United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania
REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION
KAROLINE MEHALCHICK, United States Magistrate Judge
an action brought under Section 1383(c) of the Social
Security Act and 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), seeking judicial
review of the final decision of the Commissioner of Social
Security (hereinafter, “the Commissioner”)
denying Plaintiff Donald Mikos' claims for a period of
disability and disability insurance benefits
(“DIB”) under Titles II and XVI of the Social
Security Act. (Doc. 1). The matter has been referred to the
undersigned United States Magistrate Judge to prepare a
report and recommendation pursuant to the provisions of 28
U.S.C. § 636(b) and Rule 72(b) of the Federal Rules of
Civil Procedure. For the reasons expressed herein, and upon
detailed consideration of the arguments raised by the parties
in their respective briefs, it is respectfully recommended
that the Commissioner's decision be AFFIRMED.
Background and Procedural History
April 30, 2013, Plaintiff Donald Mikos (“Mikos”)
filed applications for Title II and Title XVI benefits,
respectively. (Doc. 10-2, at 14). In these applications,
Mikos claimed disability beginning April 30, 2013. (Doc.
10-2, at 14). The Social Security Administration initially
denied Mikos' claims on June 19, 2013. (Doc. 10-2, at
14). Mikos filed a request for a hearing before an
Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) on July 23,
2013. (Doc. 10-2, at 14). ALJ Leslie Perry-Dowdell held a
video hearing on November 20, 2014. (Doc. 10-2, at 14).
written opinion dated March 27, 2015, the ALJ determined that
Mikos was not disabled and therefore not entitled to the
benefits sought. (Doc. 10-2, at 14). Mikos appealed the
decision of the ALJ to the Appeals Council, who, on September
8, 2016, denied Mikos' request for review. (Doc. 10-2, at
2-5). On October 12, 2016, Mikos filed the instant action.
(Doc. 1). The Commissioner responded on January 19, 2017;
providing the requisite transcripts from the disability
proceedings. (Doc. 9; Doc. 10). The parties then filed their
respective briefs (Doc. 13; Doc. 15; Doc. 16), with Mikos
alleging three errors warranted reversal or remand. (Doc.
The ALJ's Decision
decision dated March 27, 2015, the ALJ determined Mikos
“has not been under a disability within the meaning of
the Social Security Act, from April 30, 2013, through the
date of this decision.” (Doc. 10-2, at 15). The ALJ
reached this conclusion after proceeding through the
five-step sequential analysis required by the Social Security
Act. See20 C.F.R. § 404.1520.The ALJ determined
that Mikos met the insured status requirements of the Social
Security Act through December 31, 2017. (Doc. 10-2, at 14).
one, an ALJ must determine whether the claimant is engaging
in substantial gainful activity (“SGA”). 20 C.F.R
§ 404.1520(a)(4)(i). If a claimant is engaging in SGA,
the Regulations deem them not disabled, regardless of age,
education, or work experience. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(b).
SGA is defined as work activity-requiring significant
physical or mental activity-resulting in pay or profit. 20
C.F.R. § 404.1572. In making this determination, the ALJ
must consider only the earnings of the claimant. 20 C.F.R.
§ 404.1574. The ALJ determined Mikos “has not
engaged in [SGA] since April 30, 2013, the alleged onset
date.” (Doc. 10-2, at 16). Thus, the ALJ's analysis
proceeded to step two.
two, the ALJ must determine whether the claimant has a
medically determinable impairment that is severe or a
combination of impairments that are severe. 20 C.F.R. §
404.1520(a)(4)(ii). If the ALJ determines that a claimant
does not have an “impairment or combination of
impairments which significantly limits [the claimant's]
physical or mental ability to do basic work activities, [the
ALJ] will find that [the claimant] does not have a severe
impairment and [is], therefore, not disabled.” 20
C.F.R. § 1520(c). If a claimant establishes a severe
impairment or combination of impairments, the analysis
continues to the third step.
found Mikos “has the following severe impairments:
bipolar disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, unspecified
paranoid state, and panic disorder.” (Doc. 10-2, at
17). The ALJ also noted treatment records reflecting
non-severe physical impairments of: a straightening of the
spinal curvature and mild multilevel degenerative spondylosis
with mild right neural foraminal stenosis of C3-C4; head and
chest pain; atrial fibrillation and heart rhythm
irregularity; back pain; hyperlipidemia; and a headache.
(Doc. 10-2, at 17-18). However, the ALJ determined that the
non-severe impairments were either isolated incidents, did
not cause symptoms having a minimal effect on Mikos'
ability to perform basic work activity, or were never
addressed as contributing to his disability claims. (Doc.
10-2, at 18)
three, the ALJ must determine whether the severe impairment
or combination of impairments meets or equals the medical
equivalent of an impairment listed in 20 C.F.R. Part 404,
Subpt. P, App. 1 (20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(d);
404.1525; 404.1526). If the ALJ determines that the
claimant's impairments meet these listings, then the
claimant is considered disabled. 20 C.F.R. §
404.1520(a)(4)(iii). The ALJ determined that none of
Mikos' impairments, considered individually or in
combination, met or equaled a Listing. (Doc. 10-2, at 18).
Specifically, the ALJ considered Listings 12.04 (affective
disorders); 12.06 (anxiety related disorders); and 12.08
(personality disorders). (Doc. 10-2, at 18).
steps three and four, the ALJ determines the claimant's
residual functional capacity (“RFC”), crafted
upon consideration of the medical evidence provided. The ALJ
determined that Mikos:
has the [RFC] to perform a full range of work at all
exertional levels. However, this individual has
non-exertional limitations. Specifically, this individual is
limited to performing routine and repetitive tasks that are
performed in an environment that is free of fast-paced
production requirements. This individual should not work with
the public. His work should be with things and not people. He
would only take instruction or redirection from a supervisor,
and no immediate response is required of the worker unless
clarification is necessary.
