United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania
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.
FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND
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.
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.”
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).
STANDARD OF REVIEW
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).
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).
principal issue before this Court is if Plaintiff's left
hip impairment is “severe” under the second step
of the five-step inquiry. 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.
Step Two - Severe Impairment
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.
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