United States District Court, Western District of Pennsylvania
RICHARD A. KRUEGER, JR., Plaintiff,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.
OPINION AND ORDER OF COURT
Donetta W. Ambrose, United States Senior District Judge.
Richard A. Krueger, Jr. (“Krueger”) filed an application for disability insurance benefits in June of 2013, alleging a disability beginning on April 30, 2009 due to degenerative disc disease, migraine headaches, depression, anxiety and a somatization disorder. (R. 180-81, 198) The claims were denied initially on October 30, 2013. (R. 24) Pursuant to his request, a hearing was held on March 11, 2014. (R. 46-82) A vocational expert appeared and testified. The ALJ denied the claim by written decision dated March 21, 2014. (R. 14) Krueger requested review by the Appeals Council, which was denied. He then brought this action seeking judicial review pursuant 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).
Before the Court are Cross-Motions for Summary Judgment. (Docket Nos.  and ). Both parties have filed Briefs in Support of their Motions. (Docket Nos.  and ). After careful consideration of the submissions of the parties, and based on my Opinion set forth below, the ALJ’s decision is affirmed.
Krueger was born on March 18, 1970 and was a few days shy of 44 years old at the time of the hearing. (R. 50-51) He lives at home with his wife and collects a PennDot pension and a VA pension. (R. 51) He completed high school as well as one year of college. (R. 53) He was trained as a material specialist in the military and did further training as a corrections officer after his service. (R. 53-54) Krueger has past work experience for PennDot as “general office work.” (R. 54) He stopped working at PennDot because of the overall stress of the job. (R. 55) He currently treats with a chiropractor and uses a TENS Unit, ice and heating pads, has had a cortisone shot in the past and has participated in aqua-therapy. (R. 60-61)
Despite his impairments, Krueger is able to cook simple meals and perform some household chores such as cleaning dishes and washing laundry. (R. 63) He attends church and attends to his own personal care. He uses a computer and watches television. (R. 58, 63) He visits his father in a nursing home and is able to drive a car. (R. 52, 63) He also plays baseball in a church league, as often as two games a week. (R. 452)
As stated above, the ALJ concluded that Krueger has not been under a disability within the meaning of the Social Security Act since April 30, 2009. (R. 16) Specifically, although the ALJ found that Krueger had not engaged in any substantial gainful activity since the onset date, and that his degenerative disc disease, migraine headaches, depression, anxiety and somatization disorder qualified as severe impairments, he concluded that those impairments or combinations thereof do not meet or medically equal one of the listed impairments. (R. 27) The ALJ determined that Krueger had the residual functional capacity to perform light work. (R. 29)
Krueger attacks the ALJ’s decision in two respects. First, Krueger takes issue with the weight accorded the opinions of his treating physicians. Second, Krueger faults the ALJ with respect to his credibility assessment. For the reasons set forth below, I find each argument unpersuasive.
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 ...