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Smith v. Colvin

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

August 24, 2017

Kaylynn SMITH, Plaintiff,
v.
Carolyn COLVIN, Commissioner of Social Security acting Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM RE: MOTION TO DISMISS

          BAYLSON, J.

         In this case, Plaintiff Kaylynn Smith ("Smith") seeks judicial review of the denial of her application for disability insurance benefits by the Commissioner of Social Security ("Defendant"). Presently before the Court are the competing briefs of the parties addressing the question of whether Smith's request for review of Defendant's decision should be granted. (See ECF 11, "PL's Brief; ECF 12, "Def's Opp'n"). For the reasons discussed below, the decision of Defendant is affirmed and Smith's request for review is denied.

         I. Factual and Procedural History

         Taking Smith's allegations as true, the factual background is as follows. Smith, a fifty-three year old woman with a twelfth-grade education, suffers from a variety of mental and physical health ailments, including headaches, seizures, social anxiety, arthritis, obesity, joint pain, and asthma. (PL's Brief at 5-7). For sixteen years, Smith maintained employment as a food service worker, but she ceased working after suffering a grand mal seizure and concussion at work in February 2005. (Id. at 3).

         Smith applied to the Social Security Administration for disability benefits on December 19, 2006 for a period of disability beginning February 10, 2005, but her application was denied shortly thereafter on April 26, 2007. (ECF 1, Compl. ¶ 5). On May 9, 2007, Smith submitted a request to have her case heard before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"), and a videoconference with an ALJ was held on July 8, 2010 in Reading, Pennsylvania. (Id. ¶¶ 6-7). The ALJ issued an unfavorable decision on July 14, 2010, in which she found that Smith was not "under a disability, " as defined in the Social Security Act, and was therefore ineligible for the disability benefits that she sought. (ECF 5, Administrative Record, "Admin. Rec." 42). Smith's subsequent request, that the Appeals Council of the Social Security Administration review the hearing decision of the ALJ, was denied. (Compl. ¶ 9).

         Smith filed the instant suit seeking review of the Commissioner's final decision on July 5, 2012. The case was suspended for three years, and a briefing schedule was set by the Court in 2015. (ECF 8). Smith submitted a brief in support of her request for review on June 26, 2017 (ECF 11), and Defendant filed a Response requesting that the Court affirm the decision of the ALJ on July 27, 2017. (ECF 12).

         II. Legal Standards

         A. Determination of Disability

         Eligibility for disability benefits under the Social Security Act requires a claimant to present "some medically determinable basis for an impairment that prevents him from engaging in any substantial gainful activity for a statutory twelve-month period." Burnett v. Commissioner of Social Sec. Admin., 220 F.3d 112, 118 (3d Cir. 2000) (citing Plummer v. Apfel 186 F.3d 422, 427 (3d Cir. 1999)); see also 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1) (delineating the "inability to engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment" as the statutory definition of the term "disability").

         Pursuant to 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520, the Commissioner must follow a five-step sequential process for evaluating whether a claimant is entitled to disability benefits under the Social Security Act. Id. At Step One, the Commissioner must analyze the claimant's current work activity and, if the claimant is currently engaging in substantial gainful activity, the claim must be denied. § 404.1520(a)(4)(i).

         At Step Two, the Commissioner must analyze the severity of the claimant's impairment or combination of impairments, and if the impairments are not "severe" the claim must be denied. § 404.1520(a)(4)(ii).

         At Step Three, the Commissioner must determine whether the impairments) of the claimant meets or equals the severity of one of the impairments in the Listing of Impairments presumed severe enough to preclude any gainful work, and if so, the claimant is eligible for disability benefits. § 404.1520(a)(4)(iii).

         If the claim is not approved at Step Three, the Commissioner must continue to Step Four, where she must consider whether the claimant retains the residual functional capacity ("RFC") to meet the physical or mental demands of past relevant work; if so, the claimant will not be classified as disabled. § 404.1520(a)(4)(iv).

         Finally, at Step Five, the commissioner must assess the RFC, age, education level, and work experience of the claimant to ascertain whether an adjustment can be made to enable her to perform other work. § 404.1520(a)(4)(v). Once a claimant demonstrates she is unable to resume the past relevant work, this step requires the Commissioner to show that the claimant is "capable of ...


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