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Meacham v. Saul

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

September 13, 2019

SAMANTHA RENEE MEACHAM
v.
ANDREW M. SAUL, [1] Commissioner of Social Security Administration

          MEMORANDUM OF DECISION

          THOMAS J. RUETER, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         Plaintiff, Samantha Renee Meacham, 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 her claim for disability insurance benefits (“DIB”) under Title II of the Social Security Act (“Act”) and supplemental security income (“SSI”) under Title XVI of the Act.

         Plaintiff filed a Brief and Statement of Issues in Support of Request for Review (Doc. 14) (“Pl.'s Br.”) and defendant filed a Response to Plaintiff's Request for Review (“Def.'s Br.”). For the reasons set forth below, the court recommends that plaintiff's Request for Review be DENIED.

         I. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         Plaintiff filed applications for DIB and SSI on July 27, 2015, alleging disability beginning August 1, 2014. (R. 170-80.) Plaintiff's claims were denied initially and she filed a timely request for a hearing. (R. 68-97, 100-11.) A hearing was held on October 31, 2017, before Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) Susannah Merritt. (R. 32-67.) Plaintiff, represented by counsel, appeared and testified. Christine Carrozza-Slusarski, a vocational expert (“VE”), also appeared and testified. At the administrative hearing, plaintiff's counsel requested that the alleged onset date be amended to October 25, 2014. (R. 36.) In a decision dated December 28, 2017, the ALJ found that plaintiff was not disabled under the Act. (R. 12-31.) The ALJ made the following findings:

1. The claimant meets the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act through December 31, 2019.
2. The claimant has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since October 25, 2014, the amended alleged onset date. (20 CFR 404.1571 et seq., and 416.971 et seq.).
3. The claimant has the following severe impairments: multiple sclerosis (MS), headaches, bipolar disorder, anxiety disorder, and myalgia in the right leg. (20 CFR 404.1520(c) and 416.920(c)).
4. The claimant does not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals the severity of a listed impairment in 20 CFR Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. (20 CFR 404.1520(d), 404.1525, 404.1526, 416.920(d), 416.925 and 416.926).
5. After careful consideration of the entire record, I find that the claimant has the residual functional capacity to perform light work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b) and 416.967(b) except that in an eight hour workday, she can sit for six hours, stand for four hours, and walk for four hours. In addition, she can occasionally climb ramps and stairs, balance, stoop, kneel, crouch, and crawl but can never climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds. She can tolerate occasional exposure to unprotected heights, moving mechanical parts, and extreme cold. She is further limited to the performance of simple, routine, and repetitive tasks that are not at a production rate pace, i.e. no assembly line work. Finally, the work must involve only simple work-related decisions with few changes in a routine work setting and no more than occasional interaction with the public, co-workers, and supervisors.
6. The claimant is unable to perform any of his past relevant work. (20 CFR 404.1565 and 416.965).
7. The claimant was born on June 29, 1980 and was 34 years old, which is defined as a younger individual age 18-49, on the alleged disability onset date (20 CFR 404.1563 and 416.963).
8. The claimant has at least a high school education and is able to communicate in English (20 CFR 404.1564 and 416.964).
9. Transferability of job skills is not material to the determination of disability because using the Medical-Vocational Rules as a framework supports a finding that the claimant is “not disabled, ” whether or not the claimant has transferable job skills (See SSR 82-41 and 20 CFR Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 2).
10. Considering the claimant's age, education, work experience, and residual functional capacity, there are jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy that the claimant can perform (20 CFR 404.1569, 404.1569(a), 416.969, and 416.969(a)).
11. The claimant has not been under a disability, as defined in the Social Security Act, from October 25, 2014, through the date of this decision (20 C.F.R. 404.1520(g) and 416.920(g)).

(R. 14-25.)

         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. 1-8, 163-69.) Plaintiff now seeks judicial review of the ALJ's decision pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).

         II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         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), 1382c(a)(3)(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), 1382c(a)(3)(B). 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), 1382c(a)(3)(H)(i).

         The Social Security Administration employs a five-part procedure to determine whether an individual has met this burden. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 416.920.[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. Hess v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 931 F.3d 198, 201 (3d Cir. 2019).

         III. BACKGROUND

         At the commencement of the October 31, 2017 administrative hearing, plaintiff's counsel requested that the alleged onset date be amended to October 25, 2014. (R. 36.) Counsel noted that plaintiff has a history of substance abuse in remission; the amended alleged onset date corresponds to the date of last drug use. Id.[3]

         Plaintiff, who was thirty-seven years old at the time of the administrative hearing, testified that she lived in apartment with her fiancé and five-year-old daughter. (R. 36, 38.) Plaintiff drives and “rarely” takes public transportation, although she used public transportation to travel to the administrative hearing. (R. 39.) Plaintiff graduated from high school and completed approximately four semesters of schooling at Delaware County Community College. Id. She stopped attending school when she became pregnant with her daughter in 2011. (R. 40.)

         Plaintiff last worked in 2015, when she was employed for one month as a part-time cashier at Chipotle. Id. Plaintiff explained that her employment was terminated because she “wasn't catching on to their computer system and it just wasn't working out.” (R. 41.) Prior to this employment, plaintiff worked full-time at Santander Bank for eight years. Id. She worked as head teller for two of the eight years. Id. In this role, plaintiff supervised one other employee. Id. With respect to the physical requirements of the teller job, plaintiff testified that she was permitted to perform the work while sitting or standing. (R. 41.) The heaviest item that she was required to lift was a box of coins. (R. 42.) Plaintiff's responsibilities also included accurately maintaining her cash drawer and interacting with customers. (R. 43.) In addition, the position included sales duties; tellers were to sell various bank products such as credit cards and bank accounts. Id. Plaintiff indicated that she stopped working as a bank teller when she began experiencing “brain fog, ” became frustrated, and felt that she could no longer perform the job. (R. 46.) Plaintiff was not terminated from this employment, but acknowledged ...


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