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Geib v. Berryhill

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

January 31, 2018

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

          REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

          LINDA K. CARACAPPA, UNITED STATES CHIEF MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         Plaintiff Barry Gieb brought this action under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), seeking judicial review of the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security (“Commissioner”) denying plaintiff's claims for Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”) and Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”) under Title II and Title XVI of the Act. Presently before this court are plaintiff's request for review, the Commissioner's response, and plaintiff's reply. For the reasons set forth below, we recommend that plaintiff's request for review be GRANTED in part.

         I. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         Plaintiff is a 57-year old man born on May 5, 1960. (Tr. 20). Plaintiff has a high school education and past relevant work as a maintenance mechanic. (Tr. 200).

         On November 15, 2013, plaintiff filed applications for DIB and SSI. (Tr. 142-155). Plaintiff's alleged disability onset date was October 23, 2012. (Tr. 13). Plaintiff's applications were initially denied at the state level on March 24, 2014. (Tr. 61-78). Plaintiff subsequently requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”).

         On August 18, 2015, ALJ Daniel Myers held a hearing. (Tr. 27-60). On September 4, 2015, ALJ Myers found plaintiff not disabled under the Act, from October 23, 2012, plaintiff's alleged onset date, through the date of the decision. (Tr. 10-26). Plaintiff filed a request for review, and on January 26, 2017, the Appeals Council denied plaintiff's request for review, making the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner. (Tr. 1-6). Plaintiff appealed that decision to this court.

         II. LEGAL STANDARDS

         Upon judicial review, this court's role is to determine whether the ALJ's decision is supported by substantial evidence. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g); Pierce v. Underwood, 587 U.S. 552 (1988). “Substantial evidence is more than a mere scintilla but may be somewhat less than a preponderance of the evidence.” Rutherford v. Barnhart, 399 F.3d 546, 552 (3d Cir. 2005). It is relevant evidence viewed objectively as adequate to support a decision. Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971); Kangas v. Bowen, 823 F.2d 775 (3d Cir. 1987); Dobrowolsky v. Califano, 606 F.2d 403 (3d Cir. 1979). In determining whether substantial evidence exists, the reviewing court may not weigh the evidence or substitute its own conclusion for that of the ALJ. Burns v. Barnhart, 312 F.3d 113, 118 (3d Cir. 2002). If the court determines the ALJ's factual findings are supported by substantial evidence, then the court must accept the findings as conclusive. Richardson, 402 U.S. at 390; Plummer v. Apfel, 186 F.3d 422, 427 (3d Cir. 1999). It is the ALJ's responsibility to resolve conflicts in the evidence and to determine credibility and the relative weights to be given to the evidence. Richardson, 402 U.S. at 401. While the Third Circuit Court of Appeals has made it clear that the ALJ must analyze all relevant evidence in the record and provide an explanation for disregarding evidence, this requirement does not mandate the ALJ “to use particular language or adhere to a particular format in conducting his analysis.” Jones v. Barnhart, 364 F.3d 501, 505 (3d Cir. 2004). Rather, it is meant “to ensure that there is sufficient development of the record and explanation of findings to permit meaningful review.” Id. Moreover, apart from the substantial evidence inquiry, a reviewing court must also ensure that the ALJ applied the proper legal standards. Coria v. Heckler, 750 F.2d 245 (3d Cir. 1984).

         To establish a disability under the Act, a claimant must demonstrate that there is some “medically determinable basis for an impairment that prevents him from engaging in any ‘substantial gainful activity' for a statutory twelve-month period.” Stunkard v. Sec'y of Health and Human Servs., 841 F.2d 57 (3d Cir. 1988) (quoting Kangas, 823 F.2d at 777); 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1) (1982). The claimant satisfies his burden by showing an inability to return to his past relevant work. Doak v. Heckler, 790 F.2d 26, 28 (3d Cir. 1986); Rossi v. Califano, 602 F.2d 55, 57 (3d Cir. 1979) (citing Baker v. Gardner, 362 F.2d 864 (3d Cir. 1966)). Once this showing is made, the burden of proof shifts to the Commissioner to show that the claimant, given his age, education, and work experience, has the ability to perform specific jobs that exist in the economy. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520; Rossi, 602 F.2d at 57.

         As explained in the following agency regulation, each case is evaluated by the Commissioner according to a five-step process:

(i) At the first step, we consider your work activity if any. If you are doing substantial gainful activity, we will find that you are not disabled.
(ii) At the second step, we consider the medical severity of your impairment(s). If you do not have a severe medically determinable physical or mental impairment that meets the duration requirement in § 404.1509, or a combination of impairments that is severe and meets the duration requirement, we will find that you are not disabled.
(iii) At the third step, we also consider the medical severity of your impairment(s). If you have an impairment(s) that meets or equals one of our listings in appendix 1 of this subpart and meets the duration requirement, we will find that you are disabled.
(iv) At the fourth step, we consider our assessment of your residual functional capacity and your past relevant work. If you can still do your past relevant work, we will find that you are not disabled.
(v) At the fifth and last step, we consider our assessment of your residual functional capacity and your age, education and work experience to see if you can make an adjustment to other work. If you can make an adjustment to other work, we will find that you are not disabled. If you cannot ...

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