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Tudi v. Colvin

United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania

June 23, 2014

NICHOLAS TUDI, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.

OPINION and ORDER OF COURT SYNOPSIS

DONETTA W. AMBROSE, Senior District Judge.

Pending before the Court are Cross-Motions for Summary Judgment. (Docket Nos. 7 and 9). Both parties have filed Briefs in Support of their Motions. (Docket Nos. 8 and 10). After careful consideration of the submissions of the parties, and based on my Opinion set forth below, I am granting Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment (Docket No. 9) and denying Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment. (Docket No. 7).

I. BACKGROUND

Tudi brought this action for review of the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner") denying his application for social security income pursuant to the Social Security Act ("Act"). Tudi filed an application for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits, [1] as well as an application for supplemental security income. In both applications Tudi asserts a disability beginning on September 1, 2001. The claims were denied on January 7, 2010. Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") Lamar Davis held a video hearing on May 17, 2012 during which Alina Kurtanich, an impartial vocational expert, testified. At the time of the hearing, Tudi was 52 years old and had a high school education. (R. 36) He had past relevant work experience in the heavy exertional range as a steel laborer and ironworker. (R. 36) On May 22, 2012, the ALJ issued an opinion denying benefits. (R. 15-27). Specifically, although the ALJ found that Tudi suffered from numerous severe impairments which cause significant limitations in his ability to perform basic work activities, including: seizures, leg numbness, degenerative disc disease, hepatitis C, a mood disorder, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder ("ADHD"), personality disorder and a history of drug and alcohol abuse, he retained the residual functional capacity to perform light work with certain restrictions. (R. 19) After exhausting all of his administrative remedies, Tudi filed this action.

The parties have filed Cross-Motions for Summary Judgment. (Docket Nos. 7 and 9). The issues are now ripe for review.

II. LEGAL ANALYSIS

A. Standard of Review

The standard of review in social security cases is whether substantial evidence exists in the record to support the Commissioner's decision. Allen v. Bowen, 881 F.2d 37, 39 (3d Cir. 1989). Substantial evidence has been defined as "more than a mere scintilla. It means such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate." Ventura v. Shalala, 55 F.3d 900, 901 (3d Cir. 1995), quoting Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971). Additionally, the Commissioner's findings of fact, if supported by substantial evidence, are conclusive. 42 U.S.C. §405(g); Dobrowolsky v. Califano, 606 F.2d 403, 406 (3d Cir. 1979). A district court cannot conduct a de novo review of the Commissioner's decision or re-weigh the evidence of record. Palmer v. Apfel, 995 F.Supp. 549, 552 (E.D. Pa. 1998). Where the ALJ's findings of fact are supported by substantial evidence, a court is bound by those findings, even if the court would have decided the factual inquiry differently. Hartranft v. Apfel, 181 F.3d 358, 360 (3d Cir. 1999). To determine whether a finding is supported by substantial evidence, however, the district court must review the record as a whole. See, 5 U.S.C. §706.

To be eligible for social security benefits, the plaintiff must demonstrate that he cannot engage in substantial gainful activity because of a 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 at least 12 months. 42 U.S.C. §423(d)(1)(A); Brewster v. Heckler, 786 F.2d 581, 583 (3d Cir. 1986).

The Commissioner has provided the ALJ with a five-step sequential analysis to use when evaluating the disabled status of each claimant. 20 C.F.R. §404.1520(a). The ALJ must determine: (1) whether the claimant is currently engaged in substantial gainful activity; (2) if not, whether the claimant has a severe impairment; (3) if the claimant has a severe impairment, whether it meets or equals the criteria listed in 20 C.F.R., pt. 404, subpt. P., appx. 1; (4) if the impairment does not satisfy one of the impairment listings, whether the claimant's impairments prevent him from performing his past relevant work; and (5) if the claimant is incapable of performing his past relevant work, whether he can perform any other work which exists in the national economy, in light of his age, education, work experience and residual functional capacity. 20 C.F.R. §404.1520. The claimant carries the initial burden of demonstrating by medical evidence that he is unable to return to his previous employment (steps 1-4). Dobrowolsky, 606 F.2d at 406. Once the claimant meets this burden, the burden of proof shifts to the Commissioner to show that the claimant can engage in alternative substantial gainful activity (step 5). Id.

A district court, after reviewing the entire record may affirm, modify, or reverse the decision with or without remand to the Commissioner for rehearing. Podedworny v. Harris, 745 F.2d 210, 221 (3d Cir. 1984).

B. Discussion

Tudi's argument consists of the following: (1) the ALJ erred in assessing the residual functional capacity; (2) the ALJ improperly relied upon the vocational expert's testimony when that testimony conflicted with the directives of the Dictionary of Occupational Titles ("DOT") and (3) the ALJ inappropriately rejected an answer to ...


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