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Cruz v. Saul

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

August 13, 2019

GENARO E. CRUZ, Plaintiff
v.
ANDREW M. SAUL[1], Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant

          MEMORANDUM

          Malachy E. Mannion United States District Judge

         The record in this action has been reviewed pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§405(g) to determine whether there is substantial evidence to support the Commissioner's decision denying the plaintiff's claim for Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”) and Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”) under the Social Security Act, (“Act”). 42 U.S.C. §§401-433, 1381-1383f. Based upon the court's review of the record, the plaintiff's appeal will be DENIED.

         I. PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         The plaintiff protectively filed applications for DIB and SSI on November 14, 2013. In his applications, the plaintiff claimed disability starting on June 4, 2011. Both applications were initially denied on April 9, 2014, after which the plaintiff requested a hearing before an administrative law judge (“ALJ”).

         A hearing was held before an ALJ on October 6, 2015, at which the plaintiff was represented by counsel and the ALJ took testimony from the plaintiff and a vocational expert (“VE”). After the hearing, the record remained open for additional evidence, which was later submitted and added to the record. On December 15, 2015, the ALJ issued a decision and concluded that the plaintiff could perform a limited range of unskilled sedentary work activity and was not disabled within the meaning of the Act. The Appeals Council denied the plaintiff's request for review on December 1, 2016, making the ALJ's decision final. See 42 U.S.C. §405(g). On January 11, 2017, the plaintiff filed the instant appeal. (Doc. 1).

         At issue in this appeal is whether substantial evidence supports the Commissioner's decision that the plaintiff was not disabled because he was capable of performing a limited range of sedentary work activity. The plaintiff filed a brief in support of his appeal on August 28, 2017. (Doc. 10). The defendant filed a brief in opposition on September 27, 2017, (Doc. 11), and the plaintiff filed a reply brief on October 4, 2017, (Doc. 12).

         II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         When reviewing the denial of disability benefits, the court must determine whether the denial is supported by substantial evidence. Brown v. Bowen, 845 F.2d 1211, 1213 (3d Cir. 1988); Johnson v. Commissioner of Social Sec., 529 F.3d 198, 200 (3d Cir. 2008). Substantial evidence “does not mean a large or considerable amount of evidence, but rather such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.” Pierce v. Underwood, 487 U.S. 552 (1988); Hartranft v. Apfel, 181 F.3d 358, 360. (3d Cir. 1999), Johnson, 529 F.3d at 200. It is less than a preponderance of the evidence but more than a mere scintilla. Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971).

         To receive disability benefits, the plaintiff must demonstrate an “inability to engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any 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 not less than 12 months.” 42 U.S.C. §432(d)(1)(A). Furthermore,

[a]n individual shall be determined to be under a disability only if his physical or mental impairment or impairments are of such severity that he is not only unable to do his previous work but cannot, considering his age, education, and work experience, engage in any other kind of substantial gainful work which exists in the national economy, regardless of whether such work exists in the immediate area in which he lives, or whether a specific job vacancy exists for him, or whether he would be hired if he applied for work. For purposes of the preceding sentence (with respect to any individual), ‘work which exists in the national economy' means work which exists in significant numbers either in the region where such individual lives or in several regions of the country.

42 U.S.C. §423(d)(2)(A).

         III. DISABILITY EVALUATION PROCESS

         A five-step evaluation process is used to determine if a person is eligible for disability benefits. See 20 C.F.R. §404.1520. See also Plummer v. Apfel, 186 F.3d 422, 428 (3d Cir. 1999). If the Commissioner finds that a plaintiff is disabled or not disabled at any point in the sequence, review does not proceed any further. See 20 C.F.R. §404.1520. The Commissioner must sequentially determine: (1) whether the claimant is engaged in substantial gainful activity; (2) whether the claimant has a severe impairment; (3) whether the claimant's impairment meets or equals a listed impairment; (4) whether the claimant's impairment prevents the claimant from doing past relevant work; and (5) whether the claimant's impairment prevents the claimant from doing any other work. See 20 C.F.R. §404.1520.

         Here, the ALJ proceeded through each step of the sequential evaluation process and concluded that the plaintiff was not disabled within the meaning of the Act from June 4, 2011, the plaintiff's alleged onset date, through the date of the ALJ's decision. At step one, the ALJ found that the plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful work activity at any time during the relevant period. At step two, the ALJ concluded that the plaintiff's impairments of chronic back pain, major depression and attention deficit hyperactive disorder (“ADHD”) were severe within the meaning of the Regulations, but found that the plaintiff's asthma and type 2 diabetes were not severe impairments. The ALJ also found that, while the record strongly suggested that the plaintiff had a pattern of narcotic-seeking behavior and a history of polysubstance abuse, there was no medically determinable impairment related to substance use/dependence during the relevant time. At step three, the ALJ concluded that the plaintiff did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that met or medically equaled the severity of one of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 (20 C.F.R. §404.1520(d), §404.1525, §404.1526, §416.920(d), §416.925 and §416.926). Before proceeding to step four, the ALJ determined the plaintiff's residual functional capacity (“RFC”). In doing so, the ALJ found that the plaintiff could lift no more than ten pounds on a regular basis, and required alternating between sitting and standing every 45-60 minutes. The plaintiff retained the mental capacity for routine, repetitive tasks not requiring precise attention to detail or independent decision-making. The plaintiff was limited to jobs requiring no significant interaction with the public in a sense that the plaintiff would not be required to perform sales-type, persuasion jobs, or have significant interaction with coworkers, no teamwork or working in tandem and that coworkers would be working independent of each other. The plaintiff was limited to jobs that allowed for remote supervision where the supervisor showed or told the plaintiff how to do the job and then left him alone to do the job and only would get ...


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