United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania
Flowers Conti, Senior United States District Judge
Lewis Grubbs (“plaintiff” or
“Grubbs”) brought this action for judicial review
of the decision of the Commissioner of Social Security
(“Commissioner”), which partially denied his
application for disability insurance benefits
(“DIB”) under Title II of the Social Security Act
(“Act”), 42 U.S.C. §§ 401-403. The
parties filed cross-motions for summary judgment. (ECF Nos.
11, 17), which are fully briefed (ECF Nos. 12, 18, 21) and
are ripe for disposition. For the following reasons,
plaintiff's motion will be GRANTED IN
PART, the Commissioner's motion will be
DENIED, and the case will be remanded for
further proceedings consistent with this opinion.
was born on October 15, 1962. (R. 46). He earned a GED degree
and has a lengthy past relevant work record as a blaster in a
coal mine, which is considered heavy exertional level with a
Specific Vocational Preparation (“SVP”) rating of
7. Plaintiff has not engaged in substantial gainful activity
since his alleged onset date of disability, October 1, 2015.
On October 15, 2017, Plaintiff turned 55 years old. Because
he was regarded as a “person of advanced age, ”
20 C.F.R. § 404.1563(e), the administrative law judge
found him to be disabled as of that date. The issue in
dispute is whether Grubbs is entitled to DIB for the period
from October 2015 to October 2017.
protectively filed an application for DIB on November 11,
2015, alleging disability as of May 14, 2015, later amended
to October 1, 2015. After plaintiff's claims were denied
at the administrative level, he requested a hearing, which
was held on October 17, 2017, in Morgantown, West Virginia,
before an administrative law judge (“ALJ”). At
the hearing, Grubbs was represented by counsel and testified,
as did an impartial vocational expert (“VE”) (R.
plaintiff's attorney cross-examined the VE, she stated
that she had no further questions. (R. 69). The ALJ asked if
she had anything else [to present] and she answered
“No. Thank you, Judge.” Id. The ALJ
stated: “The hearing is now closed and we're off
the record.” (R. 70).
next day, October 18, 2017, plaintiff's counsel submitted
a letter to the ALJ asking, among other things, that he
consider objections to the VE's testimony. Specifically,
counsel contended that based upon the Department of
Labor's Occupational Information Network
(“O*Net”), the jobs identified by the VE (office
helper, mail clerk, and storage facility rental clerk) were
not compatible with Grubbs' residual functional capacity
(“RFC”) as set forth in the hypothetical posed to
the VE in the hearing.
January 10, 2018, the ALJ issued a decision partially
favorable to Grubbs, finding that he was not disabled prior
to October 15, 2017, but became disabled as of his
55th birthday. (R. 12-30). The ALJ's decision,
which did not address the letter submitted by plaintiff's
counsel after the hearing, became the final decision of the
Commissioner on May 2, 2014, when the Appeals Council denied
plaintiff's request to review the decision of the ALJ.
December 17, 2018, Grubbs filed his complaint in this court,
seeking judicial review of the Commissioner's final
decision. The parties' cross-motions for summary judgment
Standard of Review
limits judicial review of disability claims to the
Commissioner's final decision. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).
If the Commissioner's finding is supported by substantial
evidence, it is conclusive and must be affirmed by the court.
42 U.S.C. § 405(g); Rutherford v. Barnhart, 399
F.3d 546, 552 (3d Cir. 2005) (the scope of review is
“quite limited”). The United States Supreme Court
has defined “substantial evidence” as “such
relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as
adequate to support a conclusion.” Richardson v.
Perales, 402 ...