United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania
MEMORANDUM and ORDER
ROBERT C. MITCHELL, Magistrate Judge.
Presently before the Court for disposition are cross motions for summary judgment. For the reasons set forth below the plaintiff's motion for summary Judgment (ECF No. 18) will be denied, the defendant's motion for summary judgment (ECF No. 20) will be granted and the decision of the Commissioner will be affirmed.
On June 25, 2013, Tami Burns filed a complaint pursuant to Section 205(g) of the Social Security Act, as amended, 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) for review of the Commissioner's final determination disallowing her claim for a period of disability or for disability insurance benefits under Sections 216(i) and 223 of the Social Security Act, as amended, 42 U.S.C. §§ 416(i) and 423. Subsequently, counsel entered her appearance on the plaintiff's behalf.
On January 21, 2010, the plaintiff filed an application for disability benefits alleging that she had been disabled since May 8, 2006 (R.110-111), and benefits were denied on May 11, 2010 (R.48-53). On June 16, 2010, the plaintiff requested a hearing (R.54-55) and pursuant to that request a hearing was held on August 18, 2011 (R.28-45). In a decision dated September 23, 2011, benefits were denied (R.5-23), and on November 22, 2011, reconsideration was requested (R.4). Upon reconsideration and in a decision dated April 11, 2013, the Appeals Council affirmed the prior determination (R.1-3). On June 25, 2013, the instant complaint was filed.
In reviewing an administrative determination of the Commissioner, the question before any court is whether there is substantial evidence in the agency record to support the findings of the Commissioner that the plaintiff failed to sustain her burden of demonstrating that she was disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act.
It is provided in 42 U.S.C. Section 405(g) that:
The court shall have power to enter, upon the pleadings and transcript of the record, a judgment affirming, modifying, or reversing the decision of the Commissioner of Social Security, with or without remanding the cause for a rehearing. The findings of the Commissioner of Social Security as to any fact, if supported by substantial evidence, shall be conclusive....
Substantial evidence is more than a mere scintilla. It means such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion. Johnson v. Commissioner , 529 F.3d 198 (3d Cir.2008) and the court may not set aside a decision supported by substantial evidence. Hartranft v. Apfel , 181 F.3d 358 (3d Cir.1999).
At the hearing held on August 18, 2011 (R.28-45), the plaintiff appeared with counsel (R.30) and testified that she was born on August 20, 1960 (R.32); that she completed twelfth grade (R.32); that she last worked in May 2006 (R.32) and that she spends most of her time at home (R.35-36). The plaintiff also testified that she takes medication for anxiety, depression and back pain and attends physical therapy (R.39, 41).
At the hearing a vocational expert was called upon to testify (R.42-44). He classified the plaintiff's past work as sedentary to light and unskilled to semi-skilled labor. When asked to assume an individual of the plaintiff's education, training and work experience who could perform light work activity and perform only simple or routine tasks he responded that such a person could not perform the plaintiff's former work but could perform a wide range of activity existing in the national economy (R.43). However, he also testified that if the individual could only work three days a week, she could not be employed (R.44).
The issue before the Court for immediate resolution is a determination of whether or not there is substantial evidence to support the findings of the Commissioner that the plaintiff was not disabled within the meaning of the Act.
The term "disability" is defined in 42 U.S.C. Section 423(d)(1)(A) as:
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....
For purposes of the foregoing, the requirements for a disability determination are provided in 42 U.S.C. Section 423(d)(2)(A):
An individual shall be determined to be under a disability only if his physical or mental impairment or impairments are of such severity that he 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, regardless of whether such work exists in the immediate area in which he lives, or whether a specific job vacancy exists for him, or whether he would be hired if he applied for work. For purposes of the preceding sentence... "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.
A "physical or mental impairment" is "an impairment that results from anatomical, physiological, or psychological abnormalities which are demonstrable by medically acceptable clinical and laboratory diagnostic techniques." 42 U.S.C. Section 423(d)(3). These provisions are also applied for purposes of establishing a period of disability. 42 U.S.C. Section 416(i)(2)(A).
While these statutory provisions have been regarded as "very harsh, " nevertheless, they must be followed by the courts. NLRB v. Staiman Brothers , 466 F.2d 564 (3d Cir. 1972); Choratch v. Finch , 438 F.2d 342 (3d Cir. 1971); Woods v. Finch , 428 F.2d 469 (3d Cir. 1970). Thus, it must be determined whether or not there is substantial evidence in the record to support the conclusion of the Commissioner that the plaintiff was not disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act.
For this purpose, certain medical evidence was reviewed.
The plaintiff attended physical therapy between November 15, 2006 and March 9, 2007 for treatment of back pain. No improvement was achieved (R.168-175).
The plaintiff attended the Armstrong County Memorial Hospital pain clinic between November 6, 2006 and July 18, 2007 for treatment of leg and back pain. Nerve blocks were temporarily ...