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Metzger v. Saul

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

August 2, 2019

ANDREW M. SAUL, [1] Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.



         Donna Marie Metzger, (“Plaintiff”) filed this action to review the final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (“Commissioner” or “Defendant”), denying her application for Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”) under Title II of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. § 401-433 (“the Act”). This matter is before me for disposition, upon consent of the parties.[2] For the reasons that follow, Plaintiff's request for review will be DENIED.


         Plaintiff protectively filed for DIB on March 27, 2015. (R. 12, 70). She alleged disability as of October 1, 2013, due in relevant part to diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, asthma, glaucoma, and degenerative disc disease of the lumbar spine. (R. 70). The Social Security Administration denied her claim for benefits at the initial level of review. Id. Following the denial, Plaintiff requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”), which occurred on September 13, 2017. (R. 33-69). Plaintiff, represented by an attorney, appeared and testified. Id. An impartial vocational expert (“VE”) also testified at the hearing. (R. 52-67). On October 31, 2017, the ALJ issued a decision denying benefits under the Act. (R. 12-20). The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review, (R. 1-3), making the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner. Plaintiff commenced this action on January 18, 2019, and subsequently filed a Brief and Statement of Issues in Support of Request for Review. (ECF No. 14). Defendant filed a response, (ECF No. 15), and Plaintiff filed a reply brief. (ECF No. 16). The matter is now ripe for disposition.


         To be eligible for Social Security benefits under the Act, a 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 twelve months. 42 U.S.C. § 1382c(a)(3)(A). A five-step sequential analysis is used to evaluate a disability claim:

First, the Commissioner considers whether the claimant is currently engaged in substantial gainful activity. If he is not, then the Commissioner considers in the second step whether the claimant has a “severe impairment” that significantly limits his physical or mental ability to perform basic work activities. If the claimant suffers a severe impairment, the third inquiry is whether, based on the medical evidence, the impairment meets the criteria of the impairment listed in the “listing of impairments, ” . . . which result in a presumption of disability, or whether the claimant retains the capacity to work. If the impairment does not meet the criteria for a listed impairment, then the Commissioner assesses in the fourth step whether, despite the severe impairment, the claimant has the residual functional capacity to perform his past work. If the claimant cannot perform his past work, then the final step is to determine whether there is other work in the national economy that the claimant can perform.

Sykes v. Apfel, 228 F.3d 259, 262-63 (3d Cir. 2000); see also 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 416.920. The disability claimant bears the burden of establishing steps one through four. If the claimant is determined to be unable to resume previous employment, the burden shifts to the Commissioner at step five to establish that, given the claimant's age, education, work experience, and mental and physical limitations, the claimant is able to perform substantial gainful activities in jobs existing in the national economy. Poulos v. Comm'r. of Soc. Sec., 474 F.3d 88, 92 (3d Cir. 2007).

         Judicial review of a final decision of the Commissioner is limited. A district court is bound by the factual findings of the Commissioner if they are supported by substantial evidence and decided according to correct legal standards. Hartranft v. Apfel, 181 F.3d 358, 360 (3d Cir. 1999). Substantial evidence is “more than a mere scintilla, ” and “such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate.” Burnett v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 220 F.3d 112, 118 (3d Cir. 2000) (citations omitted). Even if the record could support a contrary conclusion, the decision of the ALJ will not be overruled so long as there is substantial evidence to support it. Simmonds v. Heckler, 807 F.2d 54, 58 (3d Cir. 1986). The court has plenary review of legal issues. Schaudeck v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 181 F.3d 429, 431 (3d Cir. 1999).


         The Court has reviewed the administrative record in its entirety and summarizes here the evidence relevant to the instant request for review.

         Plaintiff was fifty-one years old on her alleged disability onset date. (R. 70). Plaintiff completed three years of college and earned an associate degree. (R. 35). She previously worked as an office clerk, receptionist, and data entry clerk. (R. 35, 54). At the time of the administrative hearing, Plaintiff lived alone in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (R. 185).

         At the administrative hearing, Plaintiff testified that she last worked as a clerk in a bank. (R. 35). She reported that she is unable to work due to her inability to sit or stand for long periods, anxiety, and problems concentrating. (R. 47-52).


         Using the five-step inquiry described above, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff was not disabled. (R. 14-20).

1. At step one, the ALJ found that Plaintiff did not engage in substantial gainful activity after her alleged onset of disability. (R. 14).
2. At step two, the ALJ found that Plaintiff suffers from the following severe impairments: degenerative disc disease of the cervical and lumbar spines, right shoulder impingement, coronary artery disease, and diabetic neuropathy of the upper extremities. (R. 14).
3. At step three, the ALJ found that Plaintiff's impairments do not meet or medically equal the severity of one of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R. pt. 404, Subpt. P, App. 1. (R. 16).
4. At step four, the ALJ found that Plaintiff has the residual functional capacity to perform light work with the following limitations: never climb ladders, ropes or scaffolds; occasionally perform all other postural maneuvers; and must avoid unprotected heights or hazards, environmental irritants, dust, and fumes. She can occasionally reach overhead and frequently handle, finger, and feel. (R. 17).
5. At step four, the ALJ found Plaintiff capable of performing past relevant work as a data entry clerk. (R. 19).

         Accordingly, the ALJ found Plaintiff was not disabled. (R. 20).

         V. DISCUSSION

         In her request for review, Plaintiff argues that the ALJ erred by: (1) failing to find Plaintiff's diabetes and depression severe impairments; (2) failing to find Plaintiff's back impairment met Listing 1.04; (3) according little weight to the opinion of Meeta Peer, M.D.; and (4) improperly weighing Plaintiff's subjective complaints.[3] (Pl. Br. 8-14, ECF No.14). The Commissioner counters that the ALJ properly analyzed the medical opinion evidence, and that substantial evidence supports the ALJ's decision. Having reviewed the parties' submissions, the record -- including the medical evidence and the hearing testimony -- and the ALJ's decision, this Court concludes that remand is not warranted.

         A. Plaintiff's Diabetes and ...

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