United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania
C. Carlson United States Magistrate Judge
counsel in this Social Security appeal approaches the
litigation of these cases with a profound passion, and a
commendable commitment to his clients. That passion and
commitment is evident in the brief submitted in support of
this appeal which argues the plaintiff's claims in this
case with great force.
reviewing court, however, we must approach this appeal from a
very different, more dispassionate and significantly more
deferential perspective. Our task is limited to resolution of
the question of whether the findings of the Administrative
Law Judge (ALJ) are supported by substantial evidence in the
record. See 42 U.S.C. §405(g); 42 U.S.C.
§1383(c)(3); 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).
our task defined in this fashion, we conclude under the
deferential standard of review defined by the courts, that
substantial evidence supported the decision of the ALJ in
this case. Therefore, for the reasons set forth below, that
decision will be affirmed.
Statement of Facts and of the Case
February 20, 2014, John Kennedy applied for disability
benefits under Title II and Title XVI of the Social Security
Act. (Tr. 15.) Kennedy's application embraced a closed
13-month period of claimed disability, beginning on July 21,
2013, and concluding on August 21, 2014, when Kennedy
returned to the workforce. In his application for benefits
Kennedy alleged that he was disabled due to the combined
effects of coronary disease and chronic obstructive pulmonary
disease (COPD). (Id.)
was 49 years old at the time of the alleged of his
disability. (Tr. 32, 116.) He had a high school education,
(Tr. 36), and past work experience as a heavy equipment
mechanic and delivery truck driver. (Tr. 43, 169.) Kennedy
stopped working on July 20, 2013, when he was laid off by his
employer because he could not do the exertional level of work
required at his job as a mechanic. (Tr. 34.) Following this
lay-off in July of 2013, Kennedy continued to collect
unemployment benefits until those benefits expired. (Tr.
35-6.) Kennedy also testified that he actively sought
employment in the trucking industry during this time but
“there was nothing available at the rate I was being
paid at the job I was laid off from.” (Tr. 36.)
Kennedy's job search ended when he resumed work in August
of 2014, as a CDL truck driver. (Id.)
addition to collecting unemployment benefits and pursuing
employment opportunities, Kennedy's self-reported
activities of daily living suggested some capacity for
physical labor. Despite the chronic fatigue which Kennedy
reported as a result of his coronary and pulmonary disease,
Kennedy stated that he was able to cook; clean; care for his
lawn; walk “quite a bit” every day; and
occasionally shop for groceries and other items. (Tr. 38-39.)
In an April 2014 adult function report, Kennedy reported
that, despite the need to take breaks which reduced his
efficiency, on a daily basis he worked around the house; cut
the grass; cooked meals three to four times a week; washed
laundry; performed home repairs; fed, watered, and walked his
pets; cared for his children and wife; went outside daily;
walked, drove, or rode in a car; and shopped in stores for
food, clothes, auto and truck parts, and household items.
(Tr. 156.) In a supplemental pain questionnaire which Kennedy
completed at this time, he also indicated that he has no
disabling pain. (Tr. 163.)
Kennedy's closed period disability claim was not
supported by any medical source opinion stating that these
coronary or pulmonary conditions were wholly disabling.
Instead, the gist of this claim entailed medical records
documenting treatment Kennedy received throughout this period
for coronary and related medical concerns. With respect to
Kennedy's condition during this 13-month closed period of
claimed disability, the factual record was mixed.
record documented three episodes of hospitalization for
Kennedy between October of 2013 and May of 2014. Initially,
on October 23, 2013 Kennedy was seen at the emergency room of
Wilkes Barre General Hospital with complaints of a rapid
heartbeat, fatigue and tiredness that limited his work to six
hours. (Tr. 394-95.) On examination, Kennedy was found to be
in uncontrolled atrial fibrillation, but converted to normal
sinus rhythm with the appropriate therapy. (Tr. 395). He
responded well to treatment and was discharged in
satisfactory condition two days later, on October 25, 2013.
November 2013, Kennedy's atrial fibrillation recurred and
he had a pacemaker implanted to regulate his cardiac rhythms.
(Tr. 396.) Medical records indicate that at a follow-up
appointment on January 7, 2014 with Nirode Das, M.D., his
treating cardiologist, Kennedy reported that he was feeling
stable and that his tiredness had improved. (Tr. 477.)
Plaintiff denied chest pain and palpations, and continued to
smoke against medical advice (Tr. 477). On examination,
Kennedy's chest was clear and he had normal heart sounds.
(Id.) An EKG also showed that Kennedy's
pacemaker was functioning normally (Tr. 477). Dr. Das
continued Plaintiff's medication, recommended that he
follow a low-fat, low-cholesterol, low-salt diet, and advised
him to stop smoking (Tr. 478). A February 2014 follow-up EKG
revealed a normal ejection fraction of 61 percent.
(Id.) One month later, in March of 2014, Kennedy
was seen by his primary care physician Dr. Kerrigan for a
general physical examination. (Tr. 635.). At that time, Dr.
Kerrigan noted that Kennedy had recently undergone a stress
test with good results and Kennedy denied difficulty
breathing, chest tightness, and shortness of breath. (Tr.
this care, Kennedy was hospitalized for a third occasion on
May 21, 2014, after reporting to the emergency room
complaining of severe palpitations and shortness of breath.
(Tr. 500). He was treated with telemetry monitoring and IV
therapy, and was discharged in stable condition four days
later on May 25, 2014. (Tr. 505.) During a follow up
appointment on May 28, 2014, it was reported that Kennedy had
improved significantly, and that he denied any chest pain,
shortness of breath, or chest palpitations. (Tr. 571.) In a
June 2014, appointment Kennedy reported tiredness, but his
breathing was unchanged with no evidence of failure. (Tr.
626.) An EKG showed pacemaker induced heart rhythm of 60
beats per minute. (Tr. 627).
this closed period of claimed disability Kennedy was last
seen by his primary care physician Dr. Kerrigan in June 2014.
This medical appointment related to work that Kennedy was
seeking since Kennedy saw the doctor for a physical
examination for his commercial driver's license (CDL).
(Tr. 637.) At that time Kennedy denied chest pain, difficulty
breathing, chest tightness, and shortness of breath. (Tr.
637.) Kennedy's physical examination was normal and
revealed that he was healthy, in no distress, had ...