United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania
& ORDER OF COURT SYNOPSIS
DONETTA W. AMBROSE, Senior District Judge.
Pending before the Court are Cross-Motions for Summary Judgment. (Docket Nos. 13 and 16). 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 the Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment (Docket No. 16) and denying the Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment (Docket No. 13).
Hill suffered a work-related injury on April 21, 2008 to his head, neck and back. He contends that it has led to ongoing problems ever since which include chronic neck and back pain and post-concussion syndrome. He has not engaged in substantial gainful employment since the date of the accident. Accordingly he filed an application for disability insurance benefits on October 4, 2010, claiming an onset date of April 21, 2008, later amended to December 1, 2009. (R. 171). An Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") held a hearing on January 19, 2012 and subsequently issued an unfavorable decision. Hill then filed an appeal with the Appeals Council. That appeal was denied and Hill timely filed an appeal with this Court.
The parties have filed Cross-Motions for Summary Judgment. (Docket Nos. 13 and 16). The issues are now ripe for review.
II. LEGAL ANALYSIS
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 30, 2014. 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).
Hill argues that: (1) the ALJ erred in assessing his residual functional capacity; and (2) the ALJ erred with respect to his credibility findings regarding subjective complaints of pain.
1) Hill's Residual Functional Capacity
In determining whether a claimant can return to past relevant work or perform any other work an ALJ must assess a claimant's residual functional capacity. Hill contends that the ALJ "failed to create an accurate RFC that incorporated all of Plaintiff's limitations, " and that the corresponding hypothetical similarly failed to accurately reflect those limitations. ECF Docket No . , p. 12. He urges that the ALJ's RFC assessment is not ...