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Chandler v. Berryhill

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

July 24, 2018

TERRI ANN CHANDLER, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL,[1] Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, Respondent.

          OPINION

          SLOMSKY, J.

         I. INTRODUCTION

         Before the Court are the Objections of Plaintiff Terri Ann Chandler to the Report and Recommendation (“R&R”) of United States Magistrate Judge Lynne A. Sitarski. (Doc. No. 14.) On August 17, 2016, Plaintiff filed a Complaint against Defendant Commissioner of the Social Security Administration alleging that Defendant wrongfully denied Plaintiff disability insurance benefits (DIB) under Title II of the Social Security Act (“Act”), 42 U.S.C. §§ 401-434. (Doc. No. 1.) On January 1, 2017, the Court referred the case to Magistrate Judge Sitarski for an R&R. (Doc. No. 12.) On December 15, 2017, Magistrate Judge Sitarski issued the R&R, recommending that Plaintiff's request for review be denied. (Doc. No. 13.) On December 18, 2017, Plaintiff timely filed Objections. (Doc. No. 14.) Defendant did not file a Response to Plaintiff's Objections. The Objections are now ripe for a decision.

         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 independently reviewing the Administrative Record (“Record”) and for reasons that follow, the Court will approve and adopt the R&R (Doc. No. 13) in its entirety.

         11. BACKGROUND

         A. Factual and Procedural Background

         On September 4, 2012, Plaintiff protectively filed for DIB, claiming disability as of June 12, 2012 due to severe migraines; depression; back, leg and neck pain; vertigo; blurred vision; lack of mobility on the right side; and numbness in the right hand and legs. (R. at 19, 169-70, 181.) On March 6, 2013, her claim was denied. (R. at 117-21.) On April 10, 2013, Plaintiff requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ). (R. at 124.) The hearing occurred on November 17, 2014. (R. at 34-92.) Plaintiff, represented by counsel, appeared and testified at the hearing, as did an impartial vocational expert (VE). (Id.) On January 27, 2015, the ALJ issued a decision unfavorable to Plaintiff. (R. at 19-29.) Plaintiff filed a request for review with the Appeals Council on March 10, 2015. (R. at 15.) The Council denied Plaintiff's request on June 13, 2016, rendering the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner. (R. at 2-7.)

         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 has the burden of proving the existence of a disability and can satisfy this burden by showing an inability to return to former work. Rossi v. Califano, 602 F.2d 55, 57 (3d Cir. 1979). If she does so, the burden shifts to the Commissioner to show that, given the claimant's age, education and work experience, she 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.

§ 404.1520(a)(4)(i)-(v).

         Between the third and fourth steps, the Social Security Administration assesses a claimant's residual functional capacity, which is “the most [a claimant] can do despite [her] limitations.” § 404.1545(a)(1). The Social Security Administration uses the residual functional capacity (RFC) assessment at Step Four to determine if the claimant is able to do her “past relevant work.” § 404.1545(a)(5)(i). “Past relevant work” is “work that you have done within ...


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