007, Robbins requested a hearing before an administrative law judge. Tr. 86 and 105. After over 15 months had passed, a hearing was held before an administrative law judge on November 20, 2008. Tr. 32-74. On February 19, 2009, the administrative law judge issued a decision denying Robbins’s application. Tr. 86-93. On March 11, 2009, Robbins filed a request for review with the Appeals Council of the Social Security Administration’s Office of Disability Adjudication and Review, and on April 16, 2009, the Appeals Council vacated the decision of the administrative law judge and remanded the case to him to hold a new hearing and address, inter alia, the issue of Robbins’s maximum residual functional capacity. Tr. 117-120. A second administrative hearing was held on February 15, 2011. Tr. 387-424 (Doc. 15). Robins was represented by counsel at the hearing. Id. On April 5, 2011, the administrative law judge issued a decision denying Robbins’s application. Tr. 16-28. As will be explained in more detail infra, after considering the evidence submitted at the first administrative hearing including the testimony of Juanita Carl, Robbins’s girlfriend, the medical records, and the testimony of Robbins and a vocational expert at the second hearing, the administrative law judge found that Robbins could perform a limited range of light work.[4] Id.

On May 18, 2011, Robbins filed a request for review with the Appeals Council and after over 15 months had passed the Appeals Council on August 30, 2012, concluded that there was no basis upon which to grant Robbins’s request for review. Tr. 1-5 and 10-12. Thus, the administrative law judge's decision stood as the final decision of the Commissioner.

Robbins then filed a complaint in this court on October 4, 2012. Supporting and opposing briefs were submitted and the appeal[5] became ripe for disposition on May 13, 2013, when Robbins elected not to file a reply brief.[6]

Robins was born in the United States on September 13, 1961, and at all times relevant to this matter was considered a “younger individual”[7] whose age would not seriously impact his ability to adjust to other work. 20 C.F.R. § 416.963(c). Tr. 127 and 134.

Robbins stated in documents filed with the Social Security Administration that he obtained a General Equivalency Diploma (GED) in 1994; and he can read, write, speak and understand the English language and perform basic mathematical functions such as counting change, handling a savings account and using a checkbook and money orders. Tr. 177, 182 and 188. Robbins reported that while attending school he was in regular education classes and that after obtaining a GED, he did complete training in wildlife and forestry conservation in 1995. Tr. 182-183.

Robbins has a limited work and earnings history. Tr. Tr. 141. His employment history consists primarily of work as an assistant butcher and cashier. Tr. 64,179 and 416. A vocational expert identified the cashier position as Robbins’s past relevant employment[8] and described it as unskilled, light work. Tr. 416. The records of the Social Security Administration reveal that Robbins had earnings in the years 1978 through 1980, 1984 through 1995, 1997, and 2001 through 2006. Tr. 141. Robbins’s annual earnings range from a low of $103.23 in 1997 to a high of $13,425.01 in 2005. Id. Robbins’s total earnings during those 22 years were $94,163.75. Id. Robbins testified that he last worked full-time in October, 2006 as a cashier at a novelty and gift store. Tr. 41-43. As a cashier he was responsible for checking people out at the register, filling racks after sales, and sweeping and mopping the floor. Id. In a document filed with the Social Security Administration, Robbins stated that he stopped working full-time on October 20, 2006, because of pain. Tr. 178.

Robbins reported he lived alone and spent most days on his recliner reading, watching TV and listening to the radio. Tr. 46 and 52. Although Robbins’s girlfriend cooked and cleaned for him, Robbins had no problems with personal care, such as dressing and feeding himself, and he was also able to prepare simple meals, drive and occasionally shop with his girlfriend. Tr. 41, 55, 60 and 186.

In contrast to the fact that Robbins worked full-time up until late October, 2006, in his application for supplemental security income and in a document entitled “Disability Report - Adult” Robbins claimed that he became disabled and unable to work on September 15, 1994. Tr. 134 and 178. Also, in other documents, primarily medical records, and the transcript of the first administrative hearing, it is revealed that he stated that he injured his back and neck in 2000 in a slip-and-fall accident. Tr. 38 and 299. Robbins claimed that his disabling impairments were depression, chronic back pain, degenerative disc disease, muscle spasms, and a right arm injury. Tr. 178.

The alleged disability onset date of September 15, 1994, has no impact on Robbins’s application for supplemental security income benefits because supplemental security income is a needs based program and benefits may not be paid for “any period that precedes the first month following the date on which an application is filed or, if later, the first month following the date all conditions for eligibility are met.” See C.F.R. § 416.501. As stated above Robbins’s SSI application was filed on January 19, 2007. Consequently, Robbins is not eligible for SSI benefits for any period prior to February 1, 2007.

For the reasons set forth below we will affirm the decision of the Commissioner denying Robbins’s application for supplemental security income benefits.

STANDARD OF REVIEW

When considering a social security appeal, we have plenary review of all legal issues decided by the Commissioner. See Poulos v. Commissioner of Social Security, 474 F.3d 88, 91 (3d Cir. 2007); Schaudeck v. Commissioner of Social Sec. Admin., 181 F.3d 429, 431 (3d Cir. 1999); Krysztoforski v. Chater, 55 F.3d 857, 858 (3d Cir. 1995). However, our review of the Commissioner’s findings of fact pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) is to determine whether those findings are supported by "substantial evidence." Id.; Brown v. Bowen, 845 F.2d 1211, 1213 (3d Cir. 1988); Mason v. Shalala, 994 F.2d 1058, 1064 (3d Cir. 1993). Factual findings which are supported by substantial evidence must be upheld. 42 U.S.C. §405(g); Fargnoli v. Massanari, 247 F.3d 34, 38 (3d Cir. 2001)(“Where the ALJ’s findings of fact are supported by substantial evidence, we are bound by those findings, even if we would have decided the factual inquiry differently.”); Cotter v. Harris, 642 F.2d 700, 704 (3d Cir. 1981)(“Findings of fact by the Secretary must ...


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