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Lewis v. Berryhill

United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania

June 7, 2018

MARY T. LEWIS, Plaintiff
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          ROBERT C. MITCHELL UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         Presently before the Court for disposition are cross motions for summary judgment. For the reasons set forth below, the plaintiff's motion for summary judgment (ECF No. 12) will be granted; the defendant's motion for summary judgment (ECF No. 17) will be denied, and the determination of the defendant will be reversed.

         On November 27, 2017, Mary T. Lewis by her counsel, filed a complaint pursuant to Sections 205(g) and 1631(c)(3) of the Social Security Act, as amended, 42 U.S.C. §§405(g) and 1383(c)(3) for review of the Commissioner's final determination disallowing her claim for a period of disability or for disability insurance benefits and supplemental security income benefits under Sections 216(i) and 223 of the Social Security Act, as amended, 42 U.S.C. §§416(i) and 423 and 1381 cf.

         The plaintiff filed applications for disability and supplemental security income benefits on June 6, 2014 and August 3, 2015 respectively (R.148-149). Benefits were denied on August 25, 2014(R.83-86). On September 9, 2014, the plaintiff requested a hearing (R.87), and pursuant to that request a hearing was conducted on July 13, 2016 (R.37-57). In a decision filed September 8, 2016, an Administrative Law Judge denied benefits (R.20-33). On September 21, 2016, the plaintiff requested reconsideration of this determination (R.146), and upon reconsideration, and in a decision dated September 25, 2017, the Appeals Council affirmed the prior decision (R.1-8). The instant complaint was filed on November 27, 2017.

         In reviewing an administrative determination of the Commissioner, the question before any court is whether there is substantial evidence in the agency record to support the findings of the Commissioner that the plaintiff failed to sustain his/her burden of demonstrating that he/she was disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act.

         It is provided in 42 U.S.C. Section 405(g) that:

The court shall have power to enter, upon the pleadings and transcript of the record, a judgment affirming, modifying, or reversing the decision of the Commissioner of Social Security, with or without remanding the cause for a rehearing. The findings of the Commissioner of Social Security as to any fact, if supported by substantial evidence, shall be conclusive....

         Substantial evidence is more than a mere scintilla. It means such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion. Johnson v. Comm'r. 529 F.3d 198 (3d Cir.2008) and the court may not set aside a decision supported by substantial evidence. Hartranft v. Apfel, 181 F.3d 358 (3d Cir.1999)

         Presently before the Court for resolution is a determination of whether or not there is substantial evidence to support the findings of the Commissioner that the plaintiff is not disabled within the meaning of the Act.

         At the hearing held on July 13, 2016(R.37-57), the plaintiff appeared with counsel (R.39), and testified that she was 51 years old (R.40); that she worked for the same company for 15 years (R.44); that she frequently had to take off from work due to mental illness (R.45) and that she last worked in June 2011 (R.41, 45).

         The plaintiff also testified that she is unable to leave her home, fears being around people and experiences anxiety (R.42, 46, 49); that she has suffered from depression since she was a child (R.47); that she spends most of her day in bed (R.44); that she sees her psychiatrist on a regular basis (R.42); that she was off her medication for a six-week period while an attempt was made to switch her medications, but she was not non-compliant (R.43); that she denies having an alcohol problem (R.44) and that with her medications she experiences mood swings several times a week (R.47-48).

         At the hearing a vocational expert was called upon to testify (R.53-56). He described the plaintiff's former work as that of a customer service representative which is a skilled sedentary position (R.53). When asked to assume an individual of the plaintiff's age, education and work experience who could perform at all exertional levels but was limited to routine/repetitive tasks in a stable work environment with any interaction with the general public, the witness testified that such an individual could not perform the plaintiff's prior work (R.53-54) but that there were other jobs such an individual could perform (R.54). When asked to also consider if that individual was unable to work with people, and responded that it would be difficult to find an occupation anyone could perform which did not involve interaction with co-workers (R.54-55). When asked whether such an individual would be employable if he/she had to be off work a third of the day, the expert testified that such an individual would not be employable (R.55). The witness concluded that “an individual that's unable to maintain attention, and concentration, their productivity would drop, so it's very similar to like the off-task behavior. It doesn't matter why, but if you're off task for more than 15% of the time, you're going to lose your job.” (R.56).

         The issue before the Court is whether or not the decision of the Commissioner is supported by substantial evidence.

         The term "disability" is defined in 42 U.S.C. Section 423(d)(1)(A) as:

inability to engage in 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....

         For purposes of the foregoing, the requirements for a disability determination are ...


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