United States District Court, Eastern District of Pennsylvania
REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION
THOMAS J. RUETER, United States Magistrate Judge.
United States Magistrate Judge July 10, 2014 Plaintiff, Alethia James, filed this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), seeking judicial review of the final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration ("Commissioner") denying her claim for supplemental security income ("SSI") under Title XVI of the Social Security Act ("Act").
Plaintiff filed a Brief and Statement of Issues in Support of Request for Review ("PL's Br."), defendant filed a Response to Request for Review by Plaintiff ("Def's Br."), and plaintiff filed a reply thereto ("Reply"). For the reasons set forth below, this court recommends that plaintiffs Request for Review be DENIED.
I. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
Plaintiff filed an application for SSI with a protective filing date of November 17, 2008. (R. 65, 132.) The claim was denied initially and a request for a hearing was filed timely. (R. 71-78.) A hearing was held on March 4, 2010, before Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") Christine McCafferty. (R. 27-64.) Plaintiff, who was represented by counsel, appeared and testified. A vocational expert ("VE"), also appeared and testified, as did plaintiffs mother. (R. 50-56, 58-63.) In a decision dated April 5, 2010, the ALJ found that plaintiff was not disabled under the Act. (R. 10-23.) The ALJ made the following findings:
1. The claimant has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since November 17, 2008, the application date (20 CFR 416.971 et seq.).
2. The claimant has the following severe impairments: fibromyalgia; sleep apnea; obesity; depression and anxiety; diabetes; and, asthma (20 CFR 416.920(c)).
3. The claimant does not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals one of the listed impairments in 20 CFR Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 (20 CFR 416.920(d), 416.925 and 416.926).
4. After careful consideration of the entire record, I find that the claimant has the residual functional capacity to perform light work as defined in 20 CFR 416.967(b) except: avoidance of dust, fumes, toxins, etc.; avoidance of moving or dangerous machinery; and, limited to simple, repetitive tasks with only occasional changes in the work setting.
5. The claimant is unable to perform any past relevant work (20 CFR 416.965).
6. The claimant was born on December 4, 1963 and was 44 years old, which is defined as a younger individual age 18-49, on the date the application was filed (20 CFR 416.963).
7. The claimant has at least a high school education and is able to communicate in English (20 CFR 416.964).
8. Transferability of job skills is not material to the determination of disability because using the Medical-Vocational Rules as a framework supports a finding that the claimant is "not disabled, " whether or not the claimant has transferable job skills (See SSR 82-41 and 20 CFR Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 2).
9. Considering the claimant's age, education, work experience, and residual functional capacity, there are jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy that the claimant can perform (20 CFR 416.969 and 416.969(a)).
10. The claimant has not been under a disability, as defined in the Social Security Act, since November 17, 2008, the date the application was filed (20 CFR 416.920(g)).
Plaintiff filed a request for review of the decision of the ALJ that was denied and the ALJ's decision became the final decision of the Commissioner. (R. 1-9.)
II. STANDARD OF REVIEW
The role of this court on judicial review is to determine whether there is substantial evidence in the record to support the Commissioner's decision. Hagans v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec, 694 F.3d 287, 292 (3d Cir. 2012) (citing 42 U.S.C. § 405(g); Plummer v. Apfel, 186 F.3d 422, 427 (3d Cir. 1999)), cert, denied, 134 S.Ct. 1274 (2014). Substantial evidence is defined as "such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389 (1971) (quoting Consol. Edison Co. v. NLRB, 305 U.S. 197, 229 (1938)). Substantial evidence is more than a mere scintilla of evidence, but may be less than a preponderance of the evidence. Jesurum v. Sec'y of United States Dep't of Health and Human Serv., 48 F.3d 114, 117 (3d Cir. 1995). This court may not weigh evidence or substitute its conclusions for those of the fact-finder. Burns v. Barnhart, 312 F.3d 113, 118 (3d Cir. 2002) (citing Williams v. Sullivan, 970 F.2d 1178, 1182 (3d Cir. 1992)). As the Third Circuit has stated, "so long as an agency's fact-finding is supported by substantial evidence, reviewing courts lack power to reverse . . . those findings." Monsour Med. Ctr. v. Heckler, 806 F.2d 1185, 1191 (3d Cir. 1986).
To be eligible for benefits, the claimant 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. §§ 423(d)(1)(A), 1382c(a)(3)(A). Specifically, the impairments must be such 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). Under the Act, the claimant has the burden of proving the existence of a disability and must furnish medical evidence indicating the severity of the impairment. 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(5).
The Social Security Administration employs a five-part procedure to determine whether an individual has met this burden. 20 C.F.R. § 416.920. This process requires the Commissioner to consider, in sequence, whether a claimant: (1) is currently employed; (2) has a severe impairment; (3) has an impairment which meets or equals the requirements of a listed impairment; (4) can perform past relevant work; and (5) if not, whether the claimant is able to perform other work, in view of his age, education, and work experience. See id. The claimant bears the burden of establishing steps one through four of the five-step evaluation process, while the burden shifts to the Commissioner at step five to show that the claimant is capable of performing other jobs existing in large numbers in the national economy. Poulos v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec, 474 F.3d 88, 92 (3d Cir. 2007).
At the administrative hearing on March 4, 2010, plaintiff testified that she is an insulin-dependent diabetic. (R. 35.) At that time, plaintiff was five feet, six inches tall and weighed 247 pounds. (R. 39.) She was advised to lose weight; gastric bypass surgery also has been recommended. (R. 39, 49.) Plaintiff stated that she has foot and ankle discomfort and pain. (R. 39.) Plaintiff further testified that she has unpredictable, variable pain in her back, neck, arms and shoulders. (R. 40-41.) Due to the pain, plaintiff has difficulty at times raising her arms. Id According to plaintiff, she may be unable to use her arms for up to three hours when she experiences pain. (R. 41.) A "muscle rub" or Motrin can help the pain. Id.
Plaintiff has been diagnosed with bilateral carpal tunnel syndrome. (R. 30, 37.) Plaintiff explained that her hands "get numb and tingly, and it's hard to really grasp or use them." (R. 42.) Plaintiff experiences hand problems "almost every day" and the problems last "all day long." Id She has been prescribed hand splints for both wrists and hands to wear at night, but does not always use them because she feels that the splints are not effective. (R. 36.) Plaintiff was advised by her doctors that injections could help with her hand problems, but plaintiff has refused the injections because she is afraid of potential side-effects. (R. 36-37.)
Plaintiff also has problems with sleep and has been prescribed a CPAP; however, plaintiff may only use it three times per week because it "dries [her] out" and causes throat discomfort. (R. 43.) Plaintiff also was under the care of a rheumatologist. (R. 56-57.) Plaintiff testified that she experiences side ...