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Olson v. Berryhill

United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania

July 25, 2018

CARL OLSON, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL,[1] COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          Donetta W. Ambrose United States Senior District Judge

         Background

         Plaintiff Carl Ellsworth Olson (“Olson”) brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) for review of the ALJ's decision denying his claim for disability insurance benefits (“DIB”).[2] He alleges a disability beginning on March 15, 2013. (R. 14). Following a hearing before an ALJ, during which time both Olson and a vocational expert (“VE”) testified, the ALJ denied his claim. Olson appealed. Pending are Cross Motions for Summary Judgment. See ECF docket nos. [18] and [22].

         Legal Analysis

         1. Standard of Review

         The 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.

         To be 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 (3d Cir. 1984).

         2. The ALJ's Analysis

         At step one, the ALJ found that Olson had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since March 15, 2013, the alleged onset date. (R. 16) At step two, the ALJ concluded that Olson has the following severe impairments: status post kyphoplasty T7-T9, diabetes mellitus, and osteoporosis. (R. 16-17)

         At step three, the ALJ concluded that Olson 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 Listing 1.04 “and concluded that the claimant's impairments, either single or in combination, do not satisfy the clinical criteria of any of these or other listings….” (R. 17)

         Prior to engaging in step four, the ALJ assessed Olson's residual functional capacity (“RFC”).[3] The ALJ found Olson able to perform light work with certain limitations. (R. 17-20)

         At step four, the ALJ determined that Olson is unable to perform any of his past relevant work. His past relevant work requires a range of medium strength to heavy strength to perform unskilled work to semi-skilled tasks. (R. 20) The demands of such past work exceed Olson's current RFC.

         At the fifth step of the analysis, the ALJ concluded that, considering Olson's age, education, work experience, and RFC, there are jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy that he can perform. (R. 20) For example, Olson would be able to perform the requirements of representative occupations such as courier / messenger and mail room clerk. (R. 21) Consequently, the ALJ concluded that Olson has not been ...


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