United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania
Matthew W. Brann United States District Judge.
22, 2017 The above-captioned action is one seeking review of
a decision of the Acting Commissioner of Social Security
(“Commissioner”), 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.
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
applied protectively for SSI on November 7, 2012, alleging
disability beginning January 1, 2010. (Tr.
102). 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.
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 became ripe for disposition.
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.).
Standard of Review
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)).
Sequential Evaluation Process
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. § 404.1520(c). If the ...