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Hughes v. Colvin

United States District Court, Western District of Pennsylvania

March 17, 2015

LEWIS HUGHES, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, ACTING COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.

E. David Harr, Esq.

Paul Kovac Assistant U.S. Attorney

MEMORANDUM JUDGMENT ORDER

Gustave Diamond United States District Judge

AND NOW, this 17th day of March, 2015, upon consideration of the parties' cross-motions for summary judgment pursuant to plaintiff's request for review of the decision of the Acting: Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner") denying his applications for disability insurance benefits ("DIB") and supplemental security income ("SSI") under Titles II and XVI, respectively, of the Social Security Act, IT IS ORDERED that the Acting Commissioner's motion for summary judgment (Document No. 10) be, and the same hereby is, granted and plaintiff's motion for summary judgment (Document No. 8) 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. Farqnoli v. Massanari, 247 F.3d 34, 38 (3d Cir. 2001) . Moreover, it is well settled that disability is not determined merely by the presence of impairments, but by the effect that those impairments have upon an individual's ability to perform substantial gainful activity. Jones v. Sullivan, 954 F.2d 125, 129 (3d Cir. 1991). 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 filed his applications for DIB and SSI in May 2008, alleging disability beginning on March 1, 2007, due to mental health problems. Plaintiff's applications were denied. Following an administrative hearing, an ALJ issued a decision on January 28, 2010, finding plaintiff not disabled. After the Appeals Council denied plaintiff's request for review, he filed a civil action in this court. In an opinion dated February 2, 2012, the court remanded the case for further proceedings.

In compliance with the remand order, an ALJ held hearings on August 15 and December 5, 2012, at which plaintiff appeared and testified while represented by counsel. On January 16, 2013, the ALJ issued a decision finding that plaintiff is not disabled. The Appeals Council denied plaintiff's request for review on November 4, 2013, making the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner. The instant action followed.

Plaintiff, who has a high school education, was 19 years old on his alleged onset date, and is classified as a younger individual under the regulations. 20 C.F.R. §§404.1563 (c), 416.963 (c). Plaintiff has past relevant work experience as a. cleaner, fast food worker, grocery store stocker and cashier in a. gas station convenience store and restaurant, but he has not engaged in substantial gainful activity at any time since his alleged onset date.

After reviewing plaintiff's medical records and hearing testimony from plaintiff and a vocational expert at the hearing, the ALJ concluded that plaintiff is not disabled within the meaning of the Act. The ALJ first found that plaintiff suffers from the severe impairments of chronic back pain secondary to degenerative disc disease and obesity, bipolar disorder, panic disorder and borderline personality disorder; however, those impairments, alone or in combination, do not meet or equal the criteria of any of the listed impairments set forth in Appendix 1 of 20 C.F.R., Subpart P, Regulation No. 4 ("Appendix 1").

The ALJ next found that plaintiff retains the residual functional capacity to perform light work with a number of: additional limitations. Plaintiff is limited to working in a low; stress, stable environment meaning that he is restricted to performing simple, routine and repetitive tasks. In addition, he is limited to having no more than minimal contact with the public and co-workers (collectively, the "RFC Finding").

The ALJ concluded that plaintiff is unable to perform his past relevant work because it exceeds his residual functional capacity. However, based upon testimony by a vocational expert, the ALJ determined that plaintiff is capable of performing other work that exists in significant numbers in the national economy, such as a marker, garment sorter and electronic worker. Accordingly, the ALJ found that plaintiff is not disabled within the meaning of the Act.

I

The Act defines "disability" as the inability to engage in substantial gainful activity by reason of a physical or mental impairment that can be expected to last for a continuous period of (at least twelve months. 42 U.S.C. §§423 (d) (1) (A), 1382c (a) (3) (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), 1382c(a) (3) (B) .

The Social Security Regulations delineate a five-step sequential evaluation process for determining whether a claimant ' is disabled. The ALJ must assess: (1) whether the claimant is currently engaged in substantial gainful activity; (2) if not, whether he has a severe impairment; (3) if so, whether hid impairment meets or equals the criteria listed in Appendix 1; (4) if not, whether the claimant's impairment prevents him from performing his past relevant work; and (5) if so, whether the claimant can perform any other work that exists in the national economy, in light of his age, education, work experience and, residual functional ...


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