United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania
For Frank DeBartolo, Plaintiff: Thomas D. Sutton, LEAD ATTORNEY, Levanthal, Sutton & Gornstein, Trevose, PA.
For Michael J. Astrue, Defendant: Mark.E. Morrison, U.S. Attorney's office - Social Security, Harrisburg, PA.
MALACHY E. MANNION, United States District Judge.
Frank DeBartolo is a survivor of September 11, 2001 attack on the World Trade Center in New York City, more commonly referred to as " the 9/11 attacks." After living through those traumatic events, he struggled to maintain work for the next ten years. He did not work a full five-day week from September 2001 through his alleged onset date of June 4, 2010, despite numerous accommodations by his previous employer. Between July 2010 and March 2012, Mr. DeBartolo was treated by Dr.
Bruce Snyder, MD, a licensed psychologist. During their weekly meetings, Dr. Snyder catalogued and recorded Mr. DeBartolo's continuing struggles with post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and depressive disorder, not otherwise specified. The plaintiff suffered from symptoms such as depression, preoccupied thoughts, anxiety, impaired memory, and poor social judgment. He also discussed conflicts with his wife and children that sprung from his continued psychological struggles.
Mr. DeBartolo applied for Social Security disability insurance benefits (DIB) alleging he became disabled on June 4, 2010. After submitting evidence to and testifying before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ), he was only awarded benefits starting on September 22, 2011. He now appeals that unfavorable portion of the ALJ's decision. The court finds the ALJ improperly weighed the medical evidence of record with regard to the plaintiff's severe mental impairments. The ALJ's decision is therefore unsupported by substantial evidence of record. There is abundant evidence that establishes Mr. DeBartolo had marked limitations in both his activities of daily living and his abilities to maintain concentration, persistence, and pace. As such, the court finds that Mr. DeBartolo became disabled on June 4, 2010 and reverses the ALJ's decision. The court will direct the Commissioner of Social Security to award DIB from June 4, 2010.
I. PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND
The record in this action, (Doc. 7), has been reviewed pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) to determine whether there is substantial evidence to support the Commissioner's decision denying the plaintiff's claim for Disability Insurance Benefits (" DIB" ) under the Social Security Act, (" Act" ). 42 U.S.C. § § 401-433, 1381-1383f. The plaintiff, Frank DeBartolo, filed his initial application for DIB on May 4, 2011. (TR. 197). That application was denied six weeks later and the plaintiff requested a hearing before an ALJ. (TR. 114-119). The ALJ conducted a hearing on April 2, 2012 where she took testimony from the plaintiff and a vocational expert. (TR. 44). On July 24, 2012, the ALJ issued a decision finding the plaintiff became disabled on September 22, 2011. The ALJ denied the plaintiff's request for benefits between June 4, 2010 and September 22, 2011. (TR. 21-43). The plaintiff requested review by the Appeals Council, but they denied his request, thereby making the ALJ's decision the final determination of the Commissioner. (TR. 1-6).
The plaintiff filed his complaint challenging the ALJ's determinations and findings on December 6, 2012. (Doc. 1). He filed his brief in June 2013, (Doc. 12), and the defendant filed her brief on July 12, 2013. (Doc. 13). The plaintiff subsequently filed a reply brief. (Doc. 14). The case is now ripe for the court's ruling.
II. STANDARD OF REVIEW
When reviewing the denial of disability benefits, the court 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, 108 S.Ct. 2541, 101 L.Ed.2d 490 (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, 91 S.Ct. 1420, 28 L.Ed.2d 842 (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 DETERMINATION PROCESS
A five-step process is required to determine if an applicant is disabled under the Act. The Commissioner must sequentially determine: (1) whether the applicant is engaged in substantial gainful activity; (2) whether the applicant has a severe impairment; (3) whether the applicant's impairment meets or equals a listed impairment; (4) whether the applicant's impairment prevents the applicant from doing past relevant work, and; (5) whether the applicant's impairment prevents the applicant from doing any other work. 20 C.F.R. § § 404.1520, 416.920.
Here, the ALJ determined that claimant has severe impairments including Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), depressive disorder not otherwise specified, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), asthma, arthralgia, myalgia and myositis, and fibromyalgia. The ALJ concluded the plaintiff was not disabled for the period between June 4, 2010 and September 22, 2011 and retained the residual functional capacity (" RFC" ) to perform light, unskilled work, with certain nonexertional limitations, and that therefore he was not disabled for that period of time under 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(g). However, the ALJ further concluded that as of September 22, 2011, the plaintiff became disabled. (Tr. 28-39).
IV. THE ALJ'S DECISION
Using the above-outlined procedure, the ALJ found that plaintiff met the insured status requirements of the Act through December 31, 2015, and that plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since June 4, 2010, the alleged onset date. The ALJ found that plaintiff has severe impairments noted above, but that between June 4, 2010 and September 22, 2011, the plaintiff did not have an impairment or combination of impairments which met or medically equaled the severity of the listed impairments of 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart B, Appendix 1. The ALJ found that the plaintiff had the RFC to perform light work, with the nonexertional limitations that the work be unskilled, consist of simple, routine, repetitive tasks with only occasional changes in work setting, involve only occasional interaction with supervisors, co-workers, and the public. The plaintiff was further limited to only occasional balancing, bending, stooping, crouching, crawling, kneeling, climbing,
and pushing/pulling with his lower extremities. Finally, the plaintiff should avoid concentrated exposure to temperature extremes, humidity, wetness, fumes, odors, dust, gases and poor ventilation, vibrations, and ...