United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania
N. Bloch United States District Judge.
NOW, this 21st day of September, 2017, upon
consideration of the parties' cross motions for summary
judgment, the Court, upon review of the Commissioner of
Social Security's final decision, denying Plaintiff's
claim for disability insurance benefits under Subchapter II
of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. § 401, et
seq., finds that the Commissioner's findings are
supported by substantial evidence and, accordingly, affirms.
See 42 U.S.C. § 405(g); Jesurum v.
Sec'y of U.S. Dep't of Health & Human
Servs., 48 F.3d 114, 117 (3d Cir. 1995); Williams v.
Sullivan, 970 F.2d 1178, 1182 (3d Cir. 1992), cert.
denied sub nom., 507 U.S. 924 (1993); Brown v.
Bowen, 845 F.2d 1211, 1213 (3d Cir. 1988); see also
Berry v. Sullivan, 738 F.Supp. 942, 944 (W.D. Pa. 1990)
(if supported by substantial evidence, the Commissioner's
decision must be affirmed, as a federal court may neither
reweigh the evidence, nor reverse, merely because it would
have decided the claim differently) (citing Cotter v.
Harris, 642 F.2d 700, 705 (3d Cir. 1981)).
IT IS HEREBY ORDERED that Plaintiff's Motion for Summary
Judgment (Doc. No. 10) is DENIED and Defendant's Motion
for Summary Judgment (Doc. No. 12) is GRANTED.
 Plaintiff argues, in essence, that the
Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) erred in his
questioning of, and in his subsequent reliance on the
testimony of, a vocational expert (“VE”) to
determine that Plaintiff could perform jobs that exist in
significant numbers in the national economy, based on the
ALJ's residual functional capacity assessment
(“RFC”) which permitted Plaintiff to perform work
at the light exertional capacity with additional limitations.
The Court disagrees and finds that substantial evidence
supports the ALJ's findings as well as his ultimate
determination, based on all the evidence presented, of
According to the ALJ's RFC in this case, Plaintiff
was capable of performing light work as defined in 20 C.F.R.
§ 404.1567(b), with additional limitations, including
alternating periodically between sitting and standing as
often as every hour; sitting for 4 hours per day and standing
for 4 hours per day; no more than occasional pushing, pulling
climbing, balancing, stooping, kneeling, crouching or
crawling; no work in proximity to temperature extremes or
excessive levels of wetness or humidity; limited to jobs
involving no more than simple, routine, repetitive tasks
performed in a low stress work environment; no more than
occasional interaction with the public, co-workers, and
supervisors; and no more than frequent use of both hands
together. (R. 16-17).
As the ALJ explained in his decision, if Plaintiff had
had the RFC to perform the full range of light work, a
finding of “not disabled” would simply have been
directed by Medical-Vocational Rule 202.10. (R. 21). However,
because Plaintiff's “ability to perform all or
substantially all of the requirements of this level of work
was impeded by additional impairments, ” such rules
(“the grids”) operated merely as a framework, and
the ALJ sought the advice of a VE to determine the effect
that Plaintiff's additional limitations had on the work
available to him. (R. 21). Thus, the ALJ posed a series of
hypothetical questions to the VE, inquiring whether an
individual with Plaintiff's age, education, work
experience and RFC could perform jobs that exist in
significant numbers in the national economy. (R. 21, 59-61).
In response, the VE testified that such an individual could
in fact perform the requirements of representative
occupations such as laundry hand folder (21, 100 jobs
nationally), laundry linen sorter (16, 880 jobs nationally),
and remnant sorter (24, 000 jobs nationally). (R. 21, 60).
The ALJ subsequently concluded, based on this testimony, that
Plaintiff “was capable of making a successful
adjustment to other work that existed in significant numbers
in the national economy, ” and that a finding of
“not disabled” was therefore appropriate. (R.
