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Talbot v. Berryhill

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

July 24, 2018

JACQUELINE TALBOT, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL,[1] Defendant.

          OPINION

          Slomsky, J.

         I. INTRODUCTION

         Before the Court is the Objection of Defendant Nancy A. Berryhill, Acting Commissioner of the United States Social Security Administration (“SSA”), to the Report and Recommendation of United States Magistrate Judge Marilyn Heffley. (Doc. No. 15.) On August 31, 2017, Plaintiff Jacqueline Marie Talbot filed a Complaint against Defendant seeking review of Defendant's final decision denying Plaintiff's claim for supplemental security income (“SSI”) under Title XVI of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). (Doc. No. 3.) On January 16, 2018, the Court referred the matter to Magistrate Judge Heffley for a Report and Recommendation (“R&R”). (Doc. No. 13.) On May 30, 2018, Magistrate Judge Heffley filed the R&R, recommending that Plaintiff's request for review be granted and that the case be remanded to Defendant solely for the calculation of benefits. (Doc. No. 14.) On June 13, 2018, Defendant filed an Objection to the R&R. (Doc. No. 15.) On June 25, 2018, Plaintiff filed a Response to Defendant's Objection (Doc. No. 17), to which Defendant filed a Sur-Reply (Doc. No. 18.)

         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 an Objection has been made. After an independent review of the Administrative Record (“Record”) and for reasons that follow, the Court will adopt and approve the R&R (Doc. No. 14) in its entirety and remand the case to the Commissioner of Social Security.

         II. BACKGROUND

         A. Factual and Procedural History

         Plaintiff Jacqueline Marie Talbot was born on September 2, 1964. (Administrative Record (“R.”) at 180.) Plaintiff has a high school education and completed two years of college. (R. at 185.) She previously worked as a mortgage review analyst. (R. at 33, 185.)

         On January 8, 2014, Plaintiff applied for SSI and Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”). (R. at 161, 170.) She claims that beginning on May 1, 2011, she became unable to work due to the following list of conditions: severe depression; type 2 diabetes; asthma; chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder; arthritis in both legs and hands; cancer; and “thyroid.”[2] (R. at 161, 184.) On January 20, 2016, Plaintiff amended her alleged onset date to April 10, 2012, the date when she was diagnosed with anal cancer. (R. at 46, 225.) Thus, April 10, 2012 is considered Plaintiff's alleged onset date.

         On February 28, 2014, the SSA denied Plaintiff's SSI and DIB claims, and Plaintiff requested a hearing. (R. at 40, 90.) On January 21, 2016, an administrative hearing was held before Administrative Law Judge Emily Ruth Statum (“ALJ”). (R. at 40.) Plaintiff was represented by a non-attorney representative[3] and a vocational expert testified at the hearing. (Id.) In addition to hearing testimony, the ALJ considered Plaintiff's medical records. (R. at 38-39.) On April 13, 2016, the ALJ upheld the denial of Plaintiff's application, finding that Plaintiff was not disabled. (R. at 18-35.) Specifically the ALJ stated:

Thus, [Plaintiff] must establish disability on or before that date in order to be entitled to a period of disability and disability insurance benefits. After careful consideration of all the evidence, the undersigned concludes the claimant has not been under a disability within the meaning of the Social Security Act from April 10, 2012, through the date of this decision.

(R. at 21.)

         Subsequently, Plaintiff filed an appeal of the ALJ's decision to the Appeals Council of the SSA, which also denied her request for review. (R. at 1-4.)

         On August 31, 2017, Plaintiff filed the Complaint in this Court seeking judicial review of the ALJ's decision pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). (Doc. No. 3.) On January 16, 2018, the Court referred the matter to Magistrate Judge Heffley for an R&R. (Doc. No. 13.) On May 30, 2018, Magistrate Judge Heffley filed the R&R, recommending that Plaintiff's request for review be granted and that the case be remanded to Defendant for solely for the calculation of benefits. (Doc. No. 14.) On June 13, 2018, Defendant filed an Objection to the R&R, which is now ripe for a decision. (Doc. No. 15.)

         B. Relevant SSA 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 SSA 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, [4] 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 ...

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