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Tenorio v. Berryhill

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

October 11, 2017

VIDAL TENORIO Plaintiff
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security[1] Defendant

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          NITZA I. QUIÑONES ALEJANDRO, J.

         INTRODUCTION

         On July 13, 2016, Plaintiff Vidal Tenorio (“Plaintiff) filed a counseled complaint pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) seeking judicial review of the final decision of Defendant Carolyn W. Colvin, the then-Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (“Defendant”), which denied his application for disability insurance benefits (“DIB”) presented under Title II of the Social Security Act (“the Act”), 42 U.S.C. §§ 1461 et seq[2] [ECF 3]. Consistent with 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B) and Local Rule 72.1, this matter was randomly referred to United States Magistrate Judge Thomas J. Rueter (the “Magistrate Judge”) for a Report and Recommendation (“R&R”). [ECF 11]. On April 18, 2017, the Magistrate Judge issued a thorough and well-reasoned R&R, recommending that Plaintiffs request for review be denied. [ECF 13]. Plaintiff timely filed objections to the R&R in which he argued that he Magistrate Judge erred in upholding the Administrative Law Judge Barbara Artuso's (“ALJ”) decision that Plaintiff was not disabled despite the fact that the ALJ did not sufficiently explain Plaintiffs residual functional capacity at step four and failed to properly assess Plaintiffs credibility. [ECF 14]. Defendant filed a response. [ECF 16].

         After a comprehensive de novo review of Plaintiff s objections, the R&R, Defendant's responses, and the administrative record, for the reasons set forth herein, this Court overrules Plaintiffs objections, approves and adopts the R&R, and denies Plaintiffs request for review.

         BACKGROUND

         The following is a succinct summary of the facts and the procedural history of this case as gleaned from the administrative record (“R.”), the R&R, and Plaintiffs objections to the R&R; to wit:

On February 28, 2013, Plaintiff filed an application for DIB and alleged an onset date of disability of October 27, 2012, (R. at 163), caused by impairments to his back. (R. at 69). After Plaintiffs application was denied, he filed a request for an administrative hearing. (R. at 69, 78-79). On May 19, 2014, Plaintiff, proceeding pro se, appeared at an administrative hearing where an interpreter was present. (See R. at 53-59). The administrative law judge continued the hearing to allow Plaintiff to obtain representation. (Id.).
On January 27, 2015, the parties reconvened for a hearing before Administrative Law Judge Barbara Artuso (the “ALJ”). (R. at 17-25). Plaintiff, represented by counsel, appeared and testified through an interpreter. (See id). The ALJ also considered the testimony of the vocational expert (“VE”) Irene Montgomery, id, and the medical evidence in the record, including a report from Dr. Leon H. Venier (“Dr. Venier”), a physician who performed a consultative evaluation on Plaintiff on May 30, 2013. (See R. at 395-400).
On July 1, 2015, the ALJ issued a written decision in which she concluded that, although Plaintiff suffered degenerative disc disease of the lumbar spine, degenerative facet changes, left shoulder tendinitis, and obesity, he was not disabled under the Act, and had the residual functional capacity to perform light work, as defined in 20 C.F.R. § 404.1567(b), with certain limitations. (See R. at 14-25). Plaintiff appealed the denial of benefits and the ALJ's decision was affirmed by the Appeals Council on May 25, 2016, (see R. at 1-5), making the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner. This request for judicial review followed.

         LEGAL STANDARDS

         To qualify for DIB benefits, a claimant must prove a disability; i.e., that he has 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. §§ 423(d)(1)(A), 1382c(a)(3)(A). Under the Act, the claimant has the burden of proving the existence of a disability and must furnish medical evidence indicating the severity of the impairment. Id. § 423(d)(5). A claimant satisfies this burden by showing an inability to return to former work. Rossi v. Califano, 602 F.2d 55, 57 (3d Cir. 1979). Once this standard is met, the burden of proof shifts to the Commissioner to show that given the claimant's age, education, and work experience, the claimant has the ability to perform specific jobs that exist in the national economy. 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(2)(A); 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(f).

         To determine whether a claimant is disabled, an ALJ must employ a five-step sequential evaluation process (“the five-step sequential analysis”) outlined in the Social Security Regulations (the “Regulations”). See 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(1). The five-step sequential analysis must be followed in order, and if the claimant is determined to be, or not to be, disabled at a particular step of the evaluation process, the evaluation does not proceed to the next step. Id. § 404.1520(a)(4). The five-step sequential analysis requires the ALJ to consider the following:

At step one, [the ALJ] must determine whether the claimant is currently engaging in substantial gainful activity. If the claimant is found to be engaged in substantial activity, the disability claim will be denied; otherwise the evaluation proceeds to step two.
At step two, the [the ALJ] must determine whether the claimant has an impairment that is severe or a combination of impairments that is severe. If the claimant fails to show that the impairment or combination of impairments is “severe, ” claimant is ineligible for ...

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