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Forney v. Berryhill

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

April 24, 2018

ROBERT FORNEY, Petitioner,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, Defendant.

          OPINION

          SLOMSKY, J.

         I. INTRODUCTION

         Before the Court are the Objections of Plaintiff Robert Forney to the Report and Recommendation of United States Magistrate Judge Carol Sandra Moore Wells. (Doc. No. 25.) On May 15, 2017, Plaintiff filed a Complaint against Defendant Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, alleging that Defendant wrongfully denied his claim for disability insurance benefits (“DIB”) and Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”) under Title II and Title XVI of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 401-434, 1381-1383f. (Doc. No. 18.)

         On March 6, 2017, the Court referred the case to Magistrate Judge Wells for a Report and Recommendation (“R&R”). (Doc. No. 21.) On August 22, 2017, Magistrate Judge Wells issued the R&R and recommended that Plaintiff's request for review be denied. (Doc. No. 22.) On September 15, 2017, Plaintiff filed Objections to the R&R. (Doc. No. 25.) Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1), the Court has conducted a de novo review of the portions of the R&R to which objections have been made. After an independent review of the Record, and for reasons that follow, the Court finds that Plaintiff's Objections lack merit and will adopt and approve the disposition of the R&R in accordance with the reasoning provided in this Opinion.

         II. BACKGROUND

         A. Procedural History

         On May 22, 2013, Plaintiff filed an application for DIB related to an alleged disability which he had since May 1, 2007. (Administrative Record (“R.”) at 10.) On August 20, 2013, the application was denied. (Id.) On September 17, 2013, Plaintiff filed a request for a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”). (Id.)

         On March 23, 2015, ALJ Frank Barletta held a hearing. (Id.) Plaintiff, who was represented by counsel, testified at the hearing. (R. at 28-48.) He said that he suffered psychological impairments caused by major depression and anxiety (R. at 36-37) and physical impairments caused by carpal tunnel syndrome and arthritis (R. at 43). Christine A. Carrozza Slusarski, an independent vocational expert (“VE”), also testified. (R. at 49-55.) On May 1, 2015, the ALJ issued an opinion (“ALJ's Decision”) finding that Plaintiff was not disabled under the terms of the Social Security Act from May 1, 2007, the alleged start of the disability, through the date of his decision. (R. at 21.)

         On June 15, 2016, Plaintiff filed a Request for Review of Hearing Decision/Order seeking reconsideration of the ALJ's Decision. (R. at 5.) On February 5, 2016, the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request, making the ALJ's Decision the final decision of the Commissioner. (R. at 1-3.) On May 15, 2016, Plaintiff appealed that decision to this Court by filing the Complaint. (Doc. No. 3.) As already noted, on March 6, 2017, the Court referred the case to Magistrate Judge Carol Sandra Moore Wells for an R&R (Doc. No. 21), and on August 22, 2017, Magistrate Judge Wells issued the R&R recommending that Plaintiff's Request for Review be denied. (Doc. No. 22.) On September 15, 2017, Plaintiff timely filed the Objections that are now before this Court for consideration.[1] (Doc. No. 25.)

         B. Relevant Social Security Administration Regulations

         To prove a “disability, ” a claimant must demonstrate “the inability to do 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.” 20 C.F.R. § 404.1505(a). The claimant bears the burden of proving the existence of a disability and will satisfy this burden by showing an inability to return to former work. Rossi v. Califano, 602 F.2d 55, 57 (3d Cir. 1979). If he does so, the burden shifts to the Commissioner to show that, given the claimant's age, education, and work experience, he is able to perform specific jobs that exist in the national economy. 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(2)(A); 20 C.F.R. 416.920(f).

         When evaluating a disability, the Social Security Administration uses a five-step process, which is followed in a set order:

(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 make an adjustment to other work, we will find that you are disabled.

         Id. § 404.1520(a)(4)(i)-(v).

         III. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         Judicial review of a final decision of the Commissioner is limited. A district court is bound by the factual findings of the Commissioner if they are supported by substantial evidence and decided according to correct legal standards. Brown v. Astrue, 649 F.3d 193, 195 (3d Cir. 2011) (citing Knepp v. Apfel, 204 F.3d 78, 83 (3d Cir. 2000)); Allen v. Bowen, 881 F.2d 37, 39 (3d Cir. 1989). Substantial evidence is “more than a mere scintilla, ” and consists of “such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate.” Burnett v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 220 F.3d 112, 118 (3d Cir. 2000) (citing Plummer v. Apfel, 186 F.3d 422, 427 (3d Cir. 1999)). The Court also must determine whether the ALJ applied the proper legal standards in evaluating a claim of disability. McHerrin v. Astrue, No. CIV. A. 09-2035, 2010 WL 3516433, at *2 (E.D. Pa. Aug. 31, 2010) (citing Coria v. Heckler, 750 F.2d 245, 247 (3d Cir. 1984)).

         IV. THE ...


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