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Zimmerman v. Colvin

United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania

July 15, 2015

VINCENT E. ZIMMERMAN, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.

OPINION and ORDER OF COURT

DONETTA W. AMBROSE, Senior District Judge.

SYNOPSIS

Vincent E. Zimmerman filed an application for Disability Insurance Benefits ("DIB") and Supplemental Security Income ("SSI") on August 3, 2011, alleging a disability beginning on May 30, 2006, due to, among other things, back and knee pain, eyesight issues, arthritis, sinus problems, and difficulty walking. (R. 10) He subsequently amended the alleged onset date of disability to July 2, 2010. (R.10) The claims were denied initially on January 5, 2012. (R. 10) Pursuant to his request, a hearing was held on April 2, 2013. (R.66) A vocational expert appeared and testified. (R. 96) The ALJ denied the claim by written decision dated May 3, 2013. (R. 24) Zimmerman requested review by the Appeals Council, which was denied. He then brought this action seeking judicial review pursuant 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) and 1383(c)(3).

Before the Court are Cross-Motions for Summary Judgment. (Docket Nos. [10] and [14]). Both parties have filed Briefs in Support of their Motions and Zimmerman filed a Reply Brief. (Docket Nos. [11], [15] and [19]). After careful consideration of the submissions of the parties, and based on my Opinion set forth below, the ALJ's decision is affirmed.

I. BACKGROUND

Zimmerman was born in 1964 and was 48 years old at the time of the hearing. (R. 71) He is divorced, with one adult child, and lives with his mother. (R. 72) Zimmerman has a high school diploma and served in the Army for three years during which time he received training as a truck driver. (R. 72) He also completed two years of auto body training while in high school. (R. 270, 591) Zimmerman has a driver's license and drives to doctor's appointments. (R. 72) He is currently unemployed but has past work experience, in part, as a security guard, as a laborer for heavy equipment operators, as a driller's helper, as a plumber's helper and as a car detailer. (R. 74-76) He occasionally helps with laundry and other housework such as vacuuming and doing the dishes. (R. 82) Zimmerman is also able to make small meals. (R. 83) Zimmerman reports that he spends the day straightening up the house, watching television, making sure the animals are fed and taking care of his dog. (R. 84-85)

As stated above, the ALJ concluded that Zimmerman has not been under a disability within the meaning of the Social Security Act since July 2, 2010. (R. 11) Specifically, the ALJ determined that Zimmerman's chronic left atypical lumbosacral radiculitis; mild degenerative changes, right second finger; minor narrowing of C4-6 vertebrae; mild L4-5 vertebral disc bulge; mild right cubital tunnel syndrome; adjustment disorder/depression NOS; and anxiety NOS constituted severe impairments, but that those impairments did not meet or medically equal an impairment listed in Appendix 1, Subpart P, Regulation No. 4. (R. 14-16) The ALJ further concluded that Zimmerman was capable of performing a range of work activity that requires no more than a "light" level of physical exertion with certain limitations. (R. 16) At the fourth step of the analysis, the ALJ found that Zimmerman could not perform his past relevant work. (R. 22) However, at the fifth step, the ALJ concluded that Zimmerman retained the residual functional capacity to perform the jobs of: garment sorter/marker and a machine tender. (R. 23) Consequently, the ALJ denied his claim.[1]

Zimmerman challenges the ALJ's decision in several respects. For instance, he contends that the ALJ erred in evaluating the medical evidence of record. He further challenges the hypothetical the ALJ posed to the vocational expert. Finally, Zimmerman contends that the ALJ relied upon incomplete vocational information in making a residual functional determination. For the reasons set forth below, I reject each argument.

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 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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