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Smith v. Commissioner of Social Security

United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania

January 27, 2017

MELISSA SMITH, Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          Robert C. Mitchell United States Magistrate Judge

         Presently before the Court for disposition are cross motions for summary judgment. For the reasons set forth below, the plaintiff's motion for summary judgment (ECF No. 11) will be denied; the defendant's motion for summary judgment (ECF No.15) will be granted, and the decision of the Commissioner will be affirmed.

         On March 7, 2016, Melissa Smith, by her counsel, filed a complaint pursuant to Section 205(g) of the Social Security Act, as amended, 42 U.S.C. §405(g) for review of the Commissioner's final determination disallowing her claim for a period of disability or for disability insurance benefits under Sections 216(i) and 223 of the Social Security Act, as amended, 42 U.S.C. §§416(i) and 423.

         On June 18, 2013, the plaintiff filed an application for disability benefits alleging that she had been disabled since February 2, 2013 (R. 158-159), and benefits were denied on October 16, 2013 (R. 101-105). On November 15, 2013, the plaintiff requested a hearing (R. 106-107) and pursuant to that request a hearing was held on May 28, 2014 (R. 32-80). In a decision dated July 14, 2015, benefits were denied (R. 9-24), and on August 29, 2014, reconsideration was requested (R. 7). Upon reconsideration and in a decision dated December 30, 2015, the Appeals Council affirmed the prior determination (R. 1-3). On March 7, 2016, the instant complaint was filed.

         In reviewing an administrative determination of the Commissioner, the question before any court is whether there is substantial evidence in the agency record to support the findings of the Commissioner that the plaintiff failed to sustain his burden of demonstrating that he was disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act.

         It is provided in 42 U.S.C. Section 405(g) that:

The court shall have power to enter, upon the pleadings and transcript of the record, a judgment affirming, modifying, or reversing the decision of the Commissioner of Social Security, with or without remanding the cause for a rehearing. The findings of the Commissioner of Social Security as to any fact, if supported by substantial evidence, shall be conclusive....Substantial evidence is more than a mere scintilla. It means such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion. Johnson v. Comm'r. 529 F.3d 198 (3d Cir.2008) and the court may not set aside a decision supported by substantial evidence. Hartranft v. Apfel, 181 F.3d 358 (3d Cir.1999).

         At the hearing held on May 28, 2014 (R.32-80), the plaintiff appeared with counsel (R. 34) and testified that she was born on November 30, 1975 (R.40); that she had been pursuing her Associate's degree (R.41); that she worked as a certified nurse's aide performing medic transport (R.42); that she stopped working on February 2, 2013 pursuant to her doctor's advice (R.44) and that she is receiving food stamps and public assistance (R.43).

         The plaintiff also testified that she suffers from lower back pain, migraines, reflux disease, chest pain, vertigo, depression and anxiety and panic disorders (R.46); that her pain is extreme (R.47-48); that she suffers from daily headaches and lacks energy (R.49, 58) and that she can walk for about ten feet, stand for five minutes, sit for fifteen to twenty minutes and lift a gallon of milk (R.61-62).

         At the hearing a vocational expert was called upon to testify (R.70-78). She classified the plaintiff's prior work as light to heavy and unskilled to skilled in nature (R.72). When asked to assume an individual of the plaintiff's age, education and vocational background who could lift up to twenty pounds occasionally and ten pounds frequently and who can stand, walk or sit for six hours a day she responded that such an individual would only be able to perform limited unskilled entry level jobs (R. 74-75).

         The witness was next asked to assume an individual of the plaintiff's age, education and vocational background who could only lift five pounds occasionally, stand or walk for about an hour and sit for three hours and testified that such an individual could not perform the plaintiff's past work (R.76-77).

         The issue before the Court for immediate resolution is a determination of whether or not there is substantial evidence to support the findings of the Commissioner that the plaintiff was not disabled within the meaning of the Act.

         The term "disability" is defined in 42 U.S.C. Section 423(d)(1)(A) as:

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....

         For purposes of the foregoing, the requirements for a disability determination are provided in 42 U.S.C. Section 423(d)(2)(A):

An individual shall be determined to be under a disability only if his physical or mental impairment or impairments are of such 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. For purposes of the preceding sentence ... "work which exists in the national economy" means work which exists in significant numbers either in the region where such individual lives or in several regions of the country.

         A "physical or mental impairment" is "an impairment that results from anatomical, physiological, or psychological abnormalities which are demonstrable by medically acceptable clinical and laboratory diagnostic techniques." 42 U.S.C. Section 423(d)(3). These provisions are also applied for purposes of establishing a period of disability. 42 U.S.C. Section 416(i)(2)(A).

         While these statutory provisions have been regarded as "very harsh, " nevertheless, they must be followed by the courts. NLRB v. Staiman Brothers, 466 F.2d 564 (3d Cir. 1972); Choratch v. Finch, 438 F.2d 342 (3d Cir. 1971); Woods v. Finch, 428 F.2d 469 (3d Cir. 1970). Thus, it must be determined whether or not there is substantial evidence in the record to support the conclusion ...


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