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Hansley v. Commissioner of Social Security

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

February 23, 2018

DAVID E. HANSLEY, SR., o/b/o DAVID EDGAR HANSLEY, JR., deceased, Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.

          MANNION, D.J.

          REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

          KAROLINE MEHALCHICK UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         This is 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 David Edgar Hansley, Jr.'s 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 VACATED.

         I. Background and Procedural History

         On April 30, 2013, Plaintiff David Edgar Hansley, Jr. (“Hansley”) filed applications for Title II and Title XVI benefits, respectively. (Doc. 8-2, at 22). In these applications, Hansley claimed disability beginning January 2, 2012. (Doc. 8-2, at 22). The Social Security Administration initially denied Hansley's claims on October 2, 2013. (Doc. 8-2, at 22). Hansley filed a request for a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) on October 17, 2013. (Doc. 8-2, at 22). The hearing was held on March 26, 2015, before ALJ Joseph M. Hillegas. (Doc. 8-2, at 22). At the hearing, Hansley's counsel requested amendment of the alleged onset date from January 2, 2012 to June 7, 2014. (Doc. 8-2, at 22). Counsel attributed the change to Hansley turning 50.[1] (Doc. 8-2, at 41-42). In a written opinion dated June 19, 2015, the ALJ determined that Hansley was not disabled and therefore not entitled to the benefits sought. (Doc. 8-2, at 33). Hansley appealed the decision of the ALJ to the Appeals Council, who, on December 16, 2016, denied Hansley's request for review. (Doc. 8-2, at 3).

         In January of 2017, Hansley passed away. (Doc. 12, at 2). On February 13, 2017, Hansley's father, David E. Hansley, Sr., filed the instant action. (Doc. 1). The Commissioner responded on April 14, 2017, providing the requisite transcripts from the disability proceedings the same day. (Doc. 7; Doc. 8). The parties then filed their respective briefs, with the Plaintiff declining to file a reply brief. (Doc. 12; Doc. 13; Doc. 16). Plaintiff alleges three errors warranted reversal or remand. (Doc. 12, at 4).

         II. The ALJ's Decision

         In a decision dated June 19, 2015, the ALJ determined Hansley “has not been under a disability, as defined in the Social Security Act, from June 7, 2014, through the date of this decision.” (Doc. 8-2, at 33). 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 Hansley met the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act through December 31, 2015. (Doc. 8-2, at 24).

         At step 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 Hansley “has not engaged in [SGA] since June 7, 2014, the alleged onset date.” (Doc. 8-2, at 24). Thus, the ALJ's analysis proceeded to step two.

         At step 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. § 404.1520(c). If a claimant establishes a severe impairment or combination of impairments, the analysis continues to the third step.

         The ALJ found Hansley “has the following severe impairments: morbid obesity (testified 300 pounds currently and 5'5” tall and was referred by PCP for evaluation with bariatric surgeon) [sic]; coronary arteriosclerosis status-post stenting; diabetes mellitus without complication [sic]; non-alcoholic fatty liver; benign essential hypertension; and obstructive sleep apnea (does not use C-pap every night).” (Doc. 8-2, at 24-25). The ALJ did not identify any non-severe impairments.

         At step 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 Hansley's impairments, considered individually or in combination, met or equaled a Listing. (Doc. 8-2, at 24). Specifically, the ALJ considered Listings 1.00 (musculoskeletal), 4.00 (cardiovascular), and 6.00 (genitourinary). (Doc. 8-2, at 25).

         Between 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 Hansley:

has the [RFC] to perform to lift up to ten pounds frequently and twenty pounds occasionally and stand/walk for up to six hours out of an eight-hour workday and sit for up to six hours (i.e., he can perform light work as defined by 20 CFR 404.1567(b) and 416.967(b). He is further limited to tasks requiring no more than occasional climbing, balancing, stooping, kneeling, crouching, or crawling. Due to insulin dependence, he cannot maintain a commercial driver's license and needs to take a five-minute break every hour to accommodate urinary frequency.

(Doc. 8-2, at 25).

         Having 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. The ALJ determined Hansley was unable to perform past relevant work. (Doc. 8-2, at 32). The ALJ noted past relevant work as a truck driver, but determined that the exertional requirements of the job exceeded Hansley's RFC. (Doc. 8-2, at 32).

         At step 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. § 404.1520(a)(4)(v).

         The ALJ made vocational determinations that Hansley was 50 years old on the alleged onset date, defined as an individual closely approaching advanced age by the Regulations. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1563. (Doc. 8-2, at 32). The ALJ also noted that Hansley “has at least a high school education and is able to communicate in English” as considered in 20 C.F.R. § 404.1564. (Doc. 8-2, at 32). The ALJ determined that upon consideration of these factors, Hansley's RFC, and the testimony of a vocational expert, “there are jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy ...


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