United States District Court, Western District of Pennsylvania
Julie S. Greenberg, Esq. Duane Morris
Samantha Xander, Esq. Law Offices of Harry J. Binder and Charles E. Binder, P.C.
Stephanie L. Haines Assistant U.S. Attorney
MEMORANDUM JUDGMENT ORDER
Gustave Diamond United States District Judge
AND NOW, this 26th day of March, 2015, upon consideration of the parties' cross-motions for summary judgment pursuant to plaintiffs request for review of the decision of the Acting Commissioner of Social Security ("Acting Commissioner") denying his application for disability insurance benefits ("DIB") under Title II of the Social Security Act, IT IS ORDERED that the Acting Commissioner's motion for summary judgment (Document No. 12) be, and the same hereby is, granted and plaintiffs motion for summary judgment (Document No. 10) 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). 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(3dCir. 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 application for DIB on December 10, 2010, alleging disability beginning on July 26, 2010, due to a right wrist problem, back problems and arthritis. Plaintiffs application was denied. At plaintiffs request, an ALJ held a hearing on January 24, 2012, at which he appeared and testified. On March 12, 2012, the ALJ issued a partially favorable decision finding plaintiff disabled as of May 31, 2011, when he turned 55 years old. However, plaintiff requested review of the ALJ's decision finding him not disabled prior to that date. The Appeals Council denied plaintiffs request for review on August 26, 2013, making the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner. The instant action followed.
Plaintiff, who has a high school education, was 54 years old on his alleged onset date, which is classified as an individual closely approaching advanced age under the regulations. 20 C.F.R. §404.1563(d). Plaintiff has past relevant work experience as a bartender, pressure washer, hand painter and line painter, but he has not engaged in substantial gainful activity at any time since his alleged onset date.
After reviewing plaintiffs medical records and hearing testimony from plaintiff and a vocational expert at the hearing, the ALJ concluded that plaintiff was not disabled within the meaning of the Act prior to May 31, 2011. The ALJ first found that plaintiff suffers from the severe impairments of a torn ligament and degenerative joint disease of the right wrist status post fusion, carpel tunnel syndrome, lumbar disc protrusion causing borderline stenosis and radiculopathy and degenerative disc disease of the cervical spine; 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, but he is precluded from lifting, handling, operating levers and pushing and pulling with his right upper extremity (collectively, the "RFC Finding").
The ALJ concluded that plaintiff could not perform his past relevant work because it exceeded his residual functional capacity. However, based upon testimony by a vocational expert, the ALJ determined that prior to May 31, 2011, plaintiff was capable of performing other work that exists in significant numbers in the national economy, such as a ticket taker or a toll collector. Accordingly, the ALJ found that plaintiff was not disabled within the meaning of the Act prior to May 31, 2011, but he became disabled on that date when he turned 55 years old pursuant to application of Rule 202.06 of the Grids.
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). 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 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 his 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 capacity. 20 CF.R. §404.1520(a)(4). If the claimant is found disabled or not disabled at any step, further inquiry is unnecessary. Id.
In this case, plaintiff argues that the ALJ's step 5 finding is not supported by substantial evidence for the following reasons: (1) the ALJ failed to properly weigh certain medical opinions; (2) the ALJ did not properly evaluate plaintiff s credibility; and (3) the ALJ should have considered a non-mechanical ...