United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania
N. Bloch United States District Judge
NOW, this 30th day of March, 2017, upon consideration of
Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. No. 10)
filed in the above-captioned matter on June 2, 2016, IT IS
HEREBY ORDERED that said Motion is DENIED.
further, upon consideration of Plaintiff's Motion for
Summary Judgment (Doc. No. 8) filed in the above-captioned
matter on April 19, 2016, IT IS HEREBY ORDERED that said
Motion is GRANTED IN PART and DENIED IN PART. Specifically,
Plaintiff's Motion is granted to the extent that it seeks
a remand to the Commissioner of Social Security
(“Commissioner”) for further evaluation as set
forth below, and denied in all other respects. Accordingly,
this matter is hereby remanded to the Commissioner for
further evaluation under sentence four of 42 U.S.C. §
405(g) in light of this Order.
January 18, 2013, Plaintiff Jodie Lynn Davis protectively
filed a claim for Supplemental Security Income under Title
XVI of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§
1381-1383f. (R. 156-59; 160-68). Specifically, Plaintiff
claimed that she became disabled on May 13, 2010, due to
depression, anxiety, a cognitive disorder, and asthma. (R.
160; 181). After being denied benefits initially, Plaintiff
sought, and obtained, a hearing before an Administrative Law
Judge (“ALJ”), which was held on August 4, 2014.
(R. 32-79). In a decision dated September 19, 2014, the ALJ
denied Plaintiff's request for benefits. (R. 11-27). On
December 24, 2015, the Appeals Council denied review, making
the ALJ's decision the final decision of the
Commissioner. (R. 1-3). Plaintiff filed a timely appeal with
this Court, and the parties have filed cross-motions for
Standard of Review
review of a social security case is based upon the pleadings
and the transcript of the record. See 42 U.S.C.
§ 405(g). The scope of review is limited to determining
whether the Commissioner applied the correct legal standards
and whether the record, as a whole, contains substantial
evidence to support the Commissioner's findings of fact.
See Matthews v. Apfel, 239 F.3d 589, 592 (3d Cir.
2001) (noting that “'[t]he findings of the
Commissioner of Social Security as to any fact, if supported
by substantial evidence, shall be conclusive'”
(quoting 42 U.S.C. § 405(g))); Schaudeck v.
Comm'r of Soc. Sec. Admin., 181 F.3d 429, 431 (3d
Cir. 1999) (stating that the court has plenary review of all
legal issues, and reviews the administrative law judge's
findings of fact to determine whether they are supported by
evidence” is defined as “‘more than a mere
scintilla. 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) (quoting Ventura v. Shalala, 55 F.3d 900,
901 (3d Cir. 1995)). However, 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.” Morales v.
Apfel, 225 F.3d 310, 317 (3d Cir. 2000) (quoting
Kent v. Schweiker, 710 F.2d 110, 114 (3d Cir.
1983)). “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
disability is established when the claimant can demonstrate
some medically determinable basis for an impairment that
prevents him or her from engaging in any substantial gainful
activity for a statutory twelve-month period. See
Fargnoli v. Massanari, 247 F.3d 34, 38-39 (3d Cir.
2001). “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 . . . .'” Id. at 39
(quoting 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(2)(A)).
Social Security Administration (“SSA”) has
promulgated regulations incorporating a five-step sequential
evaluation process for determining whether a claimant is
under a disability as defined by the Act. See 20
C.F.R. § 416.920(a)(4). In Step One, the Commissioner
must determine whether the claimant is currently engaging in
substantial gainful activity. See 20 C.F.R. §
416.920(a)(4)(i). If so, the disability claim will be denied.
See Bowen v. Yuckert, 482 U.S. 137, 140 (1987). If
not, the second step of the process is to determine whether
the claimant is suffering from a severe impairment.
See 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(a)(4)(ii). “An
impairment or combination of impairments is not severe if it
does not significantly limit [the claimant's] physical or
mental ability to do basic work activities.” 20 C.F.R.
§ 416.922(a). If the claimant fails to show that his or
her impairments are “severe, " he or she is
ineligible for disability benefits. If the claimant does have
a severe impairment, however, the Commissioner must proceed
to Step Three and determine whether the claimant's
impairment meets or equals the criteria for a listed
impairment. See 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(a)(4)(iii).
If a claimant meets a listing, a finding of disability is
automatically directed. If the claimant does not meet a
listing, the analysis proceeds to Steps Four and Five.
Four requires the ALJ to consider whether the claimant
retains the residual functional capacity (“RFC”)
to perform his or her past relevant work, see 20
C.F.R. § 416.920(a)(4)(iv), and the claimant bears the
burden of demonstrating an inability to return to this past
relevant work, see Adorno v. Shalala, 40 F.3d 43, 46
(3d Cir. 1994). If the claimant is unable to resume his or
her former occupation, the evaluation then moves to the fifth
and final step.
stage, the burden of production shifts to the Commissioner,
who must demonstrate that the claimant is capable of
performing other available work in the national economy in
order to deny a claim of disability. See 20 C.F.R.
§ 416.920(a)(4)(v). In making this determination, the
ALJ should consider the claimant's RFC, age, education,
and past work experience. See Id. The ALJ must
further analyze the cumulative effect of all the
claimant's impairments in determining whether he or she
is capable of performing work and is not disabled.
See 20 C.F.R. § 416.923.
The ALJ's Decision
present case, the ALJ applied the sequential evaluation
process in reviewing Plaintiff's claim for benefits. At
Step One, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had not been engaged
in substantial gainful activity since January 18, 2013, her
application date. (R. 13). The ALJ also found that Plaintiff
met the second requirement of the process insofar as she had
several severe impairments, specifically, borderline
intellectual functioning, depression, anxiety, obesity, and
asthma. (R. 13-14). After addressing whether Plaintiff's
impairments met or medically equaled the criteria of several
listings, including Listing 12.05, the ALJ concluded that
Plaintiff's impairments did not meet any of the listings
that would satisfy Step Three. (R. 14-17).
next found that Plaintiff retains the RFC to perform medium
work as defined in 20 C.F.R. § 416.967(c) except that
the work should have no exposure to concentration of extremes
of cold, heat, wetness, humidity and pulmonary irritants such
as gasses, fumes, dust and odors; the work is limited to
unskilled entry work that does not require handling money as
a part of the job; the work should have a Language level as
found in the DOT of not more than 3 or equivalent to no more
than a 4th grade reading level; Plaintiff requires a stable
work environment where the work place and the work process
remain generally the same from day-today and where the job
site is fixed; in addition, the supervisor would direct the
employee's work activity so that the employee does not
have to prioritize or use judgment to determine order; the