United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania
DENISE K. WILLIAMS, Plaintiff,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.
GERALD B. COHN, Magistrate Judge.
I. Procedural Background
On April 11, 2011, Plaintiff filed an application for disability insurance benefits ("DIB") and supplemental security income ("SSI") under the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§401-433, 1382-1383 (the "Act"). (Tr. 200-16). On July 11, 2011, the Bureau of Disability Determination denied this application (Tr. 92-123), and Plaintiff filed a request for a hearing on August 10, 2011. (Tr. 126-27). On October 9, 2012, an ALJ held a hearing at which Plaintiff-who was represented by an attorney-and a vocational expert ("VE") appeared and testified. (Tr. 35-91). On November 16, 2012, the ALJ found that Plaintiff was not disabled and not entitled to benefits. (Tr. 12-34). On January 7, 2013, Plaintiff filed a request for review with the Appeals Council (Tr. 7-11), which the Appeals denied on January 27, 2014, thereby affirming the decision of the ALJ as the "final decision" of the Commissioner. (Tr. 1-6).
On March 24, 2014, Plaintiff filed the above-captioned action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) to appeal the decision of the Commissioner. (Doc. 1). On May 29, 2014, the Commissioner filed an answer and administrative transcript of proceedings. (Docs. 8, 9). On July 11, 2014, Plaintiff filed a brief in support of her appeal ("Pl. Brief"). (Doc. 10). On August 12, 2014, Defendant filed a brief in response ("Def. Brief"). (Doc. 12). On August 22, 2014, Plaintiff filed a brief in reply. (Doc. 13). On December 4, 2014, the parties consented to transfer of this case to the undersigned for adjudication. (Doc. 15, 16). The matter is now ripe for review.
II. Standard of Review
When reviewing the denial of disability benefits, the Court must determine whether substantial evidence supports the denial. Johnson v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 529 F.3d 198, 200 (3d Cir. 2008); Brown v. Bowen, 845 F.2d 1211, 1213 (3d Cir. 1988). Substantial evidence is a deferential standard of review. See Jones v. Barnhart, 364 F.3d 501, 503 (3d Cir. 2004). Substantial evidence "does not mean a large or considerable amount of evidence, but rather such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.'" Pierce v. Underwood, 487 U.S. 552, 565 (1988) (quoting Consol. Edison Co. of New York v. N.L.R.B., 305 U.S. 197, 229 (1938)). In other words, substantial evidence requires "more than a mere scintilla" but is "less than a preponderance." Jesurum v. Sec'y of U.S. Dep't of Health & Human Servs., 48 F.3d 114, 117 (3d Cir. 1995) (citing Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971)).
III. Sequential Evaluation Process
To receive disability or supplemental security benefits, a claimant must demonstrate an "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." 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A); 42 U.S.C. § 1382c(a)(3)(A). The Act requires that a claimant for disability benefits show that he has a physical or mental impairment of such a 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.
42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(2)(A); 42 U.S.C. § 1382c(a)(3)(B).
The Commissioner uses a five-step evaluation process to determine if a person is eligible for disability benefits. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520; see also Plummer v. Apfel, 186 F.3d 422, 428 (3d Cir. 1999). If the Commissioner finds that a Plaintiff is disabled or not disabled at any point in the sequence, review does not proceed. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520. The Commissioner must sequentially determine: (1) whether the claimant is engaged in substantial gainful activity; (2) whether the claimant has a severe impairment; (3) whether the claimant's impairment meets or equals a listed impairment from 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 ("Listing"); (4) whether the claimant's impairment prevents the claimant from doing past relevant work; and (5) whether the claimant's impairment prevents the claimant from doing any other work. See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 416.920. Before moving on to step four in this process, the ALJ must also determine Plaintiff's residual functional capacity ("RFC"). 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(e), 416.920(e).
The disability determination involves shifting burdens of proof. The claimant bears the burden of proof at steps one through four. If the claimant satisfies this burden, then the Commissioner must show at step five that jobs exist in the national economy that a person with the claimant's abilities, age, education, and work experience can perform. Mason v. Shalala, 994 F.2d 1058, 1064 (3d Cir. 1993). The ultimate burden of proving disability within the meaning of the Act lies with the claimant. See 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(5)(A); 20 C.F.R. § 416.912(a).
IV. Relevant Facts in the Record
Plaintiff was born on January 31, 1964, and was classified by the Regulations as a younger individual through the date of the ALJ decision. (Tr. 28). 20 C.F.R. § 404.1563. Plaintiff has at least at least a high school education and past relevant work as an assembler and order picker. (Tr. 28, 40).
A. Function Report and Testimony
On April 29, 2011, Plaintiff submitted a Function Report in connection with her application for disability benefits. (Tr. 269). She reported that her depression interferes with sleep and bathing. (Tr. 265). She reported that she prepared full meals, although sometimes burns food when she depressed, cleaned her apartment, laundered clothes, went outside daily, walked, drove a car, rode in a car as a passenger, used public transportation, shopped in stores, and maintained her finances (Tr. 264-65). She enjoyed sewing and reading as well as volunteering, but when she was depressed, they were" not in her life." (Tr. 266). She reported that she spoke with her family on a daily basis, attended church, and could walk for one mile before she had to stop to rest (Tr. 266-67). However, she indicated that she would not go out when she was ...