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Edwell v. Colvin

United States District Court, Western District of Pennsylvania

September 15, 2014

CAROLYN W. COLVIN, [1] Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.



Plaintiff commenced this action seeking review of the decision of the Commissioner of Social Security (“Commissioner”) denying plaintiff’s applications for disability insurance benefits (“DIB”) under Title II of the Social Security Act (“the Act”). The record was developed fully at the administrative level and the parties have filed cross motions for summary judgment. For the reasons set forth below, plaintiff’s motion for summary judgment will be denied, the Commissioner’s motion for summary judgment will be granted and final judgment will be entered against plaintiff and in favor of the Commissioner.

The Commissioner’s findings and conclusions leading to a determination that a claimant is not “disabled” must be supported by substantial evidence. Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971); Stunkard v. Secretary of Health and Human Services, 841 F.2d 57, 59 (3d Cir. 1988). The task of this court in reviewing the decision below is to “determine whether there is substantial evidence on the record to support the ALJ’s decision.” Burnett v. Commissioner of Social Security, 220 F.3d 112, 118 (3d Cir. 2000). Substantial evidence “means that such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.” Morales v. Aphel, 225 F.3d 310, 316 (3d Cir. 2000) (quoting Plummer v. Apfel, 186 F.3d 422, 427 (3d Cir. 1999).

As the fact finder, the administrative law judge (“ALJ”) has an obligation to weight all the facts and evidence of record and may accept or reject any evidence if the ALJ explains the reasons for doing so. Plummer, 186 F.3d at 429. This includes crediting or discounting a claimant’s complaints of pain and/or subjective description of the limitations caused by his or her impairments. Van Horn v. Schweiker, 717 F.2d 871, 873 (3d Cir. 1983); Hartranft v. Apfel, 181 F.3d 358, 362 (3d Cir. 1999). And where the findings of fact leading to the decision of the Commissioner are supported by substantial evidence, a reviewing court is bound by those findings, even if it would have decided the inquiry differently. Fargnoli v. Massanari, 247 F.3d 34, 38 (3d Cir. 2000). These well-established principles preclude a reversal or remand of the Commissioner’s decision here because the record contains substantial evidence to support it.

Plaintiff seeks review of the ALJ’s May 9, 2011, decision denying her application for benefits pursuant to a finding that although plaintiff’s ability to engage in substantial gainful activity is restricted by limitations resulting from the severe impairment rheumatoid arthritis, plaintiff retains the residual functional capacity to perform the demands of a limited range of light work that will accommodate her need for (1) no crawling or climbing ropes, ladders or scaffolds; (2) no working around unprotected heights or around moving machinery; (3) only occasional balancing, stooping, kneeling and crouching; (4) only occasional interaction with the public; and (5) no frequent repetitive hand movements or operation of hand controls.

A vocational expert identified the positions of night guard, night cleaner, and packer as jobs that would accommodate these limitations and restrictions. The appeals council denied plaintiff’s request for review and the instant action followed.

Plaintiff was 22 years of age at her alleged on-set date of July 1, 2009, and 24 years of age when the ALJ issued his decision on May 9, 2011. She had a high school education and three years of college and was trained as a medical assistant. She had worked as a cashier, customer service representative and a medical assistant.

Plaintiff lives in a first-floor apartment with her five year old daughter. Just prior to the hearing plaintiff began part-time work (10 hours per week) as a day care attendant. Plaintiff generally had been working two hours a day taking care of two and three year olds. Plaintiff takes care of her daughter on a regular basis.

Plaintiff explained to the ALJ that she had been diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis and this impairment makes activities during the day very difficult. R. 34. Plaintiff undergoes regular blood monitoring because of a low white-cell count. R. 35. Plaintiff's treating rheumatologist, Dr. Bass, is concerned about a diagnosis of lupus which is one reason he regularly examines plaintiff and monitors her through blood work. R. 35.

Plaintiff suffers a lot of pain in her knees, ankles, hips and the joints of her hands, all of which causes her to be very slow in completing the activities of daily living, housework and care of her daughter. R. 34. She has been prescribed and wears a brace on her right wrist to counter the swelling and pain in that area. R. 42.

Plaintiff takes eight medications and a number of these cause side-effects, including suppression of her immune system, dizziness, fatigue, headaches and blurred vision. R. 39. She receives help with daily activities, household chores and childrearing responsibilities from her sister and her friend. R. 41.

The ALJ considered plaintiff's impairment and the numerous limitations asserted by plaintiff and determined that while the limitations could reasonably be expected to be caused by rheumatoid arthritis, plaintiff's claims of disabling intensity were "not credible to the extent they were inconsistent with the above residual functional capacity." R. 19. In accordance with the RFCA and the vocational expert's testimony, the ALF determined that plaintiff was not disabled under the Act.

Plaintiff contends that the ALJ’s decision was not supported by substantial evidence. Her argument is twofold. First, the ALJ failed to find lupus as a severe impairment. Second, the ALJ failed to order a consultative examination to determine if she had lupus after her counsel requested that such an examination be ordered at the hearing. The Commissioner contends the record contains substantial evidence to support the ALJ’s decision.

The record contains substantial evidence to support the ALJ’s findings and conclusions. The ALJ’s decision to limit plaintiff's severe impairment to rheumatoid arthritis was well within his discretion. Similarly, the ALJ’s determination that the record was adequately developed and a consultative ...

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