United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania
K. CARACAPPA UNITED STATES CHIEF MAGISTRATE JUDGE
Daniel Patrick Diggin brought this action under 42 U.S.C.
§ 405(g), seeking judicial review of the final decision
of the Commissioner of Social Security
(“Commissioner”) denying plaintiff's claims
for Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”) and
Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”) under Title
II and Title XVI of the Act. In accordance with 28 U.S.C.
§636(c), Fed.R.Civ.P. 72, and Local Rule 72.1, consent
to the exercise of jurisdiction by a Magistrate Judge has
before this court are plaintiff's request for review and
the Commissioner's response. For the reasons set forth
below, plaintiff's request for review is GRANTED, and
FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
was born on February 19, 1992 and was twenty-three (23) years
old on the alleged disability onset date. (Tr. 18). Plaintiff
has a high school education and past relevant work as a
vendor. (Tr. 18).
January 22, 2016, plaintiff protectively filed applications
for SSI and DIB. (Tr. 192-201). Plaintiff alleged the
disability onset date to be October 1, 2015. (Tr. 192).
Plaintiff's applications were denied at the state level
on March 9, 2016. (Tr. 116-127). Plaintiff subsequently
requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge
(“ALJ”). (Tr. 130-135).
January 10, 2018, ALJ Suzette Knight held a hearing and heard
testimony from plaintiff, and plaintiff's father, who
were present with counsel. (Tr. 30-93). On February 21, 2018,
ALJ Knight issued an opinion finding plaintiff not disabled
under the Act from October 1, 2015 through the date of the
decision. (Tr. 7-20). Plaintiff filed a request for review,
and on November 5, 2018, the Appeals Council denied
plaintiff's request for review, making the ALJ's
decision the final decision of the Commissioner. (Tr. 1-6).
Plaintiff appealed that decision to this court.
judicial review, this court's role is to determine
whether the ALJ's decision is supported by substantial
evidence. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g); Pierce v.
Underwood, 587 U.S. 552 (1988). “Substantial
evidence is more than a mere scintilla but may be somewhat
less than a preponderance of the evidence.”
Rutherford v. Barnhart, 399 F.3d 546, 552 (3d Cir.
2005). It is relevant evidence viewed objectively as adequate
to support a decision. Richardson v. Perales, 402
U.S. 389, 401 (1971); Kangas v. Bowen, 823 F.2d 775
(3d Cir. 1987); Dobrowolsky v. Califano, 606 F.2d
403 (3d Cir. 1979). In determining whether substantial
evidence exists, the reviewing court may not weigh the
evidence or substitute its own conclusion for that of the
ALJ. Burns v. Barnhart, 312 F.3d 113, 118 (3d Cir.
2002). If the court determines the ALJ's factual findings
are supported by substantial evidence, then the court must
accept the findings as conclusive. Richardson, 402
U.S. at 390; Plummer v. Apfel, 186 F.3d 422, 427 (3d
Cir. 1999). It is the ALJ's responsibility to resolve
conflicts in the evidence and to determine credibility and
the relative weights to be given to the evidence.
Richardson, 402 U.S. at 401. While the Third Circuit
Court of Appeals has made it clear that the ALJ must analyze
all relevant evidence in the record and provide an
explanation for disregarding evidence, this requirement does
not mandate the ALJ “to use particular language or
adhere to a particular format in conducting his
analysis.” Jones v. Barnhart, 364 F.3d 501,
505 (3d Cir. 2004). Rather, it is meant “to ensure that
there is sufficient development of the record and explanation
of findings to permit meaningful review.” Id.
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).
establish a disability under the Act, 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.” Stunkard v. Sec'y of
Health and Human Servs., 841 F.2d 57 (3d Cir. 1988)
(quoting Kangas, 823 F.2d at 777); 42 U.S.C. §
423(d)(1) (1982). The claimant satisfies his burden by
showing an inability to return to his past relevant work.
Doak v. Heckler, 790 F.2d 26, 28 (3d Cir. 1986);
Rossi v. Califano, 602 F.2d 55, 57 (3d Cir. 1979)
(citing Baker v. Gardner, 362 F.2d 864 (3d Cir.
1966)). Once this showing is made, the burden of proof shifts
to the Commissioner to show that the claimant, given his age,
education, and work experience, has the ability to perform
specific jobs that exist in the economy. See 20
C.F.R. § 404.1520; Rossi, 602 F.2d at 57.
explained in the following agency regulation, each case is
evaluated by the Commissioner according to a five-step
(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.
20 C.F.R. § 404.1520 (references to other regulations
ADMINISTRATIVE LAW JUDGE'S DECISION
to the five-step sequential evaluation process, the ALJ
determined plaintiff had not been under a “disability,
” as defined by the Act, from October 1, 2015 through
February 21, 2018, the date of the ALJ's decision. (Tr.
one, the ALJ found plaintiff had not engaged in substantial
gainful activity since October 1, 2015. (Tr. 13). At step
two, the ALJ found plaintiff's multiple sclerosis,
affective disorder, and organic mental disorder to be severe
impairments. (Tr. 13). The following summarized medical
records pertain to the issues at bar:
April 2010, plaintiff was diagnosed with Relapsing Remitting
Multiple Sclerosis (“RRMS” or “MS”).
(Tr. 531). At the time of diagnosis, plaintiff presented with
spinal cord involvement and onset of symptoms that included
paresthesia in the right hemi-body below T4. Id.
Plaintiff also experienced ocular symptoms but had a normal
OCT and eye exam. Id.
September 16, 2014, plaintiff was seen for a neurological
consultation with Dr. Joyce Liporace, M.D., at Great Valley
Neurological Associations. (Tr. 531-534). The physical exam
was unremarkable. (Tr. 532-533). It was noted that plaintiff
had a history of Percocet addiction and was taking the
medication Suboxone. (Tr. 534). It was also noted that
plaintiff has a history of anxiety disorder and that anxiety
can be linked with MS. (Tr. 534).
September 18, 2014, plaintiff was seen for a neurological
consultation with Nurse Ruth Brobst, MSN CRNP, at Great
Valley Neurological Associations. (Tr. 527-530). It was noted
that plaintiff had recently changed MS medications from
Gilenya to Tysabri. (Tr. 527). The medication change was due
to plaintiff experiencing symptoms such as photosensitivity
that were attributed to Gilenya. Id. It was noted
that plaintiff was tolerating Tysabri well but experiencing
some fatigue. Id. The photosensitivity had also
improved 50% since plaintiff stopping Gilenya. Id.
It was reported that plaintiff was able to read and that his
distance vision was intact. Id. Fatigue was noted to
be a problem. (Tr. 527). It was noted that exercise may have
some benefits for fatigue, but plaintiff reported having bad
days following heavy physical activity. Id.
Plaintiff reported that his heat tolerance was fair,
“but admits that while he had been a lifeguard at one
point he could not do that now because of intolerance to
heat.” Id. It was noted ...