United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania
KAROLINE MEHALCHICK United States Magistrate Judge.
an action brought under Section 1631(c)(3) of the Social
Security Act, 42 U.S.C. § 1383(c)(3) (incorporating 42
U.S.C. §405(g) by reference), seeking judicial review of
the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security
(“Commissioner”) denying Plaintiff Daisy
Alvarez's (“Ms. Alvarez's”) claim
supplemental security income under Title XVI of the Social
Security Act. This matter has been referred to the
undersigned United States Magistrate Judge on consent of the
parties, pursuant to the provisions of 28 U.S.C. §
636(c) and Rule 73 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.
(Doc. 15; Doc. 16).
Alvarez, a high school educated former day care worker,
sought benefits under the Social Security Act at age
thirty-five after an automobile accident resulted in lasting
physical injuries and left her mentally traumatized. She
alleges that the Commissioner's final decision denying
her claim is not supported by substantial evidence because
the Commissioner failed to provide evidence about the
existence of a significant number of jobs in the national
economy that Ms. Alvarez could perform. The Court finds
considerable merit in Ms. Alvarez's argument. The 2, 077
jobs identified in this case fall below the threshold of what
national statistics constitute a “significant”
number. As such, the Court is compelled to conclude that the
Commissioner's decision is not supported by substantial
evidence. Accordingly, the Commissioner's final decision
denying Ms. Alvarez's application for benefits shall be
VACATED and this case shall be REMANDED to the Commissioner
to conduct a new administrative hearing pursuant to sentence
four of 42 U.S.C. §405(g).
6, 2012, Ms. Alvarez protectively filed a Title XVI
application for supplemental security income alleging a
disability onset date of February 14, 2012, due to the
following conditions: depression, anxiety, back pain,
scoliosis, post-surgical shoulder impingement pain, carpal
tunnel, right knee issues, polyarthritis, high blood
pressure, and hypothyroidism. (Admin. Tr. 206; Doc. 9-6 p.
November 9, 2012, Ms. Alvarez's application for benefits
was denied at the initial level of administrative review.
During the initial review of Ms. Alvarez's claim, the
disability examiner found that Ms. Alvarez had severe
impairments due to osteoarthritis, affective disorders, and
anxiety disorders. (Admin. Tr. 82; Doc. 9-3 p. 7).
The disability examiner concluded that Ms. Alvarez's
impairments did not prevent Ms. Alvarez from engaging in a
range of unskilled light work, and concluded that Ms. Alvarez
could engage in other work that exists in significant numbers
in the national economy. (Admin. Tr. 88; Doc. 9-3 p.
December 11, 2012, Ms. Alvarez filed a written request for an
administrative hearing. On January 23, 2014, Ms. Alvarez
appeared and testified during a video hearing before
Administrative Law Judge John P. Ramos (“ALJ”).
Ms. Alvarez appeared in Binghamton, New York, and the ALJ
presided from Syracuse, New York. Ms. Alvarez was represented
by counsel throughout the proceedings. After it became
apparent that additional records were necessary, the ALJ
adjourned the hearing until those records were available. A
second supplemental hearing was held on June 3, 2014. Once
again, Ms. Alvarez appeared and testified with the assistance
of counsel. In addition, impartial vocational expert Linda N.
Vause (“VE Vause”) appeared and testified.
13, 2014, the ALJ denied Ms. Alvarez's claim in a written
decision. The ALJ concluded that Ms. Alvarez was ‘not
disabled' under the Social Security Act because she
retained the capacity to engage in a range of unskilled light
work that did not preclude her from engaging in other work
that exists in significant numbers in the national economy.
The ALJ's determination is supported by VE Vause's
testimony that Ms. Alvarez could engage in work as a
Chaperone (DOT #352.667-014), and that this occupation is
represented by approximately 2, 077 jobs in the national
receipt of the ALJ's decision, Ms. Alvarez sought further
review from the Appeals Council of the Office of Disability
Adjudication and Review. On March 25, 2016, the Appeals
Council denied Ms. Alvarez's request for review.
April 27, 2016, Ms. Alvarez initiated this action by filing a
complaint. In her complaint, Ms. Alvarez alleges that the
conclusions reached by the ALJ in the final decision denying
Ms. Alvarez's claims are not supported by substantial
evidence and are contrary to the law and regulations.
