United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania
P. HART UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
Scott Smith brought this action under 42 USC §405(g) to
obtain review of the decision of the Commissioner of Social
Security partly denying his application for Disability
Insurance Benefits (“DIB”). He has filed a
Request for Review to which the Commissioner has responded.
As set forth below, I will deny Smith's Request for
Review, and grant judgment in favor of the Commissioner. I.
Factual and Procedural Background Smith was born on
September 1, 1967. Record at 165. He graduated from high
school. Record at 207. He worked in the past in landscaping,
roofing, and construction. Record at 208. On May 7, 2015,
Smith filed an application for DIB. Record at 165. In it, he
alleged disability since March 23, 2015, as a result of
degenerative disc disease, and depression and anxiety. Record
application for benefits was denied on September 25, 2015.
Record at 130. Smith then requested a hearing de
novo before an Administrative Law Judge
(“ALJ”). Record at 135. A hearing was held in
this matter on March 5, 2018. Record at 64.
April 27, 2018, the ALJ issued a decision which was partly
favorable. Record at 8. She found that Smith was disabled as
of his fiftieth birthday, September 1, 2017. Record at 13.
Although Smith appealed, seeking a fully favorable decision,
the Appeals Council denied his request for review on July 10,
2018, permitting the ALJ's decision to stand as the final
decision of the Commissioner. Record at 1. Smith then filed
this action. II. Legal Standards The role of this
court on judicial review is to determine whether the
Commissioner's decision is supported by substantial
evidence. 42 U.S.C. §405(g); Richardson v.
Perales, 402 U.S. 389 (1971); Doak v. Heckler,
790 F.2d 26, 28 (3d Cir. 1986); Newhouse v. Heckler,
753 F.2d 283, 285 (3d Cir. 1985). Substantial evidence is
relevant evidence viewed objectively as adequate to support a
decision. Richardson v. Perales, supra, at
401; Kangas v. Bowen, 823 F.2d 775 (3d Cir. 1987);
Dobrowolsky v. Califano, 606 F.2d 403 (3d Cir.
1979). Moreover, apart from the substantial evidence inquiry,
a reviewing court must also ensure that the ALJ applied the
proper legal standards. Coria v. Heckler, 750 F.2d
245 (3d Cir. 1984).
prove disability, a claimant must demonstrate that there is
some “medically determinable basis for an impairment
that prevents him from engaging in any ‘substantial
gainful activity' for a statutory twelve-month
period.” 42 U.S.C. §423(d)(1). As explained in the
following agency regulation, each case is evaluated by the
Commissioner according to a five-step process:
(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
§404.1590, 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.
20 CFR §404.1520 (references to other regulations
The ALJ's Decision and Smith's Request for
decision, the ALJ determined that Smith suffered from the
severe impairment of degenerative disc disease. Record at 15.
She found his mental health impairments - including
depression, anxiety, and drug and alcohol addiction - not to
be severe. Record at 16. She further found that neither the
degenerative disc disease, nor any combination of
impairments, met or medically equaled a listed impairment.
Record at 17.
determined that Smith retained the residual functional
capacity (“RFC”) to engage in the full range of
sedentary work, with a sit/stand option, and which permitted
the use of a cane on uneven terrain. Record at 17. Relying
upon the testimony of a vocational expert who appeared at the
hearing, the ALJ found that, until he turned fifty, Smith
could perform the requirements of such jobs as lapel pin
assembler, lens inserter, and pharmaceutical egg processor.
Record at 24. Therefore, she found that he was not disabled
at that time. Id. However, the ALJ went on to find
that once Smith turned 50, he entered a different age
category, and was entitled to a disability finding under
Medical-Vocational Rule 201.14. Id. She therefore
awarded benefits as of September 1, 2017. Id.
Request for Review, Smith argues that the ALJ misinterpreted
or selectively discounted evidence that he was disabled. He
also argues that she improperly failed to give great weight
to the opinions of his treating orthopedist and physical
therapist, William Murphy, DO. Finally, he argues that the
ALJ misconstrued the evidence regarding his ability to
participate in the activities of daily living.
The Medical Evidence
first argument, Smith sets forth numerous ways in which - he
claims - the ALJ ignored or misinterpreted pertinent
evidence. Broadly classified, Smith has raised issues as to
how the ALJ handled (1) evidence of MRI testing; (2) Dr.
Murphy's medical records; (3) records regarding his
epidural injections; (4) emergency room records; (5) records
from Premier Orthopedics; and (6) his hearing testimony.
The MRI results
Smith's MRI results, the ALJ wrote:
A[n] MRI of the claimant's lumbar spine was performed in
June, 2013. The results revealed disc degeneration with broad
disc protrusion, marginal osteophytosis, and facet joint
degenerative disease resulting in left greater than right
neural foraminal narrowing at ¶ 3-4 and L4-5, as well as
disc degeneration with moderate broad-based disc protrusion
and marginal osteophytosis eccentric to the right at ¶
5-S1. The MRI further revealed there was no fracture, no
dislocation, a normal vertebral body signal, a normal
vertebral body height, a clear conus medullaris, and a normal
canal size. In this same month, a[n] MRI of the thoracis
spine showed diffuse degenerative thoracic disc
disease/kyphosis, a six o'clock annular tear with small
focal midline disc herniation at ¶ 7-8, mild disc
protrusion at ¶ 5-6 and T6-7, a six o'clock radial
annular tear without focal disc herniation at ¶ 8-9 and
T11-12, and a small focal eccentric disc herniation to the
right at ¶ 9-10, but no disc herniation at ¶ 11-12,
T4-T5, T5-T6, or T8-9. Moreover, although a[n] MRI of the
lumbar spine in May, 2015, indicated moderate right neural
foraminal stenosis at ¶ ...