United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania
Craig A. Franks, Plaintiff
Nancy A. Berryhill Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendants
Richard P. Conaboy United States District Judge
consider here Plaintiff Craig A. Franks' appeal from an
adverse decision of the Social Security Administration
(“SSA”) or (“Agency”) regarding his
application for Disability Insurance Benefits
(“DIB”). Plaintiff's application was
initially denied at the administrative level on December 20,
2013 whereupon he filed a written request for a hearing. A
hearing was held on May 12, 2015 before Administrative Law
Judge (“ALJ”) Gerard W. Langan. On September 3,
2015 the ALJ issued a decision denying Plaintiff's
application for benefits. The ALJ's decision was approved
by the Appeals Council by letter dated April 5, 2017. The
Appeals Council's letter constitutes a final decision and
vests this Court with jurisdiction pursuant to 42 U.S.C.
Testimony before the ALJ.
hearing was conducted in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania on May
12, 2015. ALJ Langan presided and heard testimony from the
Plaintiff and a Mr. Keating, a vocational expert
(“VE”). The testimony may be summarized as
resides in Athens, Pennsylvania with his girlfriend and his
daughter who was two years of age on the date of the hearing.
Plaintiff stands five feet eleven inches tall and weighs one
hundred and seventy eight pounds. He was born August 17,
1964. He completed high school in a regular class and then
went into the navy. He was honorably discharged from the
navy. (R. 41-42).
briefly recounted his work history from 2000 to 2015. In 2000
he worked at a machine shop building small parts that weighed
five to ten pounds. This work was performed while standing.
He then performed similar work for a succession of employers
for a period of years and then worked for a time for a firm
that installed rolled roofing. Later he worked for Ingersoll
Rand as a machinist who setup and ran various machines. This
work was heavier in nature and involved lifting twenty to
twenty-five pounds at times while standing. He then worked at
Amco Manufacturing doing the same type of work until he
became disabled in May of 2012. After a period of inactivity,
he attempted to return to work at a landscaping business but
after working there for three months he resigned because the
work was physically too demanding and his hands were going
numb. At the time of his hearing, Plaintiff was not receiving
unemployment compensation benefits or any military pension.
testified that he cannot work because of general fatigue and
pain from his neck down to his feet. Even walking several
hundred feet out to his mailbox is tiring for him. He gets
very minimal sleep. Various medicines that he takes produce
side effects including blurred vision, diarrhea, drowsiness,
and fatigue. (R. 46-49). Plaintiff stated that he typically
spends his days sitting in the house with his daughter. His
cooking is limited to heating things in a microwave oven. He
does not do laundry, cut grass, or shovel snow. His sons take
care of those tasks. He has not driven a car since 2012. He
goes grocery shopping with his girlfriend and helps to the
extent he is able. He testified that he can lift a gallon of
milk with difficulty. He can sit for fifteen minutes to one
half hour before his legs begin to go numb. He then must
stand for five to ten minutes until the feeling returns to
his legs. He estimates that he can stand for up to thirty
minutes at a time. He estimates further that he can walk
about one hundred yards before he would need to take a break.
questioning by his attorney, Plaintiff spoke about pain in
his hands. He described the pain as constant. His medication
“takes the edge off” but does not completely
control the pain. He stated that he cannot use as much of the
medicine as he might like because he must be alert to watch
his two year old daughter. He testified that he was going to
have nerve conduction studies related to his carpal tunnel
syndrome before undergoing surgery. His carpal tunnel
syndrome affects both hands. His hand problems make it
difficult for him to handle small objects. He can no longer
solder things or repair his own glasses - - things he was
formally able to do. He needs assistance to dress and to wash
his hair because pain in his shoulders limits his ability to
lift his hands over his head. This difficulty to lift his
hands is bilateral. His use of his right arm is also limited
by a torn bicep. (R. 51-54).
reiterated his earlier testimony that he can stand for about
thirty minutes but added that standing any longer causes his
feet to go numb and his legs to shake. His difficult sleeping
makes it necessary to nap each day for about one and one-half
hours. He accomplishes this by napping at the same time as
his daughter. As a side effect of his medications he must go
to the bathroom six to eight times per day. Despite the
frequency of these visits he sometimes has
“accidents”. (R. 54-55).