(Doc. 1 ¶7). As relief, Ms. Alvarez requests
that she be awarded benefits, or in the alternative, that
this matter be remanded to the Commissioner to conduct a new
7, 2016, the Commissioner filed her answer. (Doc.
8). In her response, the Commissioner maintains that the
ALJ's final decision denying Ms. Alvarez's claim was
made in accordance with the law and regulations and is
supported by substantial evidence.
matter has been fully briefed by the parties and is ripe for
resolution. (Doc. 10); (Doc. 11); (Doc.
Standard of Review
receive benefits under Title XVI of the Social Security Act,
the claimant must demonstrate an inability to “engage
in 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
twelve months.” 42 U.S.C. §1382c(a)(3)(A). To
satisfy this requirement, the claimant must have a severe
physical or mental impairment that makes it impossible to do
his or her previous work or any other substantial gainful
activity that exists in significant number in the national
economy. 42 U.S.C. §1382c(a)(3)(B).
evaluating the question of whether a claimant is under a
disability as it is defined in the Social Security Act, the
Commissioner follows a five-step sequential evaluation
process. 20 C.F.R. §416.920(a). Under this process, the
Commissioner must determine, in sequence: (1) whether the
claimant is engaged in substantial gainful activity; (2)
whether the claimant has a severe impairment; (3) whether the
claimant's impairment meets or equals the severity of an
impairment listed in 20 C.F.R. § 404, Subpart P,
Appendix 1 (“Listing of Impairments”); (4)
whether the claimant is able to do his past relevant work,
considering his current residual functional capacity
(“RFC”); and, (5) whether the claimant is able to
do any other work that exists in significant numbers in the
national economy, considering his current RFC, age,
education, and work experience. 20 C.F.R. §416.920(a).
The claimant bears the initial burden of demonstrating a
medically determinable impairment that prevents him from
doing his past relevant work. 20 C.F.R.
§416.912(a)(effective June 12, 2014, through Apr. 19,
2015). Once the claimant has established at step
four that he cannot do past relevant work, the burden then
shifts to the Commissioner at step five to show that jobs
exist in significant numbers in the national economy that the
claimant could perform that are consistent with his RFC, age,
education, and past work experience. 20 C.F.R.
§416.912(f)(effective June 12, 2014, through Apr. 19,
reviewing the Commissioner's final decision denying a
claimant's application for benefits, this Court's
review is limited to the question of whether the findings of
the final decision-maker are supported by substantial
evidence in the record. See 42 U.S.C.
§1383(c)(3)(incorporating 42 U.S.C. §405(g) by
reference); Johnson v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 529
F.3d 198, 200(3d Cir. 2008); Ficca v. Astrue, 901
F.Supp.2d 533, 536(M.D.Pa. 2012). 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.”
Pierce v. Underwood,487 U.S. 552, 565 (1988).
Substantial evidence is less than a preponderance of the
evidence but more than a mere scintilla. Richardson v.
Perales,402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971). A single piece of
evidence is not substantial evidence if the ALJ ignores
countervailing evidence or fails to resolve a conflict
created by the evidence. Mason v. Shalala, 994 F.2d
1058, 1064 (3d Cir. 1993). In an adequately developed factual
record, substantial evidence may be “something less
than the weight of the evidence, and the possibility of
drawing two inconsistent conclusions from the evidence does
not prevent [the ALJ's decision] from being supported by
substantial evidence.” Consolo v. Fed. Maritime
Comm'n,383 U.S. 607, 620 (1966). “In
determining if the Commissioner's decision is supported
by substantial evidence the court must scrutinize the record
as a whole.” Leslie v. Barnhart, 304 F.Supp.2d
623, 627 (M.D.Pa. 2003). The question before this Court,
therefore, is not whether Ms. Alvarez is disabled, but
whether the Commissioner's finding that she is not
disabled is supported by substantial evidence and was reached
based upon a correct application of the relevant law.
SeeArnold v. Colvin, No. 3:12-CV-02417,
2014 WL 940205, at *1 (M.D.Pa. Mar. 11, 2014)(“[I]t has
been held that an ...