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Luzzi v. Berryhill

United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania

February 1, 2017



          Donetta W. Ambrose United States Senior District Judge

         Pending before the Court are Cross-Motions for Summary Judgment. (ECF Nos. 9 and 11). Both parties have filed briefs in support of their motions. (ECF Nos. 10 and 12). After careful consideration of the submissions of the parties, and based on my Opinion set forth below, I am denying Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 9) and granting Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment. (ECF No. 11).

         I. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff brought this action for review of the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security (“Commissioner”) denying his application for disability insurance benefits (“DIB”) pursuant to the Social Security Act ("Act”). Plaintiff filed his application alleging he has been disabled since September 1, 2012. (ECF No. 5-6, p. 2). Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”), William E. Kenworthy, held a hearing on February 3, 2014. (ECF No. 5-2, pp. 24-58). On October 20, 2014, the ALJ found that Plaintiff was not disabled under the Act. (ECF No. 5-2, pp. 12-19).

         After exhausting all administrative remedies, Plaintiff filed the instant action with this court. The parties have filed Cross-Motions for Summary Judgment. (Docket Nos. 9 and 11). The issues are now ripe for review.


         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 v. Harris, 745 F.2d 210, 221 (3d Cir. 1984).

         B. Residual Functional Capacity (“RFC”)[2] and Hypothetical Questions

         Plaintiff argues that the RFC is inconsistent with the hypothetical questions presented to the Vocational Expert (“VE”). (ECF No. 10, pp. 7-10). Specifically, Plaintiff suggests that the ALJ found an RFC that limited Plaintiff to jobs that would not require “good binocular vision, ” but the ALJ failed to include this limitation in the hypothetical question he presented to the VE. Id., citing ECF No. 5-2, p. 16. As such, Plaintiff reasons that the step five finding is unsupported by substantial evidence. Id. Additionally, Plaintiff argues that the term “good binocular vision” is too vague as to determine what jobs could be performed with such an RFC. Id. at p. 9. Finally, Plaintiff suggests that this court cannot make a meaningful review because the VE did not provide Dictionary of Occupational Titles (“DOT”) codes for the jobs that the VE testified Plaintiff could perform. Id. at pp. 9-11. Thus, Plaintiff submits that remand is warranted. Id. After a review of the evidence, I disagree.

         With regard to Plaintiff's first contention, an ALJ is required to accept only that testimony from the vocational expert which accurately reflects a Plaintiff's impairments. See, Podedworny v. Harris, 745 F.2d 210 (3d Cir. 1984); Chrupcala v. Heckler, 829 F.2d 1269, 1276 (3d Cir. 1987). To that end, there is no requirement that the language in the RFC exactly match the hypothetical question posed to the VE. In this case, the ALJ asked the VE to “assume an individual the claimant's age, education, and work experience, who would be capable of performing work at the light exertional level, ..., because of monocular vision he should not be required to perform any tasks that would involve depth perception, and he should not be exposed to heights or hazardous operations….” (ECF No. 5-2, p. 40)(emphasis added). This hypothetical, if anything, is more limiting than a person that does not require “good binocular vision.” Thus, I find that it fairly and accurately includes an individual with an RFC that does ...

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