Keating, a vocational expert, also testified. He stated that
he had reviewed Plaintiff's work history and that his
testimony would be consistent with the Dictionary of
Occupational Titles. In response to questions from Mr.
Keating, Plaintiff stated that his long series of jobs as a
machinist never involved the need to do heavy work such as
fixing machines that had broken down by climbing inside them.
His jobs were lighter exertional level and involved running
machines during the production process. He learned his
various jobs as a machinist while doing them and without
benefit of any vocational schooling as a machinist. (R.
58-60). Mr. Keating stated that Plaintiff was considered a
“younger individual” on his alleged onset date in
May of 2012. He characterized Plaintiff's various
machinist jobs as skilled, light exertional level employment.
Plaintiff's employment as a roofer qualified as skilled,
heavy exertional work. Mindful of Mr. Keating's
assessment of Plaintiff's work history, the ALJ asked Mr.
Keating a hypothetical question in which he was to assume the
following: a person of the same educational level, age, and
work experience as Plaintiff; a person who could perform
light work with additional limitations including avoidance of
unprotected heights and industrial machinery; the inability
to climb ropes, ladders, or scaffolds; only occasional
climbing of ramps or stairs; and only occasional exposure to
temperature extremes, humidity, wetness, and vibration. Based
on the limitations imposed by the hypothetical question, Mr.
Keating testified that Plaintiff would be unable to perform
any of his past relevant work. Mr. Keating testified also
that a person that fits the profile of the hypothetical
claimant would be capable of performing various jobs that
exist in significant numbers in the national economy. These
jobs included: assembler of small products; pricer; and
general cashier. Each of these jobs would be categorized as
“light, unskilled”. (R. 61-63).
then modified the hypothetical question to include the
additional limitations such that the hypothetical claimant
would need to alternate between sitting and standing every
thirty minutes and would be capable of no more than
occasional use of pedals or foot controls. Given these
additional limitations, the VE stated that the hypothetical
claimant would be unable to function as a pricer, but would
be able to function as a general cashier, an assembler of
small products, and as a packer, a light, unskilled job. (R.
63-64). The ALJ then altered the hypothetical question once
again to include all the limitations posed in both the first
and second hypothetical questions with the additional
limitation that the hypothetical claimant could work only at
a sedentary job. The VE stated that such a person could find
work as a surveillance monitor or a document preparer. When
the ALJ added the additional limitation that the hypothetical
claimant would be off task more than 20 percent of the
workday due to pain and the need to change positions, the VE
testified that such a person would be unable to maintain any
employment. (R. 65-67).
Plaintiff's attorney briefly examined the VE. He asked
the VE to focus on the first hypothetical question that had
been phrased by the ALJ and to add to that hypothetical
question the limitation that the hypothetical claimant could
only occasionally use both his hands to perform word
activity. The VE then stated that such an individual could
not sustain employment because all the jobs that he had
referenced required frequent use of the hands. (R. 67-68).
ALJ's decision (Doc. 9-2 at 11-27) was unfavorable to the
Plaintiff. It included the following findings of fact and
conclusions of law:
1. The claimant meets the insured status requirements of the
Social Security Act through September 30, 2018.
2. The claimant has not engaged in substantial gainful
activity since May 12, 2012, the alleged onset date.
3. The claimant has the following severe impairments:
ankylosing spondylosis and degenerative disc disease of
4. The claimant does not have an impairment or combination of
impairments that meets or medically equals the severity of
one of the listed impairments in 20 CFR Part 404, Subpart P,
Appendix 1 (20 CFR 404.1520(d), 404.1525 and 404.1526).
5. After careful consideration of the entire record, the
undersigned finds that the claimant has the residual
functional capacity to perform light work as defined in 20
CFR 404.1567(b) except he must avoid unprotected heights and
industrial machinery. He can never climb ropes, ladders or
scaffolds but can occasionally climb ramps and stairs. He is
allowed occasional exposure to temperature extremes,
humidity, wetness and vibration. He is allowed occasional use
of both lower extremities for the operation ...