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Finkler v. Saul

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

October 24, 2019

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



         Plaintiff, Kevin Darnell Finklea, 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 (Doc. 17) (“Pl.'s Br.”) and defendant filed a Response to Plaintiff's Request for Review (Doc. 20) (“Def.'s Br.”). For the reasons set forth below, the court recommends that plaintiff's Request for Review be DENIED.


         Plaintiff filed an application for DIB on March 23, 2015, alleging disability beginning May 31, 2014. (R. 193-201.) Plaintiff's claims were denied initially and upon reconsideration; he then filed a timely request for a hearing. (R. 97-138.) A hearing was held on January 12, 2018, before Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) Marc Silverman. (R. 29-96.) Plaintiff, represented by counsel, appeared and testified. Vanessa Ennis, a vocational expert (“VE”), also testified. During the administrative hearing, plaintiff's counsel requested that the alleged onset date be amended to June 19, 2015. (R. 72-73.)[2] In a decision dated February 9, 2018, the ALJ found that plaintiff was not disabled under the Act. (R. 11-29.) The ALJ made the following findings:

1. The claimant meets the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act through December 31, 2020.
2. The claimant has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since June 19, 2015, the amended alleged onset date. (20 CFR 404.1571 et seq.).
3. The claimant has the following severe impairments: Disorder of the back (Exhibit 3F, page 10) - lumbar spine x-rays taken April 14, 2015 show moderate degenerative changes at ¶ 5-S1 with mild degenerative changes at all other levels (Exhibit 2F, pages 99, 66); plantar calcaneal spur, right foot (Exhibit 3F, page 8); enthesophye at Achilles insertion, left foot (Exhibit 3F, page 9); bilateral knee disorder (Exhibit 2F, page 100 - bilateral knee x-rays show moderate degenerative changes); and depression (Exhibit 2F, page 73) (20 CFR 404.1520(c)). The claimant has the following nonsevere impairments: diabetes mellitus (Exhibit 2F); history of alcohol abuse, in remission (Exhibit 2F, page 73, Exhibit 4F, page 433); history of cocaine abuse, in remission (Exhibit 2F, page 73, Exhibit 4F, page 433); obstructive sleep apnea and the claimant was prescribed CPAP; Exhibit 4F, page 101 reported he uses CPAP sporadically); and tenderness along the bilateral metatarsal heads most consistent with metatarsalgia (Exhibit 3F, page 4). The consultative examiner observed that the claimant was able to ambulate without much difficulty, no significant swelling of the bilateral feet, and good range of motion of both feet.
4. The claimant does not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals the severity 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, I find that the claimant has the residual functional capacity to perform light work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b) except that he can never climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds; can climb ramps and stairs occasionally; he has no limitation as to balancing; can stoop, kneel, and crouch occasionally; can never crawl; and is limited to simple, routine tasks.
6. The claimant is unable to perform any past relevant work (20 CFR 404.1565).
7. The claimant was born on May 6, 1964 and was 51 years old, which is defined as an individual closely approaching advanced age, on the alleged disability onset date (20 CFR 404.1563).
8. The claimant has a high school education, and additional vocational training, and is able to communicate in English (20 CFR 404.1564).
9. The claimant has no transferable job skills (20 CFR 404.1568).
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 and 404.1569(a)).
11. The claimant has not been under a disability, as defined in the Social Security Act, from June 19, 2015, through the date of this decision (20 C.F.R. 404.1520(g)).

(R. 17-24.)

         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, 135-38.) Plaintiff now seeks 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 ...

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