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Vetere v. Colvin

United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania

March 10, 2014

VINCENT VETERE, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM JUDGMENT ORDER

GUSTAVE DIAMOND, District Judge.

AND NOW, this 10th day of March, 2014, upon consideration of the parties' cross-motions for summary judgment pursuant to plaintiff's request for review of the decision of the Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner") denying his application for disability insurance benefits ("DIB") and supplemental security income ("SSI") under Title II and Title XVI, respectively, of the Social Security Act ("Act"), IT IS ORDERED that the Commissioner's motion for summary judgment (Document No. 16) be, and the same hereby is, granted and plaintiff's motion for summary judgment (Document No. 14) be, and the same hereby is, denied.

As the factfinder, an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") has an obligation to weigh all of the facts and evidence of record and may reject or discount any evidence if the ALJ explains the reasons for doing so. Plummer v. Apfel , 186 F.3d 422, 429 (3d Cir. 1999). Where the ALJ's findings of fact are supported by substantial evidence, a reviewing court is bound by those findings, even if it would have decided the factual inquiry differently. Fargnoli v. Massanari , 247 F.3d 34, 38 (3d Cir. 2001). Moreover, disability is not determined merely by the presence of impairments, but by the effect that those impairments have upon an individual's ability to perform substantial gainful activity. Jones v. Sullivan , 954 F.2d 125, 129 (3d Cir. 1991). These well-established principles preclude a reversal or remand of the ALJ's decision here because the record contains substantial evidence to support the ALJ's findings and conclusions.

Plaintiff filed his applications for DIB and SSI on June 30, 2009, alleging disability beginning on November 27, 2006, due to nerve damage in his left shoulder, diabetes and depression. Plaintiff's applications were denied. At plaintiff's request, an ALJ held a hearing on April 20, 2011. On July 1, 2011, the ALJ issued a decision finding that plaintiff is not disabled. The Appeals Council denied plaintiff's request for review on May 15, 2012, making the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner. The instant action followed.

Plaintiff, who has a high school education, was 36 years old on his alleged onset date of disability, and is classified as a younger individual under the regulations. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1563 (c), 416.963 (c). Plaintiff has past relevant work experience as a furniture mover, delivery truck driver, groundskeeper and security guard, but he has not engaged in substantial gainful activity at any time since his alleged onset date.

After reviewing plaintiff's medical records and hearing testimony from plaintiff and a vocational expert at the hearing, the ALJ concluded that plaintiff is not disabled within the meaning of the Act. Although the medical evidence established that plaintiff suffers from the severe impairments of osteoarthritis and allied disorders, diabetes and mood disorder, those impairments, alone or in combination, do not meet or equal the criteria of any of the listed impairments set forth in Appendix 1 of 20 C.F.R., Subpart P, Regulation No. 4 ("Appendix 1").

The ALJ found that plaintiff retains the residual functional capacity to perform light work with a number of additional limitations. Plaintiff can perform only limited pushing and pulling with his upper extremities, he can perform limited handling and fingering with his non-dominant left hand, and he cannot perform overhead reaching. In addition, plaintiff is limited to only minimal interaction with peers and supervisors, and he cannot deal directly with the public. Finally, plaintiff is unable to cope with stress in emergency situations, such as an unexpected workload with a target date (collectively, the "RFC Finding").

Based upon testimony by a vocational expert, the ALJ concluded that plaintiff's vocational factors and residual functional capacity do not permit him to perform his past relevant work. However, plaintiff is capable of performing other work that exists in significant numbers in the national economy, such as a sorter, marker or order caller. Accordingly, the ALJ found that plaintiff is not disabled within the meaning of the Act.

The Act defines "disability" as the inability to engage in substantial gainful activity by reason of a physical or mental impairment that can be expected to last for a continuous period of at least twelve months. 42 U.S.C. §§423 (d) (1) (A), 1382c(a) (3) (A). The impairment or impairments must be so severe that the claimant "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...." 42 U.S.C. §§ 423(d) (2) (A), 1382c(a) (3) (B).

The Commissioner has promulgated regulations that incorporate a five-step sequential evaluation process for determining whether a claimant is disabled. The ALJ must determine: (1) whether the claimant currently is engaged in substantial gainful activity; (2) if not, whether he has a severe impairment; (3) if so, whether his impairment meets or equals the criteria listed in Appendix 1; (4) if not, whether the claimant's impairment prevents him from performing his past relevant work; and (5) if so, whether the claimant can perform any other work that exists in the national economy, in light of his age, education, work experience and residual functional capacity.[1] 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a) (4), 416.920(a) (4). If the claimant is found disabled or not disabled at any step, further inquiry is unnecessary. Id.

In this case, plaintiff challenges the ALJ's findings at step 5 of the sequential evaluation process by arguing that the ALJ failed to properly evaluate his subjective complaints concerning his pain and other limitations and further failed to pose a hypothetical question to the vocational expert that adequately accounted for all of his work-related limitations. In addition, plaintiff argues that the Commissioner failed to evaluate certain medical evidence, thus the case should be remanded. For reasons explained below, the court finds that these arguments are without merit.

Plaintiff first argues that the ALJ did not properly evaluate his subjective complaints concerning his pain and other limitations. A claimant's complaints and other subjective symptoms must be supported by objective medical evidence. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1529(c), 416.929(c); Hartranft v. Apfel , 181 F.3d 358, 362 (3d Cir. 1999). An ALJ may reject the claimant's subjective testimony if he does not find it credible so long as he explains why he is rejecting the testimony. Schaudeck v. Commissioner of Social Security , 181 F.3d 429, 433 (3d Cir. 1999). In this case, the ALJ properly analyzed plaintiff's subjective complaints and explained why she found plaintiff's testimony not entirely credible.

In evaluating plaintiff's credibility, the ALJ complied with the appropriate regulations and considered all of the relevant evidence in the record, including plaintiff's own statements about his symptoms, his activities of daily living, the medical evidence, the extent of plaintiff's treatment and the opinions of physicians who treated and examined him. See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1529 (c)(1) and (c)(3), 416.929(c) (1) and (c) (3); Social Security Ruling 96-7p. The ALJ then considered the extent to which plaintiff's alleged functional limitations reasonably could be accepted as consistent with the evidence of record and how those limitations affect his ability to work. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1529(c)(4), 416.929(c) (4). The ALJ determined that the objective evidence is inconsistent with plaintiff's allegation of total disabling limitations. Accordingly, the ALJ determined that plaintiff's testimony regarding his pain and other limitations was not entirely credible. (R. 18). This court finds that the ALJ adequately explained the basis for her credibility determination in her decision, (R. 16-22), and is satisfied that such determination is supported by substantial evidence.

Plaintiff's next argues that the ALJ's hypothetical question to the vocational expert did not adequately account for all of the work-related limitations caused by his impairments. An ALJ's hypothetical to a vocational expert must reflect all of the claimant's impairments and limitations supported by the medical evidence. Chrupcala v. Heckler , 829 F.2d 1269, 1276 (3d Cir. 1987). Here, the ALJ's hypothetical incorporated all of plaintiff's functional limitations that the evidence of record supported, including all of the factors that were the basis of the RFC Finding. Accordingly, the ...


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