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Miller v. Colvin

United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania

April 21, 2015

BRIAN K MILLER, Plaintiff,


DONETTA W. AMBROSE, Senior District Judge.


Brian K. Miller ("Miller") filed an application for Supplemental Security Income ("SSI") on July 29, 2011, alleging a disability beginning on May 21, 2011. (R. 16) The claims were denied initially on January 13, 2012. (R. 92) Pursuant to his request, a hearing was held on February 28, 2013. (R. 33-67) A vocational expert appeared and testified. (R. 33) The ALJ denied the claim by written decision dated March 20, 2013. (R. 13-28) Miller 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. [7] and [9]). Both parties have filed Briefs in Support of their Motions. (Docket Nos. [8] and [10]). After careful consideration of the submissions of the parties, and based on my Opinion set forth below, the ALJ's decision is vacated and the case is remanded for further consideration.


Miller was born on July 27, 1973 and was 37 years old at the time he filed the application. (R. 27) He lives with his fiance and his three children, one of whom is a step-daughter. (R. 38) Miller attended school through the seventh grade and never received any vocational training. (R. 40) He reports that he does not drive due to the loss of a driver's license when he was sixteen years old, although the fractures he sustained prior to filing this application occurred when he was driving his motorcycle. (R. 40, 208-216) Prior to his injuries he worked as a house painter; he repossessed houses for banks and mortgage companies; and he worked in the construction field. (R. 41-43) Despite his impairments and pain, Miller is able to attend his son's wrestling matches and takes his kids to the park. He also provides a little help with cooking and cleaning. (R. 52-3) Miller is also able to help with the laundry. (R. 54)

As stated above, the ALJ concluded that Miller has not been under a disability within the meaning of the Social Security Act since July 18, 2011. (R. 28) Specifically, the ALJ determined that Miller's history of fractures, depression, bipolar disorder and generalized anxiety disorder constituted severe impairments, but that those impairments did not meet or medically equal an impairment listed in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. (R. 18-19) The ALJ further concluded that Miller was capable of performing sedentary work with certain limitations. (R. 21) At the fourth step of the analysis, the ALJ found that Miller could not perform his past relevant work. (R. 26) However, at the fifth step, the ALJ concluded that Miller retained the residual functional capacity to perform the jobs of: the waxer of glass products; a document preparer; a sorter; and an inspector/checker. (R. 27) Consequently, the ALJ denied his claim.

Miller takes issue with the ALJ's conclusion that his concussion, fatigue, back pain, and headaches did not qualify as "severe impairments" at the second step of the analysis. Miller also urges that the ALJ provided inadequate explanations for certain of her findings and that she erred in her weighing of medical evidence. For the reasons set forth below, I find that remand is appropriate.


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 to his previous employment (steps 1-4). Dobrowolsky , 606 F.2d at 406. Once the claimant meets this burden, the burden of proof shifts to the Commissioner to show that the claimant can engage in alternative substantial gainful activity (step 5). Id.

A district court, after reviewing the entire record may affirm, modify, or reverse the decision with or without remand to the Commissioner for rehearing. Podedworny ...

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