United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania
C. MITCHELL United States Magistrate Judge
before the Court for disposition are cross motions for
summary judgment. For the reasons set forth below, the
plaintiff's motion (ECF No. 15) will be granted, the
defendant's motion (ECF No. 19) will be denied, and the
matter will be remanded to the Commissioner for further
filed an application for Supplemental Security Income and
Disability Insurance Benefits on August 31, 2010 (R. 104,
295). His application was denied at the initial level of
review. (R. 98-100). On February 1, 2012, ALJ Leslie
Perry-Dowdell held a hearing, following which she denied
Plaintiff's application. (R. 54-79, 101-19). The Appeals
Council, however, granted Plaintiff's request for review
and remanded the case for further consideration. (R. 120-23).
The ALJ held another hearing on July 31, 2014, but benefits
were again denied. (R. 9-53). On May 9, 2016, the Appeals
Council denied Plaintiff's request for review. (R. 1-6).
This action was initiated on June 29, 2016.
reviewing an administrative determination of the
Commissioner, the question before the 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. Richardson
v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389 (1971); Adorno v.
Shalala, 40 F.3d 43 (3d Cir. 1994).
U.S.C. Section 405(g) provides 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....
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). The court may
not set aside a decision supported by substantial evidence.
Hartranft v. Apfel, 181 F.3d 358 (3d Cir. 1999).
forth in 20 C.F.R. § 416.905(a) disability is defined
the inability to do 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.
addition, a person will be considered disabled if he/she is
(a) . . . permanently and totally disabled as defined under a
State plan approved under title XIV or XVI of the Social
Security Act, as in effect for October 1972; (b) . . .
received aid under the State plan . . . for the month of
December 1973 and for at least one month prior to July 1973;
and (c) . . . continue[s] to be disabled as defined under the
20 C.F.R. § 416.907.
physical or mental impairment is defined in 20 C.F.R. §
416.908 as an:
impairment [which] result[s] from anatomical, physiological,
or psychological abnormalities which [are demonstrated] by
medically acceptable clinical and laboratory diagnostic
purposes of determining whether or not the plaintiff met the
eligibility requirements, certain evidence was considered by
hearings held on February 1, 2012, and July 31, 2014, the
plaintiff appeared with counsel and testified that, as of the
date of the second hearing, he was 54 years old (R. 36); that
he lives alone (R. 36, 60); that he wears a brace on his
right wrist for carpal tunnel syndrome (R. 36, 59); that it
is difficult for him to grab things, pick things up, and pull
things with his right hand; that he has tingling in his
fingers (R. 37); that he can lift “maybe 10, 15
pounds” with his right hand (R. 40, 61); that he takes
Vicodin three times a day for the pain in his hand (R. 40);
that he is on welfare (R. 74); and that he can drive (though
he does not have a car). At the first hearing, Plaintiff
testified that he had also been undergoing physical therapy
for a “tear” in his neck or shoulder. (R. 62).
The plaintiff also testified that he has no limitations on
standing or sitting, that he smokes, that he has trouble
sleeping, that he experiences about four or five headaches a
week that he treats with Tylenol, that he is sensitive to
light and sound, that he has received treatment for
depression (R. 67-70), that he experiences anxiety, and that
he has difficulty with his concentration and attention span
terms of activities of daily living, the plaintiff testified
that he watches TV most of the day, can clean his apartment,
cooks his own meals, does his own grocery shopping and pulls
his groceries home from the store in a cart, goes to church
“now and then, ” does not have any hobbies, and
occasionally visits his family (R. 65-66). On bad days,
however, he testified that he doesn't “even feel
like getting out of bed, or if it's a little bit better
than that, I would just stay in my apartment and to actually
just watch TV.” (R. 73).
hearings, vocational experts were also called upon to
testify. Plaintiff's past work as a commercial cleaner
was described as heavy, unskilled work, while his past work
as a stock clerk was described as heavy, skilled work. (R.
43). When asked to assume a person of the plaintiff's age
and work experience who was limited to light work, except the
person would have to avoid constant use of his right dominant
hand and jobs requiring reaching above shoulder level, the
vocational expert testified that such an individual could not
perform the plaintiff's past work. (R. 43). However, the
vocational expert testified that such an individual would be
able to perform work that exists in significant numbers in
the national economy, including the representative jobs of
storage rental clerk, school crossing guard, and security
guard. (R. 43-44). In his second hypothetical, the ALJ asked
the vocational expert to assume that the individual would be
limited in his ability to push and pull with his right arm.
(R. 44). In response, the vocational expert testified that
the individual would still be able to perform the same jobs.
(R. 44). The same was true when the ALJ added the following
additional limitation: the individual's work had to be
limited to routine tasks performed in a work environment free
of fast-paced production requirements. (R. 45). Finally, when
the ALJ asked the vocational expert to assume that the
individual could only perform work in isolation from the
public with only occasional supervision and only occasional
interaction with coworkers, the vocational expert testified
that the individual could perform the following jobs: folding
machine operator and document prep person. (R. 45).
addition, the ALJ considered other evidence,  including
voluminous records from Plaintiff's treatment through the
Department of Veteran Affairs (“VA”), in reaching
record reveals that the plaintiff underwent right carpal
tunnel release surgery on January 17, 2007. (R. 1073).
Throughout the relevant time period, he continued to complain
of pain and tingling in his right hand, and in 2014, he
started to notice symptoms in his left hand, as well. (R.
2280-82, 2292). The most recent nerve conduction study showed
evidence of carpal tunnel syndrome, but it was noted to be
“very mild in degree electrically without
denervation.” (R. 2281). Testing of his left hand was
normal, and there was no electrodiagnostic evidence for a
cervical radiculopathy. (R. 2282). Plaintiff was scheduled
for revision surgery on his right hand on September 15, 2014.
(R. 2182-83). However, it is not clear from the record
whether he underwent this procedure.
also has a history of chronic neck and shoulder pain,
stemming from degenerative disc disease and bilateral
shoulder degenerative joint disease, for which he was taking
Vicodin and gabapentin. (R. 2253). MRI results showed
moderate-to-severe left and moderate right neuroforaminal
narrowing at ¶ 4-C5 and C5-C6, and moderate narrowing at
¶ 6-C7. (R. 2281). No surgical intervention was
recommended, however. (R. 2253). In March 2014, he fell and
injured his knee, for which he was prescribed a knee brace.
(R. 2189, 2252, 2283). Despite the pain, he had no knee
instability and his gait was normal. (R. 2252).
addition to medication, the plaintiff was prescribed a
neoprene support for his right shoulder, a right wrist cock
up splint, a TENS unit, and physical and occupational
therapy, which as of June 2013, was noted to have been no
longer effective. (R. 1165, 1885, 1911, 1943, 2024, 2031,
on the evidence presented, the Administrative Law Judge