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Jackson v. Saul

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

August 27, 2019

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



         United States Magistrate Judge August 27, 2019 Plaintiff, Allen Gorham Jackson, filed this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), seeking judicial review of the final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (“Commissioner”) denying his claim for disability insurance benefits (“DIB”) under Title II of the Social Security Act (“Act”).

         Plaintiff filed a Brief and Statement of Issues in Support of Request for Review (“Pl.'s Br.”) and defendant filed a Response to Plaintiff's Request for Review (“Def.'s Br.”). For the reasons set forth below, plaintiff's Request for Review will be granted.


         Plaintiff filed an application for DIB on August 8, 2017, alleging disability beginning April 1, 2017. (R. 139-42.) Plaintiff's claim was denied initially and he filed a timely request for a hearing. (R. 83-106.) A hearing was held on April 17, 2018, before Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) Vivian McAneney. (R. 36-82.) Plaintiff, acting pro se, appeared and testified. Vanessa Ennis, a vocational expert (“VE”), also appeared and testified. In a decision dated May 11, 2018, the ALJ found that plaintiff was not disabled under the Act. (R. 16-35.) The ALJ made the following findings:

1. The claimant last met the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act on December 31, 2017.
2. The claimant did not engage in substantial gainful activity during the period from his alleged onset date of April 1, 2017 through his date last insured of December 31, 2017 (20 CFR 404.1571 et seq.).
3. Through the date last insured, the claimant had the following severe impairments: cervical degenerative disc disease (DDD), right ulnar neuropathy, mild right carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS), and Parsonage-Turner syndrome (brachial myotrophy) (20 CFR 404.1520(c)).
4. Through the date last insured, the claimant did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that met or medically equaled the severity of one of the listed impairments in 20 CFR Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 (20 CFR 404.1520(d), 404.1525, 404.1526).
5. After careful consideration of the entire record, the undersigned finds that the claimant has the residual functional capacity to perform light work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b) which involves frequent gross handling and fine motor manipulation with right (dominant) hand; no more than occasional overhead reaching or crawling; and no climbing of ladders/ropes/scaffolds.
6. Through the date last insured, the claimant was capable of performing past relevant work as an accounting clerk. This work did not require the performance of work-related activities precluded by the claimant's residual functional capacity (20 CFR 404.1565).
7. The claimant was not under a disability, as defined in the Social Security Act, at any time from April 1, 2017, the alleged onset date, through December 31, 2017, the date last insured (20 C.F.R. 404.1520(f)).

(R. 21-31.)

         Plaintiff filed a request for review of the decision of the ALJ that was denied and the ALJ's decision became the final decision of the Commissioner. (R. 1-5, 137-38.) Plaintiff then filed the present claim, seeking judicial review of the ALJ's decision pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).


         The role of this court on judicial review is to determine whether there is substantial evidence in the record to support the Commissioner's decision. Hagans v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 694 F.3d 287, 292 (3d Cir. 2012) (citing 42 U.S.C. § 405(g)), cert. denied, 571 U.S. 1204 (2014); Plummer v. Apfel, 186 F.3d 422, 427 (3d Cir. 1999). Substantial evidence is defined as “such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.” Biestek v. Berryhill, 139 S.Ct. 1148, 1154 (2019) (quoting Consol. Edison Co. v. NLRB, 305 U.S. 197, 229 (1938)). Substantial evidence is more than a mere scintilla of evidence, but may be less than a preponderance of the evidence. Jesurum v. Sec'y of U.S. Dep't of Health and Human Serv., 48 F.3d 114, 117 (3d Cir. 1995). This court may not weigh evidence or substitute its conclusions for those of the fact-finder. Burns v. Barnhart, 312 F.3d 113, 118 (3d Cir. 2002) (citing Williams v. Sullivan, 970 F.2d 1178, 1182 (3d Cir. 1992)). As the Third Circuit has stated, “so long as an agency's fact-finding is supported by substantial evidence, reviewing courts lack power to reverse . . . those findings.” Monsour Med. Ctr. v. Heckler, 806 F.2d 1185, 1191 (3d Cir. 1986).

         To be eligible for benefits, the claimant 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. § 423(d)(1)(A). Specifically, the impairments must be such that the claimant “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.” 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(2)(A). Under the Act, the claimant has the burden of proving the existence of a disability and must furnish medical evidence indicating the severity of the impairment. 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(5).

         The Social Security Administration employs a five-part procedure to determine whether an individual has met this burden. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520.[2] This process requires the Commissioner to consider, in sequence, whether a claimant: (1) is currently employed; (2) has a severe impairment; (3) has an impairment which meets or equals the requirements of a listed impairment; (4) can perform past relevant work; and (5) if not, whether the claimant is able to perform other work, in view of his age, education, and work experience. See id. The claimant bears the burden of establishing steps one through four of the five-step evaluation process, while the burden shifts to the Commissioner at step five to show that the claimant is capable of performing other jobs existing in large numbers in the national economy. Poulos v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 474 F.3d 88, 92 (3d Cir. 2007).


         Plaintiff appeared at the April 17, 2018, administrative hearing without the assistance of counsel. See R. 40-41. Plaintiff was advised by the ALJ of his right to have a representative present at the hearing; plaintiff declined the ALJ's offer to postpone the hearing and elected to proceed without a representative. (R. 41.)[3]

         Plaintiff testified that he is married and lives with his wife. (R. 63-64.) He confirmed that he last worked in January 2013. (R. 48.) From 2006 to 2013, plaintiff worked for the Defense Finance and Accounting Services. (R. 49-50.)[4] Plaintiff was a member of the Army Reserves, but was activated for duty. (R. 50.) Plaintiff stated that while in the Reserves, he was assigned as an instructor to basic training soldiers. (R. 56.) While on active duty in Afghanistan, plaintiff commanded a police academy. Id. Prior to his time in the Army, plaintiff worked as an accounting clerk for National Education Loan Network from approximately 2003 to 2006. (R. 50-51.)

         Plaintiff testified that he began experiencing problems with his neck when he returned from active duty in 2012. (R. 53.) Plaintiff noted that his condition had deteriorated since 2012, such that in June 2017, he had a foraminotomy and a hemilaminectomy at four levels in his spine. (R. 54.) After the surgery, plaintiff began physical therapy in August 2017. (R. 55.) Plaintiff estimated that by December 2017, he had attained “physical therapy progress back to a hundred percent of where I was, . . . before my surgery, not from where I was during my service in the Army, and I've been told by a team of doctors that I will never be back to that strength level.” Id. Plaintiff explained that his strength is “about a third” ...

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