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Wilkerson v. Commissioner of Social Security

United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania

October 8, 2014

BRANDY L. WILKERSON, Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM & ORDER

ROBERT C. MITCHELL, Magistrate Judge.

Presently before the Court for disposition are cross motions for summary judgment. For the reasons that follow the plaintiff's motion (ECF.No.11) will be DENIED; the defendant's motion (ECF No.13) will be GRANTED and the decision of the Commissioner will be AFFIRMED.

On April 10, 2014, Brandy L. Wilkerson, by her counsel, filed a complaint pursuant to Section 205(g) of the Social Security Act, as amended, 42 U.S.C. §405(g) for review of the Commissioner's final determination disallowing her claim for a period of disability or for disability insurance benefits under Sections 216(i) and 223 of the Social Security Act, as amended, 42 U.S.C. §§416(i) and 423.

On February 25, 2011, the plaintiff filed an application for disability benefits alleging that she had been disabled since February 1, 2011 (R.127-128), and benefits were denied on June 1, 2011 (R.68-72). On June 11, 2011, the plaintiff requested a hearing (R.73) and pursuant to that request a hearing was held on August 2, 2012 (R.27-58). In a decision dated September 24, 2012, benefits were denied (R.8-21), and on November 28, 2012, reconsideration was requested (R.7). Upon reconsideration and in a decision dated February 28, 2014, the Appeals Council affirmed the prior determination (R.1-3). The instant complaint was filed on April 10, 2014.

In reviewing an administrative determination of the Commissioner, the question before any court is whether there is substantial evidence in the agency record to support the findings of the Commissioner that the plaintiff failed to sustain her burden of demonstrating that she was disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act.

It is provided in 42 U.S.C. Section 405(g) that:

The court shall have power to enter, upon the pleadings and transcript of the record, a judgment affirming, modifying, or reversing the decision of the Commissioner of Social Security, with or without remanding the cause for a rehearing. The findings of the Commissioner of Social Security as to any fact, if supported by substantial evidence, shall be conclusive....

Substantial evidence is more than a mere scintilla. It means such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion. Johnson v. Comm'r. 529 F.3d 198 (3d Cir.2008) . The court may not set aside a decision supported by substantial evidence. Hartranft v. Apfel , 181 F.3d 358 (3d Cir.1999).

At the hearing held on August 2, 2012, (R.27-58), the plaintiff appeared with counsel (R.29) and testified that she was born on September 7, 1976 (R.32); that she is married and has three children (R.32); that she has a high school education and EMT training (R.34); that she worked as an aide in a nursing facility (R.34) and that she wanted to return to light work but the facility would not permit it (R.36).

The plaintiff also testified that she experiences continuing back and leg pain (R.35, 38); that she was involved in a car accident in December 2011 which worsened her condition (R.37); that she takes medication and attends physical therapy (R.39); that she lays down three or four times a day for about an hour (R.40, 46); that she can sit for about one to one and a half hours (R.44); that she can stand for twenty to thirty minutes (R.45); that she can walk about fifty yards (R.45); that she can lift about five pounds (R.45) and that one or two days a week she cannot do anything (R.49).

At the hearing a vocational expert was called upon to testify (R.52-57). She described the plaintiff's former employment as medium exertional semi-skilled work (R.53). When asked to assume an individual of the plaintiff's age, education and prior work experience who is restricted to light work, the witness testified that such an individual could not perform the plaintiff's prior work (R.53-54). However, she also testified that such an individual could perform a wide range of jobs which exist in the national economy provided she could work an eight hour day (R.54-55). However, with the limitations the plaintiff described, the witness testified she could not be employed (R.56).

The issue before the Court for immediate resolution is a determination of whether or not there is substantial evidence to support the findings of the Commissioner that the plaintiff was not disabled within the meaning of the Act.

The term "disability" is defined in 42 U.S.C. Section 423(d)(1)(A) as:

inability to engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any 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 not less than 12 months....

For purposes of the foregoing, the requirements for a disability determination are provided in 42 U.S.C. Section 423(d)(2)(A):

An individual shall be determined to be under a disability only if his physical or mental impairment or impairments are of such severity that he is not only unable to do his previous work but cannot, considering his age, education, and work experience, engage in any other kind of substantial gainful work which exists in the national economy, regardless of whether such work exists in the immediate area in which he lives, or whether a specific job vacancy exists for him, or whether he would be hired if he applied for work. For purposes of the preceding sentence... "work which exists in the national economy" means work which exists in significant numbers either in the region where such individual lives or in several regions of the country.

A "physical or mental impairment" is "an impairment that results from anatomical, physiological, or psychological abnormalities which are demonstrable by medically acceptable clinical and laboratory diagnostic techniques." 42 U.S.C. Section 423(d)(3). These provisions are also applied for purposes of establishing a period of disability. 42 U.S.C. Section 416(i)(2)(A).

While these statutory provisions have been regarded as "very harsh, " nevertheless, they must be followed by the courts. NLRB v. Staiman Brothers , 466 F.2d 564 (3d Cir. 1972); Choratch v. Finch , 438 F.2d 342 (3d Cir. 1971); Woods v. Finch , 428 F.2d 469 (3d Cir. 1970). Thus, it must be determined whether or not there is substantial evidence in the record to support the conclusion ...


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