United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania
REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION
KAROLINE MEHALCHICK UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
an action brought under Sections 205(g) and 1631(c)(3) of the
Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §405(g) and 42 U.S.C.
§ 1383(c)(3), seeking judicial review of the final
decision of the Commissioner of Social Security
(“Commissioner”) denying the claims of Plaintiff
Stephanie Marie Stahl (“Ms. Stahl”) for
disability insurance benefits and supplemental security
income under the Social Security Act. This matter has been
referred to the undersigned United States Magistrate Judge to
prepare a report recommending disposition, 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, the Court recommends that the
Commissioner's final decision be VACATED and this case
REMANDED to conduct a new administrative hearing.
Background and Procedural History
Stephanie Marie Stahl was born on November 16, 1986, and is
an adult individual who resided within the Middle District of
Pennsylvania at all times relevant to this action.
(Admin. Tr. 49-50; Doc. 11-2 pp. 50-51).
Ms. Stahl completed high school. (Admin. Tr. 49;
Doc. 11-2 p. 50). At the time of her administrative
hearing, she had not done any work for pay or profit since
September 2012. (Admin. Tr. 51; Doc. 11-2 p.
52). Her past work experience includes work in the
fast-food industry, work in the office of a physician, and
work as a nurse's assistant. (Admin. Tr. 19;
Doc. 8-2 p. 20).
Stahl filed for disability insurance benefits on February 11,
2014, and she filed for supplemental security income one day
earlier, on February 10, 2014. (Admin. Tr. 26; Doc.
11-2 p. 27). She alleged her disability began on
September 29, 2012. (Id.). At her administrative
hearing, Ms. Stahl listed the following physical or mental
conditions as limiting her ability to work: (1) bipolar
disorder; (2) fibromyalgia; and, (3) narcolepsy. (Admin.
Tr. 52; Doc. 11-2 p. 53).
Stahl's claim was initially denied on May 21, 2014.
(Admin. Tr. 26; Doc. 11-2 p. 27). ALJ
Lawrence Neary held a hearing on this claim on December 17,
2015, at which Ms. Stahl appeared and testified.
February 4, 2016, the ALJ issued an opinion finding Ms. Stahl
was not disabled under the Social Security Act. (Admin.
Tr. 26-37; Doc. 11-2 pp. 27-38). The ALJ
followed the five-step analysis for disability claims under
the Social Security Act. (Id.). At Step Two, the ALJ
found Ms. Stahl had the following seven severe impairments:
(1) cervical degenerative disc disease; (2) thoracic outlet
syndrome; (3) diabetes; (4) obesity; (5) bipolar disorder;
(6) anxiety disorder; and, (7) mood disorder. (Admin. Tr.
28-29; Doc. 11-2 pp. 30-31). At Step Three, the
ALJ found Ms. Stahl did not meet or medically equal one of
the listed impairments. (Admin. Tr. 30-31; Doc. 11-2
pp. 31-32). Between Step Three and Step Four, the
ALJ found Ms. Stahl possessed the residual functional
capacity (“RFC”) to perform sedentary work with
the following limitations:
the claimant can never push/pull with her bilateral upper
extremities, reach overhead, or climb
ladders/ropes/scaffolds; can only occasionally balance,
stoop, kneel, crouch, and crawl; must avoid all exposure to
vibration and hazards; and is limited to the performance of
simple, routine tasks involving no more than occasional
changes in the work setting and occasional interaction with
(Admin. Tr. 32-35; Doc. 11-2 pp. 33-36).
August 12, 2016, the agency Appeals Council denied Ms.
Stahl's request for review. (Admin. Tr. 7; Doc.
11-2 p. 8). On, December 28, 2016, Ms. Stahl filed a civil
action with this Court seeking review. (Complaint, Doc. 1
Standard of Review
receive benefits under Title II or Title XVI of the Social
Security Act, the 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); 42
U.S.C. § 1382c(a)(3)(A). To satisfy this requirement,
the 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 number in the national economy. 42 U.S.C. §
423(d)(2)(A); 42 U.S.C. § 1382c(a)(3)(B). In addition,
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. § 404.131.
evaluating the question of whether a claimant is under a
disability as it is 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 the severity of an impairment
listed in 20 C.F.R. § 404, Subpart P, Appendix
1 (“Listing of Impairments”); (4) whether
the claimant is able to do his past relevant work,
considering his current 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 current RFC, age,
education, and work experience. Id. The claimant
bears the initial burden of demonstrating a medically
determinable impairment that prevents him from doing his 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 cannot ...