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Harris v. Berryhill

United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania

October 24, 2017

TODD ANTHONY HARRIS, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, [1]COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.

          OPINION

          Donetta W. Ambrose United States Senior District Judge.

         Pending before the court are Cross-Motions for Summary Judgment. (ECF Nos. 8 and 11). Both parties have filed Briefs in Support of their Motions. (ECF Nos. 9 and 12). After careful consideration of the submissions of the parties, and based on my Opinion set forth below, I am denying Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 8) and granting Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment. (ECF No. 11).

         I. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff brought this action for review of the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security denying his application for disability insurance benefits (“DIB”) pursuant to the Social Security Act (“Act”). Plaintiff filed his application alleging he had been disabled since December 15, 2012. (ECF No. 5-7, p. 2). Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”), Alma S. de Leon, held a hearing on April 16, 2015. (ECF No. 5-2, pp. 8-64). On July 1, 2015, the ALJ found that Plaintiff was disabled under the Act. (ECF No. 7-3, pp. 5-18).

         After exhausting all administrative remedies, Plaintiff filed the instant action with this court. The parties have filed Cross-Motions for Summary Judgment. (ECF Nos. 8 and 11). The issues are now ripe for review.

         II. LEGAL ANALYSIS

         A. Standard of Review

         The standard of review in social security cases is whether substantial evidence exists in the record to support the Commissioner's decision. Allen v. Bowen, 881 F.2d 37, 39 (3d Cir. 1989). Substantial evidence has been defined as “more than a mere scintilla. It means such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate.” Ventura v. Shalala, 55 F.3d 900, 901 (3d Cir. 1995), quoting Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971). Additionally, the Commissioner's findings of fact, if supported by substantial evidence, are conclusive. 42 U.S.C. §405(g); Dobrowolsky v. Califano, 606 F.2d 403, 406 (3d Cir. 1979). A district court cannot conduct a de novo review of the Commissioner's decision or re-weigh the evidence of record. Palmer v. Apfel, 995 F.Supp. 549, 552 (E.D. Pa. 1998). Where the ALJ's findings of fact are supported by substantial evidence, a court is bound by those findings, even if the court would have decided the factual inquiry differently. Hartranft v. Apfel, 181 F.3d 358, 360 (3d Cir. 1999). To determine whether a finding is supported by substantial evidence, however, the district court must review the record as a whole. See, 5 U.S.C. §706.

         To be eligible for social security benefits, the plaintiff must demonstrate that he cannot engage in substantial gainful activity because of a 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 at least 12 months. 42 U.S.C. §423(d)(1)(A); Brewster v. Heckler, 786 F.2d 581, 583 (3d Cir. 1986).

         The Commissioner has provided the ALJ with a five-step sequential analysis to use when evaluating the disabled status of each claimant. 20 C.F.R. §404.1520(a). The ALJ must determine: (1) whether the claimant is currently engaged in substantial gainful activity; (2) if not, whether the claimant has a severe impairment; (3) if the claimant has a severe impairment, whether it meets or equals the criteria listed in 20 C.F.R., pt. 404, subpt. P., appx. 1; (4) if the impairment does not satisfy one of the impairment listings, whether the claimant's impairments prevent him from performing his past relevant work; and (5) if the claimant is incapable of performing his past relevant work, whether he can perform any other work which exists in the national economy, in light of his age, education, work experience and residual functional capacity. 20 C.F.R. §404.1520. The claimant carries the initial burden of demonstrating by medical evidence that he is unable to return to his previous employment (steps 1-4). Dobrowolsky, 606 F.2d at 406. Once the claimant meets this burden, the burden of proof shifts to the Commissioner to show that the claimant can engage in alternative substantial gainful activity (step 5). Id.

         A district court, after reviewing the entire record may affirm, modify, or reverse the decision with or without remand to the Commissioner for rehearing. Podedworny v. Harris, 745 F.2d 210, 221 (3d Cir. 1984).

         B. Non-exertional Limitations

         Plaintiff's only argument is that the ALJ erred by improperly considering Plaintiff's non-exertional limitations such that the ALJ's opinion is not supported by substantial evidence. (ECF No. 9). Specifically, Plaintiff argues that during the period of December 15, 2012 and May 5, 2014, he was in the hospital and emergency rooms and had an invasive procedure which totaled over 30 days. As a result, Plaintiff predicts that he would miss, on average 2 days a month if he worked. Id. Plaintiff continues that “such absenteeism would prevent employment in the competitive workplace” and the ALJ failed to consider the same. Id. at p. 11. Therefore, Plaintiff suggests that reversal/remand is warranted. After a review of the evidence, I disagree.

         Plaintiff's argument misconstrues the general requirements of the Act. To be eligible for benefits, a plaintiff must demonstrate that he cannot engage in substantial gainful activity because of a 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 at least 12 months. 42 U.S.C. §423(d)(1)(A); Brewster v. Heckler,786 F.2d 581, 583 (3d Cir. 1986). Plaintiff has pointed to no evidence to suggest that Plaintiff's prior hospital procedures would continue into the future on a continuous basis of at least 12 months, nor has Plaintiff pointed to any medical opinion evidence suggesting Plaintiff ...


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