The Court notes that if Plaintiff had been found to be
capable of performing the full range of light work, he would
have been deemed “not disabled” under the grids,
and if he had been found to be capable of performing the full
range of sedentary work, he would have been deemed
“disabled” under the grids. Additionally, the 4
hour standing limit in the ALJ's RFC is less than the six
hours necessary to perform the full range of light work, but
is greater than the two hours necessary to perform a full
range of sedentary work, and thus falls in the middle of the
two levels of exertion. See Lackey v. Colvin, No.
12-516, 2013 WL 1903662, at *3 (W.D. Pa. May 7,
Plaintiff now contends that the ALJ erred in asking
the VE about the availability of jobs that Plaintiff can
perform in the national economy as described, supra.
Further, Plaintiff requests that the Court remand the case so
that the VE can instead provide additional testimony to
address whether the ALJ's RFC “slightly” or
“significantly” reduces Plaintiff's capacity
to perform work at the light level of exertion, and so that
the “appropriate exertional range and corresponding
Grid Rule may be chosen.” (Doc. No. 11, at 9). The
Court notes that the sources that Plaintiff relies upon to
support his request for remand do not prove that the ALJ
erred in deciding to seek guidance from the VE in this case.
See SSR 83-12, 1983 WL 31253 (1983); SSA Program
Operations Manual System (POMS) DI 25025.015. Rather, they
simply provide that, in determining whether a claimant is
disabled when his or her exertional capacity falls in the
middle of two rules and the rules direct opposite conclusions
(as in this case), the ALJ should consider whether the
claimant's capacity is slightly or significantly reduced
in order to determine which level of exertion to apply; or in
situations where the individual's exertional limitations
are “in the middle” in terms of the criteria for
exertional ranges of work (in which case more difficult
judgments are involved as to the sufficiency of the remaining
occupational base), the assistance of a VE is advisable.
See SSR 83-12; SSA POMS DI 25025.015. Quite simply,
the regulations cited by Plaintiff clearly do not require in
this case that the VE give specific testimony as to whether
the claimant's capacity is “slightly” or
“significantly” reduced, as he suggests. They do,
however, provide that the ALJ should seek the advice of a VE
regarding the remaining occupational base where difficult
judgments are involved, which is precisely what the ALJ did
The Court thus finds that, because Plaintiff's
limitations are indeed somewhere “in the middle”
with regard to the exertional ranges of work available, the
grids operated merely as a “framework, ” and it
was entirely appropriate for the ALJ to seek the assistance
of the VE, to clearly lay out Plaintiff's specific
limitations before the VE, and to rely on the VE's
testimony about the jobs available to such an individual in
making the disability determination. See, e.g., Dick v.
Colvin, No. 13-1308, 2014 WL 3530004, at *8 (W.D. Pa.
July 15, 2014) (where claimant was found to be able to
perform a limited range of light work because he was capable
of standing/walking only 3 hours per day and had other
non-exertional impairments, the grids were merely a
“framework” as they did not compel a finding of
“disabled” or “not disabled, ” and it
was appropriate for the ALJ to rely on the VE to determine
whether jobs existed in significant numbers in the national
economy that claimant could perform); Lackey v.
Colvin, 2013 WL 1903662, at *2 (where the ALJ determined
that claimant could only stand/walk for 4 hours per day, and
relied on VE testimony that jobs at the light exertional
level exist for such an individual, the court was satisfied
that the RFC finding that claimant could perform less than
full range of light work was consistent with the
Therefore, the Court finds that the ALJ's
hypothetical questions to the VE fully accommodated the
limitations that were supported by the record, which were
also properly included in the RFC. The ALJ accounted for the
limitations supported by the record when he appropriately
asked the VE to assume an individual of Plaintiff's age,
education and work experience who is limited to light work,
with such additional limitations. (R. 21, 59-60). Considering
these limitations, the VE testified that such an individual
would be able to perform the requirements of certain jobs
which exist in significant numbers in the national economy,
and the ALJ properly relied on the VE's testimony. (R.
21, 60). The Court thus concludes that the ALJ did not err in
posing his hypothetical questions ...