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Stahl v. Berryhill

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

February 12, 2018

STEPHANIE MARIE STAHL, Plaintiff
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, [1] Defendant

          MARIANI, J.

          REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

          KAROLINE MEHALCHICK UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         This is 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.

         I. Background and Procedural History

         Plaintiff 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).

         Ms. 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).

         Ms. 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. (Id.).

         On 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 others.

(Admin. Tr. 32-35; Doc. 11-2 pp. 33-36).

         On 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 pp. 1-5).

         II. Standard of Review

         To 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.

         In 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”);[2] 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 ...


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