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Robinson v. Colvin

United States District Court, Western District of Pennsylvania

March 16, 2015

BETTY D. ROBINSON, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, ACTING COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.

Karl E. Osterhout, Esq.,

Michael Colville Assistant U.S. Attorney

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER OF COURT

Gustave Diamond, United States District Judge

AND NOW, this 16th day of March, 2015, upon due consideration of the parties' cross-motions for summary judgment related to plaintiffs request for review of the decision of the Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner") denying plaintiffs application for disability insurance benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act ("Act"), IT IS ORDERED that the Commissioner's motion for summary judgment (Document No. 13) be, and the same hereby is, ; granted and plaintiffs motion for summary judgment (Document No. 9) be, and the same hereby is, denied.

As the factfinder, an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") has an obligation to weigh all of the facts and evidence of record and may reject or discount any evidence if the ALJ explains the reasons for doing so. Plummer v. Apfel, 186 F.3d 422, 429 (3d Cir, 1999). Where the ALJ's findings of fact are supported by substantial evidence, a reviewing court is bound by those findings, even if it would have decided the factual inquiry differently. Fargnoli v. Massanari, 247 F.3d 34, 38 (3d Cir. 2001). These well-established principles preclude a reversal or remand of the ALJ's decision here because the record contains substantial evidence to support the ALJ's findings and conclusions.

Plaintiff protectively filed her pending application for benefits on August 11, 2010, alleging a disability onset date of January 15, 2010, due to fibromyalgia, high blood pressure, and neck, : back and hip problems. Plaintiffs application was denied initially. At plaintiffs request an ALJ held a hearing on December 2, 2011, at which plaintiff, represented by counsel, appeared and; testified. On December 27, 2011, the ALJ issued a decision finding that plaintiff is not disabled. On August 2, 2013, the Appeals Council denied review making the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner.

Plaintiff was 57 years old at the time of the ALJ's decision and is classified as a person of advanced age under the regulations. 20 C.F.R. §404.1563(e). She has a high school education and has past relevant work experience as a case worker for the Pennsylvania Department of Welfare. In January of 2010, plaintiff retired from that position, testifying that it was a "regular" retirement and was not a sick-leave or disability retirement. (R. 33). Plaintiff i resumed working part-time as a support specialist for the elderly and disabled in April of 2010 and continued doing so until October of 2011. However, because she did not earn enough from this part-time work for it to qualify as substantial gainful activity under the Act, the ALJ found that plaintiff has not engaged in any substantial gainful activity since her alleged onset date of January 10, 2010.

After reviewing plaintiffs medical records and hearing testimony from plaintiff and a vocational expert, the ALJ concluded that plaintiff is not disabled within the meaning of the Act. The ALJ found that although the medical evidence establishes that plaintiff suffers from the severe impairments of fibromyalgia and degenerative disc disease of the cervical and lumbar spine, those impairments, alone or in combination, do not meet or equal the criteria of any of the impairments listed at Appendix 1 of 20 C.F.R., Part 404, Subpart P.

The ALJ also found that plaintiff retains the residual functional capacity to engage in work at the light exertional level but with numerous restrictions necessary to accommodate her physical impairments. (R. 13).[1] Taking into account these restrictions, a vocational expert testified that, given plaintiffs age, education, work experience and residual functional capacity, she would be able to perform her past relevant work as a caseworker. Relying on the vocational expert's testimony, the ALJ found that plaintiff is capable of performing her past relevant work and concluded that she is not disabled under the Act.

The Act defines "disability" as the inability to engage in substantial gainful activity by reason of a physical or mental impairment which can be expected to last for a continuous period of at least twelve months. 42 U.S.C. §423(d)(l)(A). The impairment or impairments must be so severe that the claimant "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 ...." 42 U.S.C. §423(d)(2)(A).

The Commissioner has promulgated regulations incorporating a five-step sequential evaluation process for determining whether a claimant is under a disability.[2] 20 C.F.R. §404.1520. If the claimant is found disabled or not disabled at any step, the claim need not be reviewed further. Id.; see Barnhart v. Thomas, 124 S.Ct. 376 (2003).

Here, plaintiff raises two challenges to the ALJ's determination that plaintiff is not disabled: (1) the ALJ improperly evaluated the medical evidence in concluding that plaintiff retains the residual functional capacity for light work with restrictions; and, (2) the ALJ ignored j plaintiffs 34-year prior work history in evaluating her credibility. Upon review, the court is satisfied that the ALJ properly evaluated the evidence and that all of the ALJ's findings are supported by substantial evidence.

Plaintiffs first argument is that the ALJ improperly evaluated the medical evidence.[3]Specifically, plaintiff contends that, in finding that plaintiff retains the residual functional capacity to perform light work with restrictions, the ALJ improperly gave more credence to the report of a one-time consultative examiner while rejecting or ignoring the opinions of plaintiff's treating physicians and the state agency reviewing physician. The crux of plaintiff's argument is that the opinions from her treating physicians, supported by the state agency reviewer, "at most, support a finding that [plaintiff] can perform sedentary work; if so, she is unable to perform her past relevant work .... " Plaintiff's Brief in Support of Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. # 1 0) at 6 (emphasis added).

Even accepting solely for the sake of argument, and without so finding, that plaintiff is correct, [4] and that a proper evaluation of the medical evidence in this case would support a finding that plaintiff retains the residual functional capacity only for sedentary work with the i restrictions otherwise found by the ALJ, plaintiffs entire argument nevertheless is undermined by the fact that the vocational expert testified that plaintiffs past relevant work as a case worker in fact would be classified as sedentary, (R. 53), and further testified explicitly that, ...


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