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Tedrow v. Berryhill

United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania

March 1, 2017

DEBRA ANN TEDROW, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, [1] Defendant.

          OPINION AND ORDER OF COURT

          DONETTA W. AMBROSE, U.S. SENIOR DISTRICT JUDGE

         SYNOPSIS

         Pending before the Court are Cross-Motions for Summary Judgment. [ECF Nos. 9, 11]. Both parties have filed Briefs in Support of their Motions. [ECF Nos. 10, 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 and granting Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff has brought this action for review of the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security (“Commissioner”) denying her application for Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”) under Title II of the Social Security Act (“Act”). On or about February 22, 2011, Plaintiff applied for DIB. [ECF No. 7-7, at 276-77, No. 7-8, at 308]. In her application, she alleged that since February 1, 2010, she had been disabled due to Crohn's disease, degenerative disc disease, arthritis, and depression. [ECF No. 7-8, at 308, 312] Her date last insured is June 30, 2014. Id. at 308.[2] The state agency denied her claims initially, and she requested an administrative hearing. [ECF No. 7-5, at 159-65]. Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) Karen Kostol held a hearing on May 1, 2012, at which Plaintiff was represented by counsel. [ECF No. 7-3, at 84-120]. Plaintiff appeared at the hearing and testified on her own behalf. Id. A vocational expert also was present at the hearing and testified. Id. at 112-19. In a decision dated May 14, 2012, the ALJ found that jobs existed in significant numbers in the national economy that Plaintiff could perform and, therefore, that Plaintiff was not disabled under the Act. [ECF No. 7-4, at 135-50].

         Plaintiff requested review of the ALJ's determination by the Appeals Council, and, on August 28, 2013, the Appeals Council granted Plaintiff's request for review. [ECF No. 7-4, at 154-57; No. 7-5, at 215; No. 7-8, at 356-58]. The Appeals Council remanded the matter to the ALJ with instructions to consider the opinion of Plaintiff's primary care physician and to explain the weight given to such treating source opinion evidence; to give further consideration to Plaintiff's RFC; and, if warranted by the expanded records, to obtain supplemental evidence from a vocational expert. [ECF No. 7-4, at 156-57].

         On April 14, 2014, ALJ Kostol held a second hearing, at which Plaintiff was represented by counsel. [ECF No. 7-3, at 41-82]. Plaintiff appeared at the hearing and testified on her own behalf. Id. A different vocational expert was present at the hearing and testified. Id. at 70-81. In a decision dated May 16, 2014, the ALJ found that jobs existed in significant numbers in the national economy that Plaintiff could perform and, therefore, that Plaintiff was not disabled under the Act. [ECF No. 7-2, at 22-35]. Plaintiff requested review of the ALJ's determination by the Appeals Council, and, on January 12, 2016, the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review. [ECF No. 7-2, at 1-7]. Having exhausted all of her administrative remedies, Plaintiff filed this action.

         The parties have filed Cross-Motions for Summary Judgment. [ECF Nos. 9 & 11]. The issues are now ripe for my review.

         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 she 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. § 1382(a)(3)(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. 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, app. 1; (4) if the impairment does not satisfy one of the impairment listings, whether the claimant's impairments prevent her from performing her past relevant work; and (5) if the claimant is incapable of performing her past relevant work, whether she can perform any other work which exists in the national economy, in light of her 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 she is unable to return to her 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. Podedwo ...


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