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Byrd v. Berryhill

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

April 27, 2018

HARUN BYRD, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, ACTING COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          WENDY BEETLESTONE, J.

         Plaintiff Harun Byrd seeks review of the Social Security Administration's denial of his application for supplemental security income. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). For the reasons that follow, Plaintiff's request for review is denied, and the decision of the Commissioner of Social Security is affirmed.

         I. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff filed an application for supplemental security income (“SSI”) on June 27, 2013, claiming a disability based on a left hip impairment that began on March 1, 2013. The claim was initially denied, to which Plaintiff filed a written request for hearing. Consequently, the Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) held two hearings on April 24, 2015 and June 18, 2015.

         In the familiar five-step process for determining whether the Plaintiff was disabled, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff could not proceed beyond step two because his left hip did not suffer from a “severe impairment.” In particular, the ALJ found that while Plaintiff had medically determinable impairments, the statements “concerning the intensity, persistence and limiting effects” of his medical symptoms stemming from these impairments were “not entirely credible.”

         Plaintiff requested that the Appeals Council review the ALJ's decision. The Appeals Council denied the request. Plaintiff now seeks an order reversing the decision of the Commissioner of Social Security. See 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).

         II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         The Commissioner's decision is reviewed for “substantial evidence.” Newell v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec. Admin., 347 F.3d 541, 545 (3d Cir. 2003). Substantial evidence is “such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.” Id. This is “more than a mere scintilla of evidence but may be less than a preponderance.” Id. “The Court is bound by the ALJ's findings of fact if they are supported by substantial evidence in the record.” Plummer v. Apfel, 181 F.3d 358, 360 (3d Cir. 1999).

         III. ANALYSIS

         “In order to establish a disability under the Social Security Act, a claimant must demonstrate that there is some medically determinable basis for an impairment that prevents him from engaging in any ‘substantial gainful activity' for a statutory twelve-month period.” Newell, 347 F.3d at 545. The Social Security Act's regulations provide a five-step sequential evaluation process for determining whether a claimant is under a disability. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520. As relevant here, the Commissioner inquires whether an applicant suffers from an impairment or combination of impairments that is “severe.” McCrea v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 370 F.3d 357, 360 (3d Cir. 2004).

         The principal issue before this Court is if Plaintiff's left hip impairment is “severe” under the second step of the five-step inquiry.[1] 20 C.F.R. § 416.920. A “severe” impairment is one that limits the applicant's physical or mental ability to perform “basic work activities.” McCrea, 370 F.3d at 360. “Basic work activities” are defined to include functions such as “walking, standing, sitting, lifting, pushing, pulling, reaching, carrying, or handling.” Id. Plaintiff contends that the ALJ erred in two respects by deciding that Plaintiff did not have a severe impairment: (1) the ALJ erred as a matter of law by failing to find his impairments severe and (2) the ALJ improperly discounted one report of Plaintiff's treating physician. The ALJ erred in neither respect.

         A. Step Two - Severe Impairment

         “The burden placed on an applicant at step two is not an exacting one.” McCrea, 370 F.3d at 360. “[S]tep two is to be rarely utilized as basis for the denial of benefits, ” and therefore “its invocation is certain to raise a judicial eyebrow.” Id. at 361. Indeed, the applicant “need only demonstrate something beyond a ‘slight abnormality or a combination of slight abnormalities which would have no more than a minimal effect on an individual's ability to work.'” Id. (quoting SSR 85-28, 1985 WL 56856, at *3); Newell, 347 F.3d at 546 (holding that if claimant adduces evidence showing more than a “slight abnormality, ” the “step-two requirement of ‘severe' is met, and the sequential evaluation should continue.”). And any doubt as to whether the showing has been made “is to be resolved in favor of the applicant.” Id. at 360. In sum, “[t]he step-two inquiry is a de minimis screening device to dispose of groundless claims.” Id. at 361.

         The question here is whether the ALJ's conclusion - that Plaintiff failed to cross step-two's de minimis threshold - is supported by substantial evidence. McCrea, 370 F.3d at 360-61. To meet this threshold determination, Plaintiff had to satisfy the “duration requirement” by showing that he suffered a severe impairment that lasted twelve consecutive months since March 1, ...


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