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Miles v. Colvin

United States District Court, Western District of Pennsylvania

September 19, 2014

MARK ALAN MILES, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.

OPINION ORDER OF COURT

DONETTA W. AMBROSE, UNITED STATES SENIOR DISTRICT JUDGE

SYNOPSIS

Pending before the Court are Cross-Motions for Summary Judgment. (Docket Nos.[9] and [11]). Both parties have filed Briefs in Support of their Motions. (Docket Nos. [10] and [12]). Plaintiff has also filed a Reply Brief. (Docket No. [13]). 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 and denying the Plaintiff’s Motion for Summary Judgment.

I. BACKGROUND

Mark Alan Miles (“Miles”) appeals under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) for a review of a final administrative decision of the Commissioner of Social Security denying his claim for supplemental security income (“SSI”) under Title XVI of the Social Security Act (“SSA”), 42 U.S.C. §§ 1381-1383f. Miles claims to suffer from both physical and mental disabilities, including back pain and depression.

Miles filed his application for SSI on January 11, 2011 alleging disability beginning February 1, 1985. (R. 15) Miles would have been 24 years old on the alleged onset date. (R. 55) He was 52 years old at the time the ALJ issued her decision. He graduated from high school and received specialized electronics training in the Navy. (R. 163) His past work included jobs performing electrical work with a construction company, installing alarm systems with an alarm and communications company and installing audio systems with an auto detailer. (R. 164).

Miles’s claim was denied initially on March 2, 2011. (R. 15). Miles appeared and testified thereafter at a hearing, as did Charles M. Cohen, Ph. D., an impartial vocational expert. The ALJ then issued a decision denying the request for SSI benefits. Miles then filed an appeal with the Appeals Council. That appeal was denied and he timely filed an appeal with this Court.

The parties have filed Cross-Motions for Summary Judgment and 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 Amore 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 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 ...


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