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Byerly v. Colvin

United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania

August 28, 2014

LINDA BYERLY, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, ACTING COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.

MAGISTRATE JUDGE'S REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

CYNTHIA REED EDDY, Magistrate Judge.

I. RECOMMENDATION

It is respectfully recommended that the Commissioner's motion for summary judgment ( ECF No. 11 ) be denied, and that Byerly's motion for summary judgment ( ECF No. 9 ) be denied to the extent that it requests an award of benefits and granted insofar as it seeks a vacation of the Commissioner's decision, and a remand for further proceedings.

II. REPORT

A. Introduction

Plaintiff Linda Byerly ("Byerly") brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), seeking judicial review of the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner") denying her application for disability insurance benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act ("Act") [42 U.S.C. §§ 401-433]. The matter is presently before the Court on cross-motions for summary judgment filed by the parties pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56.[1] For the reasons that follow, it is respectfully recommended that the Commissioner's decision be vacated, and that the case be remanded for further consideration of Byerly's application for disability insurance benefits.

B. Procedural History

Byerly protectively applied for disability insurance benefits on June 28, 2011, alleging the existence of a statutory "disability" beginning on that date. R. at 122, 134. The application was administratively denied on July 27, 2011. R. at 58. Byerly responded on July 29, 2011, by filing a request for an administrative hearing. R. at 62-63. On July 25, 2012, a hearing was held in Erie, Pennsylvania, before Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") James J. Pileggi. R. at 25. Byerly, who was represented by counsel, appeared and testified at the hearing. R. at 30-41. Karen S. Krull ("Krull"), an impartial vocational expert, provided testimony about the expectations of employers existing in the national economy. R. at 41-44. In a decision dated August 14, 2012, the ALJ determined that Byerly was not "disabled" within the meaning of the Act. R. at 10-21.

On August 27, 2012, Byerly sought administrative review of the ALJ's decision by filing a request for review with the Appeals Council. R. at 6. The Appeals Council denied the request for review on August 2, 2013, thereby making the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner in this case. R. at 1. Byerly commenced this action on September 6, 2013, seeking judicial review of the Commissioner's decision. ECF Nos. 1-2. Byerly and the Commissioner respectively moved for summary judgment on February 17, 2014, and March 14, 2014. ECF Nos. 9 & 11. The cross-motions for summary judgment filed by the parties are the subject of this report and recommendation, which is being filed pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(C).

C. Standard of Review

This Court's review is plenary with respect to all questions of law. Schaudeck v. Commissioner of Social Security Administration, 181 F.3d 429, 431 (3d Cir. 1999). With respect to factual issues, judicial review is limited to determining whether the Commissioner's decision is "supported by substantial evidence." 42 U.S.C. § 405(g); Adorno v. Shalala, 40 F.3d 43, 46 (3d Cir. 1994). The Court may not undertake a de novo review of the Commissioner's decision or re-weigh the evidence of record. Monsour Medical Center v. Heckler, 806 F.2d 1185, 1190-1191 (3d Cir. 1986). Congress has clearly expressed its intention that "[t]he findings of the Commissioner of Social Security as to any fact, if supported by substantial evidence, shall be conclusive." 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). 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, 108 S.Ct. 2541, 101 L.Ed.2d 490 (1988)(internal quotation marks omitted). As long as the Commissioner's decision is supported by substantial evidence, it cannot be set aside even if this Court "would have decided the factual inquiry differently." Hartranft v. Apfel, 181 F.3d 358, 360 (3d Cir. 1999). "Overall, the substantial evidence standard is a deferential standard of review." Jones v. Barnhart, 364 F.3d 501, 503 (3d Cir. 2004).

In order to establish a disability under the Act, a claimant must demonstrate a "medically determinable basis for an impairment that prevents him [or her] from engaging in any substantial gainful activity' for a statutory twelve-month period." Stunkard v. Secretary of Health & Human Services, 841 F.2d 57, 59 (3d Cir. 1988); Kangas v. Bowen, 823 F.2d 775, 777 (3d Cir. 1987); 42 U.S.C. §§ 423(d)(1)(A), 1382c(a)(3)(A). A claimant is considered to be unable to engage in substantial gainful activity "only if his [or her] physical or mental impairment or impairments are of such severity that he [or she] is not only unable to do his [or her] previous work but cannot, considering his [or her] 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).

To support his or her ultimate findings, an administrative law judge must do more than simply state factual conclusions. He or she must make specific findings of fact. Stewart v. Secretary of Health, Education & Welfare, 714 F.2d 287, 290 (3d Cir. 1983). The administrative law judge must consider all medical evidence contained in the record and provide adequate explanations for disregarding or rejecting evidence. Weir on Behalf of Weir v. Heckler, 734 F.2d 955, 961 (3d Cir. 1984); Cotter v. Harris, 642 F.2d 700, 705 (3d Cir. 1981).

The Social Security Administration ("SSA"), acting pursuant to its legislatively-delegated rulemaking authority, has promulgated a five-step sequential evaluation process for the purpose of determining whether a claimant is "disabled" within the meaning of the Act. The United ...


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