United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania
JOSEPH L. QUILDON, JR., Plaintiff,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, ACTING COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
WILLIAM W. CALDWELL, District Judge.
The above-captioned action is one seeking review of a decision of the Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner") denying Plaintiff Joseph L. Quildon, Jr.'s claim for social security disability insurance benefits and supplemental security income benefits.
Disability insurance benefits are paid to an individual if that individual is disabled and "insured, " that is, the individual has worked long enough and paid social security taxes. The last date that a claimant meets the requirements of being insured is commonly referred to as the "date last insured." It is undisputed that Quildon met the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act through December 31, 2012. Tr. 19, 21 and 125.
Supplemental security income 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. Insured status is irrelevant in determining a claimant's eligibility for supplemental security income benefits.
Quildon protectively filed an application for disability insurance benefits on December 4, 2008, and an application for supplemental security income benefits on December 30, 2008. Tr. 19, 85-86, 125 and 110-124. On May 26, 2009, the Bureau of Disability Determination denied Quildon's applications. Tr. 19 and 89-97. On June 3, 2009, Quildon requested a hearing before an administrative law judge. Tr. 19 and 98-99. After about 11 months had passed, a hearing was held on May 7, 2010. Tr. 34-65. On June 22, 2010, the administrative law judge issued a decision denying Quildon's applications. Tr. 19-30. As will be explained in more detail infra the administrative law judge found that Quildon had the capacity to perform a limited range of sedentary work and identified three positions, a visual inspector, bench assembler and surveillance monitor, which Quildon could perform. Tr. 29. On August 17, 2010, Quildon requested that the Appeals Council review the administrative law judge's decision and after about 25 months had elapsed the Appeals Council on September 27, 2012, concluded that there was no basis upon which to grant Quildon's request for review. Tr. 1-5 and 13-15.
Quildon then filed a complaint in this court on November 20, 2012. Supporting and opposing briefs were submitted and the appeal became ripe for disposition on April 23, 2013, when Quildon filed a reply brief.
Quildon was born in the United States on December 8, 1965, and at all times relevant to this matter was considered a "younger individual" whose age would not seriously impact his ability to adjust to other work. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1563(c) and 416.963(c); Tr. 41, 85-86 and 117.
Quildon, who graduated from high school and then completed two years of college in February, 1987, can read, write, speak and understand the English language and perform basic mathematical functions. Tr. 142, 148 and 162. During his elementary and secondary schooling, Quildon attended regular education classes. Tr. 148.
Quildon has past relevant employment as a bus driver for the New York City Transit Authority which was described as semi-skilled, medium work by a vocational expert. Tr. 28, 58, 144 and 130-132.
Records of the Social Security Administration reveal that Quildon had earnings in the years 1982 through 1983 and 1985 through 2008, a total of 26 years. Tr. 106. Quildon's average earnings during those years were $34, 449.70. Id . Quildon's earnings ranged from a low of $247.85 in 2008 to a high of $63, 425.97 in 2001. Id . Quildon's total earnings were $895, 692.34. Id . However, Quildon's reported earnings in 2007 ($9642.33) and 2008 were from accrued sick leave, vacation time and withdrawal of funds from a 401K retirement plan. Tr. 38.
Quildon contends that he became disable on December 29, 2006, because of both physical and mental impairments. Tr. 110, 117 and 143. Quildon identified depression as his mental health impairment and the pain associated with arthritis and a back and ankle injury as his physical impairment. Tr. 38-39, 143 and 172. Quildon claims that he is unable to stand, walk or sit for long periods of time; he cannot carry heavy objects; and he suffers from constant pain which causes him to be depressed. Tr. 143. The impetus for Quildon's alleged disabling impairments was a motor vehicle accident that occurred on December 29, 2006, which also aggravated some pre-existing conditions sustained in a 2005 motor-vehicle accident. Tr. 38-39, 143 and 195. Quildon last worked on December 28, 2006. Tr. 143.