(Doc. 10-2, at 20).
assessed a claimant's RFC, at step four the ALJ must
determine whether the claimant has the RFC to perform the
requirements of their past relevant work. 20 C.F.R. §
404.1520(a)(4)(iv). A finding that the claimant can still
perform past relevant work requires a determination that the
claimant is not disabled. 20 C.F.R. §
404.1520(a)(4)(iv). Past relevant work is defined as work the
claimant has done within the past 15 years, that was
substantial gainful activity, and that lasted long enough for
the claimant to learn how to do it. 20 C.F.R. §
404.1560(b). If the claimant cannot perform past relevant
work, or has no past relevant work, then the analysis
proceeds to the fifth step.
determined Mikos is unable to perform past relevant work.
(Doc. 10-2, at 27). The ALJ noted past relevant work
“for parts and supplies, ” as a packager, and
office clerk, but the limitations found in Mikos' RFC
precluded a return to any of these positions. (Doc. 10-2, at
five of the sequential analysis process, an ALJ considers the
claimant's age, education, and work experience to see if
a claimant can make the adjustment to other work. 20 C.F.R.
§ 404.1520(a)(4)(v). These factors are not considered
when evaluating a claimant's ability to perform past
relevant work. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1560(b)(3). If a claimant
has the ability to make an adjustment to other work, they
will not be considered disabled. 20 C.F.R. §
made vocational determinations that Mikos was 39 years old on
the alleged onset date, defined as a younger individual age
18 - 49 by the Regulations. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1563. (Doc.
10-2, at 27). The ALJ also noted that Mikos “has at
least a high school education and is able to communicate in
English” as considered in 20 C.F.R. § 404.1564.
(Doc. 10-2, at 27). The ALJ determined that upon
consideration of these factors, Mikos' RFC, and the
testimony of a vocational expert, “there are jobs that
exist in significant numbers in the national economy that the
claimant can perform.” (Doc. 10-2, at 27). The ALJ
specifically identified occupations of laundry worker,
sorter, and laminator. (Doc. 10-2, at 28).
result of this analysis, the ALJ determined that Mikos was
not disabled and denied Mikos' applications for benefits.
(Doc. 10-2, at 28).
Standard of Review
order to receive benefits under Title II or Title XVI of the
Social Security Act, a claimant must demonstrate 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 12 months.” 42 U.S.C.
§§ 423(d)(1)(A), 1382c(a)(3)(A). To satisfy this
requirement, a claimant must have a severe physical or mental
impairment that makes it impossible to do his or her previous
work or any other substantial gainful activity that exists in
significant numbers in the national economy. 42 U.S.C. §
423(d)(2)(A); 20 C.F.R. § 404.1505(a). Additionally, to
be eligible to receive benefits under Title II of the Social
Security Act, a claimant must be insured for disability
insurance benefits. 42 U.S.C. § 423(a); 20 C.F.R. §
evaluating whether a claimant is disabled as defined in the
Social Security Act, the Commissioner follows a five-step
sequential evaluation process. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a);
20 C.F.R. § 416.920(a). Under this process, the
Commissioner must determine, in sequence: (1) whether the
claimant is engaged in substantial gainful activity; (2)
whether the claimant has a severe impairment; (3) whether the
claimant's impairment meets or equals a listed
impairment; (4) whether the claimant is able to do past
relevant work, considering his or her residual functional
capacity (“RFC”); and (5) whether the claimant is
able to do any other work that exists in significant numbers
in the national economy, considering his or her RFC, age,
education, and work experience. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a);
20 C.F.R. § 416.920(a). The claimant bears the initial
burden of demonstrating a medically determinable impairment
that prevents him or her from doing past relevant work. 20
C.F.R. § 404.1512(a); 20 C.F.R. § 416.912(a). Once
the claimant has established at step four that he or she
cannot do past relevant work, the burden then shifts to the
Commissioner at step five to show that jobs exist in
significant numbers in the national economy that the claimant
could perform that are consistent with his or her RFC, age,
education, and past work experience. 20 C.F.R. §
404.1512(f); 20 C.F.R. § 416.912(f).
reviewing the Commissioner's final decision denying a
claimant's application for benefits, the Court's
review is limited to determining whether the findings of the
final decision-maker are supported by substantial evidence in
the record. See42 U.S.C. § 1383(c)(3)
(incorporating 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) by reference);
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) (internal
quotations omitted). 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). A
single piece of evidence is not substantial evidence if the
ALJ ignores countervailing evidence or fails to resolve a
conflict created by the evidence. Mason v. Shalala,
994 F.2d 1058, 1064 (3d Cir. 1993). In an adequately
developed factual record, however, substantial evidence may
be “something less than the weight of the evidence, and
the possibility of drawing two inconsistent conclusions from
the evidence does not prevent [the ALJ's decision] from
being supported by substantial evidence.” Consolo
v. Fed. Maritime Comm'n, 383 U.S. 607, 620 (1966).
“In determining if the Commissioner's decision is
supported by substantial evidence the court must scrutinize
the record as a whole.” Leslie v. Barnhart,
304 F.Supp.2d 623, 627 (M.D. Pa. 2003). The question before
the Court, therefore, is not whether Mikos is disabled, but
whether the Commissioner's finding that Mikos is not
disabled is supported by substantial evidence and was reached
based upon a correct application of the relevant law.
SeeArnold v. Colvin, No. 3:12-CV-02417,
2014 WL 940205, at *1 (M.D. Pa. Mar. 11, 2014) (“[I]t
has been held that an ALJ's errors of law ...