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Snyder v. Berryhill

United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania

April 23, 2018





         Plaintiff Gregg Lane Snyder ("Snyder") brings this action pursuant to 42 U.SC. § 405(g) for review of the ALJ's decision denying his claim for supplemental social security ("SSI"). He alleges a disability beginning on December 1, 2004. (R. 17) Following a hearing before an ALJ, during which time both Snyder and a vocational expert ("VE") testified, the ALJ denied his claim. Snyder appealed. Pending are Cross Motions for Summary Judgment. See ECF docket nos. [9] and [13].

         Legal Analysis

         1. Standard of Review

         The standard of review in social security cases is whether substantial evidence exists in the record to support the Commissioner's decision. Allen v. Bowen, 881 F.2d 37, 39 (3d Cir. 1989). Substantial evidence has been defined as more than a mere scintilla. It means such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate. Ventura v. Shalala, 55 F.3d 900, 901 (3d Cir. 1995), quoting Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971). Determining whether substantial evidence exists is "not merely a quantitative exercise." Gilliland v. Heckler 786 F.2d 178, 183 (3d Cir. 1986) (citing Kent v. Schweiker 710 F.2d 110, 114 (3d Cir. 1983)). "A single piece of evidence will not satisfy the substantiality test if the secretary ignores, or fails to resolve, a conflict created by countervailing evidence. Nor is evidence substantial if it is overwhelmed by other evidence - particularly certain types of evidence (e.g., that offered by treating physicians)." Id., The Commissioner's findings of fact, if supported by substantial evidence, are conclusive. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g); Dobrowolsky v. Califano, 606 F.2d 403, 406 (3d Cir. 1979). A district court cannot conduct a de novo review of the Commissioner's decision or re-weigh the evidence of record. Palmer v. Apfel, 995 F.Supp. 549, 552 (E.D. Pa. 1998). Where the ALJ's findings of fact are supported by substantial evidence, a court is bound by those findings, even if the court would have decided the factual inquiry differently. Hartranft v. Apfel, 181 F.3d 358, 360 (3d Cir. 1999). To determine whether a finding is supported by substantial evidence, however, the district court must review the record as a whole. See, 5 U.S.C. §706.

         To be eligible for social security benefits, the claimant must demonstrate that he cannot engage in substantial gainful activity because of a 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 at least 12 months. 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A); Brewster v. Heckler, 786 F.2d 581, 583 (3d Cir. 1986). The Commissioner has provided the ALJ with a five-step sequential analysis to use when evaluating the disabled status of each claimant. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a). The ALJ must determine: (1) whether the claimant is currently engaged in substantial gainful activity; (2) if not, whether the claimant has a severe impairment; (3) if the claimant has a severe impairment, whether it meets or equals the criteria listed in 20 C.F.R., pt. 404, subpt. P, appx. 1; (4) if the impairment does not satisfy one of the impairment listings, whether the claimant's impairments prevent him from performing his past relevant work; and (5) if the claimant is incapable of performing his past relevant work, whether he can perform any other work which exists in the national economy, in light of his age, education, work experience, and residual functional capacity. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520. The claimant carries the initial burden of demonstrating by medical evidence that he is unable to return to his previous employment (steps 1-4). Dobrowolsky, 606 F.2d at 406. Once the claimant meets this burden, the burden of proof shifts to the Commissioner to show that the claimant can engage in alternative substantial gainful activity (step 5). Id. A district court, after reviewing the entire record, may affirm, modify, or reverse the decision with or without remand to the Commissioner for rehearing. Podedworny v. Harris, 745 F.2d 210, 221 (3dCir. 1984).

         2. The ALJ's Analysis

         At step one, the ALJ found that Snyder had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since September 26, 2013, the application date. (R. 19) At step two, the ALJ concluded that Snyder has the following severe impairments: asthma, h/o ADHD, schizophrenia, depression, bipolar disorder, mood disorder, anxiety disorder, panic disorder, personality disorder, and h/o polysubstance abuse. (R. 19) The ALJ referenced some other conditions such as lumbago, hyperlipidemia, and Hepatitis C, but found that they did not constitute "severe impairments." (R. 19-20)

         At step three, the ALJ concluded that Snyder does not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals the severity of one of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpt. P, Appendix 1. The ALJ considered Listings 3.03 (asthma), 12.02, 12.03, 12.04, 12.05, 12.06, 12.08 and 12.09 (mental impairments). (R. 20-22).

         Prior to engaging in step four, the ALJ assessed Snyder's residual functional capacity ("RFC").[2] He found Snyder able to perform the full range of light work at all exertional levels with certain restrictions. (R. 22-27) At step four, the ALJ determined that Snyder had no past relevant work. (R. 27)

         Finally, at step five, the ALJ found that, considering Snyder's age, education, work experience, and RFC, there are significant numbers of jobs in the national economy that Snyder can perform. (R. 27-28) For instance, the ALJ explained that Snyder would be able to perform the requirements of representative occupations such as floor waxer, cleaner II, and photocopy machine operator. (R. 28)

         3. Step Two - Borderline Intellectual Functioning as a Severe Impairment

         Snyder challenges the ALJ's finding at Step Two. He believes that the ALJ erred by not considering Plaintiff's borderline intellectual functioning as a "severe impairment." See ECF Docket No. 10, p. 17. I disagree. A review of the record reveals that the ALJ did, in fact, consider Snyder's intellectual ability at Step Two. Indeed, the ALJ explained that he found Snyder's "intellectual ability is not a severe impairment." (R. 20) (referring both to a psychological examination in 1985 indicating that Snyder is of average intelligence and to his activities of daily living). I reject any suggestion that the ALJ was required to use the particular phrase "borderline intellectual functioning." The ALJ's reference to Snyder's intellectual ability is sufficient. Further, "the mere fact that the ALJ did not include Plaintiff's alleged borderline intellectual functioning as a severe impairment does not in itself warrant remand. The Step Two determination as to whether a claimant is suffering from a severe impairment is a threshold analysis requiring the showing of only one severe impairment. McWhinney v. Colvin, Civ. No. 16-1144, 2017 WL 4167612, * 1 n. 1 (W.D. Pa. Sept. 20, 2017), citing, Bradley v. Barnhart,175 Fed.Appx. 87, 90 (7th Cir. 2006). "In other words, as long as a claim is not denied at Step Two, it is not generally necessary for the ALJ specifically to have found any additional alleged impairment to be severe". McWhinney, 2017 WL 4167612, at *1 n.1, citi ...

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