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Dennison v. Colvin

United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania

September 24, 2014

LONNIE JAMES DENNISON, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant. AMBROSE, Senior District Judge.

OPINION and ORDER OF COURT SYNOPSIS

DONETTA W. AMBROSE, District Judge.

Lonnie James Dennison ("Dennison") filed an application for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits based, in part, upon a cardiovascular disorder and depression. His claim was denied following a hearing and the Appeals Council denied his request for review. Dennison then filed this appeal under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).

Before the Court are Cross-Motions for Summary Judgment. (Docket Nos. [9] and [12]). Both parties have filed Briefs in Support of their Motions. (Docket Nos. [11] and [13]). Plaintiff has also filed a Reply Brief. (Docket No. [14]). 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

Dennison offers December 1, 2009 as his onset date for disability. (R. 24, 44) He was 44 years old at that time, having been born in 1965. (R. 140) He attended school through the eighth grade and spent approximately 23 years working as a welder. (R. 46-47) He reports leaving that job for one less physically taxing. (R. 45) He then took a job managing a small bar/restaurant for a short period of time. (R. 45) He stopped working when that business failed.

As stated above, the ALJ denied Dennison's request for benefits. Specifically, the ALJ determined that Dennison retained the residual functional capacity to perform sedentary work with some restrictions. (R. 22-40) In light of those restrictions Dennison was unable to perform his past relevant work as a welder and the ALJ concluded that he was able to perform the requirements of jobs such as: surveillance system monitor, telemarketer and call out operator. (R. 35-36). Dennison appeals, urging that the ALJ's assessment of "residual functional capacity" is "infected with legal error." Specifically, Dennison contends that the ALJ failed to properly evaluate the medical evidence and that the ALJ erred in his evaluation of subjective complaints of pain.

II. LEGAL ANALYSIS

A) Standard of Review

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 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).

B) Discussion

As stated above, Dennison attacks the ALJ's finding with respect to residual functional capacity ("RFC"). He focuses more narrowly upon the ALJ's treatment of the medical evidence and upon ...


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