United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania
OPINION AND ORDER
Donetta W. Ambrose United States Senior District Judge.
Landon Rinier ("Rinier") brings this action
pursuant to 42 U.SC. § 405(g) for review of the
ALJ's decision denying his claim for a period of
disability and disability insurance benefits
("DIB"). He alleges a disability beginning on April
25, 2009. (R. 11) Following a hearing before an ALJ, during
which time both Rinier and a vocational expert
("VE") testified, the ALJ denied his claim. Rinier
appealed. Pending are Cross Motions for Summary Judgment.
See ECF docket nos. [11 ] and .
Standard of Review
standard of review in social security cases is whether
substantial evidence exists in the record to support the
Commissioner's decision. Allen v. Bowen, 881
F.2d 37, 39 (3d Cir. 1989). Substantial evidence has been
defined as more than a mere scintilla. It means such relevant
evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate.
Ventura v. Shalala, 55 F.3d 900, 901 (3d Cir. 1995),
quoting Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401
(1971). Determining whether substantial evidence exists is
"not merely a quantitative exercise." Gilliland
v. Heckler 786 F.2d 178, 183 (3d Cir. 1986) (citing
Kent v. Schweiker 710 F.2d 110, 114 (3d Cir. 1983)).
"A single piece of evidence will not satisfy the
substantiality test if the secretary ignores, or fails to
resolve, a conflict created by countervailing evidence. Nor
is evidence substantial if it is overwhelmed by other
evidence - particularly certain types of evidence (e.g., that
offered by treating physicians)." Id., The
Commissioner's findings of fact, if supported by
substantial evidence, are conclusive. 42 U.S.C. §
405(g); Dobrowolsky v. Califano, 606 F.2d 403, 406
(3d Cir. 1979). A district court cannot conduct a de
novo review of the Commissioner's decision or
re-weigh the evidence of record. Palmer v. Apfel,
995 F.Supp. 549, 552 (E.D. Pa. 1998). Where the ALJ's
findings of fact are supported by substantial evidence, a
court is bound by those findings, even if the court would
have decided the factual inquiry differently. Hartranft
v. Apfel, 181 F.3d 358, 360 (3d Cir. 1999). To determine
whether a finding is supported by substantial evidence,
however, the district court must review the record as a
whole. See, 5 U.S.C. §706.
eligible for social security benefits, the claimant must
demonstrate that he cannot engage in substantial gainful
activity because of a 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 at least 12 months. 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A);
Brewster v. Heckler, 786 F.2d 581, 583 (3d Cir.
1986). The Commissioner has provided the ALJ with a five-step
sequential analysis to use when evaluating the disabled
status of each claimant. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a). The
ALJ must determine: (1) whether the claimant is currently
engaged in substantial gainful activity; (2) if not, whether
the claimant has a severe impairment; (3) if the claimant has
a severe impairment, whether it meets or equals the criteria
listed in 20 C.F.R., pt. 404, subpt. P, appx. 1; (4) if the
impairment does not satisfy one of the impairment listings,
whether the claimant's impairments prevent him from
performing his past relevant work; and (5) if the claimant is
incapable of performing his past relevant work, whether he
can perform any other work which exists in the national
economy, in light of his age, education, work experience, and
residual functional capacity. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520. The
claimant carries the initial burden of demonstrating by
medical evidence that he is unable to return to his previous
employment (steps 1-4). Dobrowolsky, 606 F.2d at 406. Once
the claimant meets this burden, the burden of proof shifts to
the Commissioner to show that the claimant can engage in
alternative substantial gainful activity (step 5).
Id. A district court, after reviewing the entire
record, may affirm, modify, or reverse the decision with or
without remand to the Commissioner for rehearing.
Podedworny v. Harris, 745 F.2d 210, 221 (3dCir.
One, the ALJ found that Rinier had not engaged in substantial
gainful activity during the period from his alleged onset
date of April 25, 2009 through his date last insured of
December 31, 2014. (R. 13) At Step Two, the ALJ concluded
that Rinier has the following severe impairments:
degenerative disc disease, fibromyalgia; arthritis; obesity;
and depression. (R. 13-14) The ALJ referenced some other
conditions such as carpal tunnel syndrome and migraines, but
found that they did not constitute "severe
impairments." (R. 13-14).
Three, the ALJ concluded that Rinier does not have an
impairment or combination of impairments that meets or
medically equals the severity of one of the listed
impairments in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpt. P, Appendix 1. The
ALJ considered Listings 1.00 (musculoskeletal system) and
12.00 (mental impairments).
to engaging in Step Four, the ALJ assessed Rinier's
residual functional capacity ("RFC"). The ALJ found
Rinier able to perform a range of sedentary work, with some
restrictions. (R. 15-21)
Four, the ALJ determined that Rinier was unable to perform
any past relevant work. (R. 21) Specifically, the ALJ found
that his past relevant work as a warehouse supervisor and a
material handler were inconsistent with his RFC. (R. 21)
Finally, at Step Five, the ALJ found that, considering
Rinier's age, education, work experience, and RFC, there
are significant numbers of jobs in the national economy that
Rinier can perform. (R. 21-23) For instance, the ALJ
explained that Rinier would be able to perform the
requirements of representative occupations such as an office
helper/ information clerk, a bench assembler, and a packer /
sorter. (R. 22).
Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
argues that the ALJ failed to properly apply the de
minimis standard applicable to the Step Two analysis
when evaluating his carpal tunnel syndrome. "The
two-step inquiry is a de minimis screening device to
dispose of groundless claims." Newell v. Comm'r.
of Soc. Sec,347 F.3d 541, 546 (3d Cir. 2003). Even so,
"[w]hen an ALJ finds that a claimant has at least one
severe impairment, omission of another at step two may be
harmless error as long as the impairment is considered
regarding the RFC or would not affect the outcome of the
case." Torres v. Comm'r. of Soc. Sec, Civ.
No. 17-843, 2018 WL 1251630, * 5 (D. N.J. March 12, 2018),
citing, Salles v. Comm'r. of Soc. Sec, 229
Fed.Appx. 140, 145 n. 2 (3d Cir. 2007) ("Because the ALJ
found in [Plaintiffs] favor at Step Two, ...