The record reveals that Quildon is 6'5" tall and weighs over 400 pounds. Tr. 37 and 142. The record further reveals that his weight was over 400 pounds well prior to his 2006 motor vehicle accident. Tr. 194. A person of such height and weight is considered morbidly obese. Quildon at the administrative hearing admitted that the ankle fracture which he sustained in the 2006 motor vehicle accident had healed and that his main problems were residual ankle stiffness, back pain, periodic numbness down the inner thigh of the right leg into the knee, left hip pain, and depression. Tr. 39, 50-51 and 53. Quildon also testified that the pain medications only take the "edge off" of his pain and they make him "very drowsy" and he sometimes passes out. Tr. 45. When asked why he could not perform a sedentary job where he could sit and stand at will, he testified that he has constant pain and that he has to periodically lay down to relieve his pain. Tr. 57.
In documents filed with the Social Security Administration as well as during his testimony at the administrative hearing Quildon stated that he lives in a house with his mother who suffers from advanced Alzheimer's disease. Tr. 41 and 159-160. Quildon stated that he was the primary care giver for his mother, including preparing meals and cleaning for her. Tr. 41-42 and 160. Quildon stated that he had no problems with personal care, including bathing, shaving, feeding himself, and using the toilet, except difficulty putting on socks. Tr. 160. Quildon needs no reminders to take care of personal items or take medicines. Tr. 161. Quildon is able to engage in shopping, housecleaning, cooking and driving short distances. Tr. 161-162. Quildon's hobbies include watching TV, chess and playing cards. Tr. 163. Quildon admitted that he socializes with other individuals, including sometimes playing cards, drinking and talking with others in person and by way of a computer. Id . When asked to identify items on a disability form which were affected by his illnesses or conditions, Quildon checked lifting, squatting, bending, standing, reaching, walking, sitting, kneeling and stair climbing but did not check talking, hearing, seeing, memory, completing tasks, concentration, understanding, following instructions, using his hands, and getting along with others. Tr. 164. Quildon at the administrative hearing testified that he used a cane for stability and to minimize his back pain. Tr. 52.
Quildon in his appeal brief has mentioned that the Commissioner with respect to a subsequent application for disability insurance benefits awarded him benefits commencing on June 23, 2010, one day after the adverse decision by the administrative law judge which is the subject of the present appeal. The issue in this appeal is whether or not substantial evidence supports the decision of the administrative law judge that Quildon had the ability to engage in a limited range of sedentary work at the time of the administrative hearing and prior thereto.
For the reasons set forth below we will affirm the decision of the Commissioner.
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 be accepted as conclusive by a reviewing court if supported by substantial evidence."); Keefe v. Shalala , 71 F.3d 1060, 1062 (2d Cir. 1995); Mastro v. Apfel , 270 F.3d 171, 176 (4th Cir. 2001); Martin v. Sullivan , 894 F.2d 1520, 1529 & 1529 n.11 (11th Cir. 1990).
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, 565 (1988)(quoting Consolidated Edison Co. v. N.L.R.B. , 305 U.S. 197, 229 (1938)); Johnson v. Commissioner of Social Security , 529 F.3d 198, 200 (3d Cir. 2008); Hartranft v. Apfel , 181 F.3d 358, 360 (3d Cir. 1999). Substantial evidence has been described as more than a mere scintilla of evidence but less than a preponderance. Brown , 845 F.2d at 1213. In an adequately developed factual record substantial evidence may be "something less than the weight of the evidence, and the possibility of drawing two inconsistent conclusions from the evidence does not prevent an administrative agency's finding from being supported by substantial evidence." Consolo v. Federal Maritime Commission , 383 U.S. 607, 620 (1966).
Substantial evidence exists only "in relationship to all the other evidence in the record, " Cotter , 642 F.2d at 706, and "must take into account whatever in the record fairly detracts from its weight." Universal Camera Corp. v. N.L.R.B. , 340 U.S. 474, 488 (1971). A single piece of evidence is not substantial evidence if the Commissioner ignores countervailing evidence or fails to resolve a conflict created by the evidence. Mason , 994 F.2d at 1064. The Commissioner must indicate which evidence was accepted, which evidence was rejected, and the reasons for rejecting certain evidence. Johnson , 529 F.3d at 203; Cotter , 642 F.2d at 706-707. Therefore, a court reviewing the decision of the Commissioner must scrutinize the record as a whole. Smith v. Califano , 637 F.2d 968, 970 (3d Cir. 1981); Dobrowolsky v. Califano , 606 F.2d 403, 407 (3d Cir. 1979).
SEQUENTIAL EVALUATION PROCESS
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 ...