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Miller v. Colvin

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

September 10, 2014

BETTY J. MILLER, Plaintiff.


ROBERT D. MARIANI, District Judge.


The above-captioned action is one seeking review of a decision of the Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner") denying Plaintiff Betty J. Miller's claim for social security disability insurance benefits and supplemental security income benefits.

On May 10, 2011, Miller filed protectively[1] an application for disability insurance benefits and on May 12, 2011, an application for supplemental security income benefits. Tr. 12, 58-59, 170, 188, and 223.[2] The applications were initially denied by the Bureau of Disability Determination[3] on July 19, 2011. Tr. 79-88. On August 15, 2011, Miller requested a hearing before an administrative law judge. Tr. 94. The request was granted and a hearing held on February 7, 2012. Tr. 12 and 25-57. On April 19, 2012, the administrative law judge issued a decision denying Miller's applications. Tr. 12-20. As will be explained in more detail infra the administrative law judge found that Miller failed to prove that she met the requirements of a listed impairment or suffered from work-preclusive functional limitations. Id . Instead Miller had the ability to perform a limited range of light work, [4] including as a child care attendant, laundry worker, mail clerk and hostess. Tr. 19-20. On May 22, 2012, Miller filed a request for review with the Appeals Council and after over 14 months had elapsed the Appeals Council on August 1, 2013, concluded that there was no basis upon which to grant Miller's request for review. Tr. 1-4 and 7-8.

Miller then filed a complaint in this court on September 10, 2013. Supporting and opposing briefs were submitted and the appeal became ripe for disposition on February 27, 2014, when Miller elected not to file a reply brief.

Disability insurance benefits are paid to an individual if that individual is disabled and "insured, " that is, the individual has worked long enough and paid social security taxes. The last date that a claimant meets the requirements of being insured is commonly referred to as the "date last insured." It is undisputed that Miller met the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act through December 31, 2011. Tr. 23-24 and 138. In order to establish entitlement to disability insurance benefits Miller was required to establish that she suffered from a disability on or before that date. 42 U.S.C. § 423(a)(1)(A), (c)(1)(B); 20 C.F.R. §404.131(a)(2008); see Matullo v. Bowen , 926 F.2d 240, 244 (3d Cir. 1990).

Supplemental security income is a federal income supplement program funded by general tax revenues (not social security taxes). It is designed to help aged, blind or other disabled individuals who have little or no income. Insured status is irrelevant in determining a claimant's eligibility for supplemental security income benefits.

Miller, who was born in the United States on May 15, 1961, [5] obtained a General Equivalency Diploma (GED) in May 1979, and can read, write, speak and understand the English language and perform basic mathematical functions. Tr. 29-30, 58, 190, 192 and 207. Before she withdrew from school, Miller attended regular education classes. Tr. 192. After withdrawing from school and obtaining a GED Miller did not complete "any type of special job training, trade or vocational school." Id.

Miller's work history covers 32 years and at least 32 different employers. Tr. 145-154. The records of the Social Security Administration reveal that Miller had earnings in the years 1975-1980, 1983 through 2002, 2005 and 2007 through 2011. Tr. 143, 171 and 173-174. Miller's reported annual earnings ranged from a low of $89.26 in 1977 to a high of $14, 254.40 in 2010. Id . Miller's total earnings were $128, 603.24. Id.

Miller has past relevant employment[6] as (1) a home health attendant which was described by a vocational expert as semi-skilled, medium work as generally performed in the economy and heavy work as actually performed by Miller and (2) a child care attendant described as semi-skilled, light work as generally performed but at least medium as actually performed by Miller. Tr. 19, 49 and 51.

Miller in her applications for disability insurance benefits and supplemental security income benefits claims that she became disabled on April 13, 2011, as the result of an injury to her back. Tr. 12, 60, 170 and 188. She lists her disabling impairments as obesity[7] and degenerative disc disease of the lumbosacral spine[8] accompanied by radiculitis.[9] Tr. 30; Doc. 7, Plaintiffs Brief, p. 1.

For the reasons set forth below we will remand the case to the Commissioner for further proceedings.

Standard of Review

When considering a social security appeal, we have plenary review of all legal issues decided by the Commissioner. See Poulos v. Commissioner of Social Security , 474 F.3d 88, 91 (3d Cir. 2007); Schaudeck v. Commissioner of Social Sec. Admin. , 181 F.3d 429, 431 (3d Cir. 1999); Krysztoforski v. Chater , 55 F.3d 857, 858 (3d Cir. 1995). However, our review of the Commissioner's findings of fact pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) is to determine whether those findings are supported by "substantial evidence." Id .; Brown v. Bowen , 845 F.2d 1211, 1213 (3d Cir. 1988); Mason v. Shalala , 994 F.2d 1058, 1064 (3d Cir. 1993). Factual findings which are supported by substantial evidence must be upheld. 42 U.S.C. §405(g); Fargnoli v. Massanari , 247 F.3d 34, 38 (3d Cir. 2001)("Where the ALJ's findings of fact are supported by substantial evidence, we are bound by those findings, even if we would have decided the factual inquiry differently."); Cotter v. Harris , 642 F.2d 700, 704 (3d Cir. 1981)("Findings of fact by the Secretary must be ...

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