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Snyder v. Colvin

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

March 22, 2017

WENDY SNYDER, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM

          Matthew W. Brann United States District Judge.

         March 22, 2017 The above-captioned action is one seeking review of a decision of the Acting Commissioner of Social Security (“Commissioner”)[1], denying Plaintiff Wendy Snyder's (Snyder”) application for Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”) under Title XVI. For the reasons set forth below, the Court will vacate and remand the Commissioner's denial of SSI.

         I. Background

         SSI is a federal income supplement program funded by general tax revenues (not social security taxes). It is designed to help aged, blind or other disabled individuals who have little or no income. Insured status is irrelevant in determining a claimant's eligibility for supplemental security income benefits.

         Snyder applied protectively for SSI on November 7, 2012, alleging disability beginning January 1, 2010. (Tr. 102).[2] She later amended the alleged onset date to December 19, 2012. (Id.). Her claim was initially denied on May 10, 2013. (Tr. 102, 181-85). Snyder requested a hearing before the Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) Office of Disability and Adjudication and Review of the Social Security Administration, and one was held on October 9, 2014. (Tr.102). At the hearing, Snyder was represented by counsel, and a vocational expert testified. (Tr. 120-39). On October 20, 2014, the ALJ issued a decision denying Snyder's application. (Tr. 102-11). Snyder's subsequent request for review with the Appeals Council was denied. (Tr. 1-8). Thus, the ALJ's decision stood as the final decision of the Commissioner.

         Snyder filed a complaint in this Court on August 12, 2016. (Doc. 1). The Commissioner filed an answer on October 13, 2016. (Doc. 8). After supporting and opposing briefs were submitted (Docs. 10 -12), the appeal[3] became ripe for disposition.

         Snyder was born on July 9, 1979, has a limited education, and is able to communicate in English. (Tr. 109). She has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since the alleged amended onset date of December 19, 2012. (Tr. 104). Snyder has the following severe impairments: panic disorder, multiple sclerosis, tremor and obesity. (Id.).

         II. Standard of Review

         When considering a social security appeal, the Court has plenary review of all legal issues decided by the Commissioner. See Poulos v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 474 F.3d 88, 91 (3d Cir. 2007); Johnson v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 529 F.3d 198, 200 (3d Cir. 2008). However, my review of the Commissioner's findings of fact pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) is to determine whether those findings are supported by “substantial evidence.” Id. The factual findings of the Commissioner, “if supported by substantial evidence, shall be conclusive . . . .” 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). “Substantial evidence does not mean a large or considerable amount of evidence, but rather such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.” Johnson, 529 F.3d at 200 (3d Cir. 2008) (quoting Hartranft v. Apfel, 181 F.3d 358, 360 (3d Cir. 1999)) (internal quotations and citations omitted). Substantial evidence has been described as more than a mere scintilla of evidence but less than a preponderance. Brown v. Bowen, 845 F.2d 1211, 1213 (3d Cir. 1988). “It means such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.” Plummer v. Apfel, 186 F.3d 422, 427 (3d Cir. 1999) (citing Ventura v. Shalala, 55 F.3d 900, 901 (3d Cir. 1995)) (quoting Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971) (internal citations omitted)). The United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit has stated,

[O]ur decisions make clear that determination of the existence vel non of substantial evidence is not merely a quantitative exercise. A single piece of evidence will not satisfy the substantiality test if the [Commissioner] ignores, or fails to resolve, a conflict created by countervailing evidence. Nor is evidence substantial if it is overwhelmed by other evidence - particularly certain types of evidence (e.g., that offered by treating physicians) - or if it really constitutes not evidence but mere conclusion.

Morales v. Apfel, 225 F.3d 310, 317 (3d Cir. 2000) (citing Kent v. Schweiker, 710 F.2d 110, 114 (3d Cir. 1983); Gilliland v. Heckler, 786 F.2d 178, 183 (3d Cir. 1986)). Therefore, a court reviewing the decision of the Commissioner must scrutinize the record as a whole. Id. (citing Smith v. Califano, 637 F.2d 968, 970 (3d Cir. 1981)).

         III. Sequential Evaluation Process

         The plaintiff must establish that there is some “medically determinable basis for an impairment that prevents him from engaging in any substantial gainful activity for a statutory twelve-month period.” Fargnoli v. Massanari, 247 F.3d 34, 38-39 (3d Cir. 2001) (quoting Plummer, 186 F.3d at 427) (internal quotations omitted). “A claimant is considered unable to engage in any substantial gainful activity ‘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 . . . .'” Fargnoli, 247 F.3d at 39 (quoting 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(2)(A)). The Commissioner follows a five-step inquiry pursuant to 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520 to determine whether the claimant is disabled. In Plummer, the Third Circuit set out the five-steps:

In step one, the Commissioner must determine whether the claimant is currently engaging in substantial gainful activity. 20 C.F.R. § [404.]1520(a). If a claimant is found to be engaged in substantial activity, the disability claim will be denied. Bowen v. Yuckert, 482 U.S. 137, 140 (1987) . . . . In step two, the Commissioner must determine whether the claimant is suffering from a severe impairment. 20 C.F.R. ยง 404.1520(c). If the ...

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