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Hosbach v. Saul

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

November 13, 2019

ANDREW SAUL, Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, Defendant



         Vanessa Hosbach (“Plaintiff”) seeks judicial review, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), of the final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (“the Commissioner”), denying her claim for disability insurance benefits (“DIB”) and Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”) benefits under Titles II and XVI of the Social Security Act. Plaintiff has filed a brief in support of her request for review and the Commissioner has responded to it. Plaintiff has submitted a reply brief. For the reasons set forth below, Plaintiff's Request for Review is granted and the case remanded.


         On September 1, 2015, Plaintiff applied for DIB and SSI benefits, alleging disability based on rheumatoid arthritis (“RA”), diabetes, depression, suppressed immunity, and fibromyalgia beginning November 7, 2014; her date last insured is December 31, 2019. Pl. Br. at 1; Resp. at 3; R. 11-12. Plaintiff amended her alleged onset date to October 1, 2015, in her brief to the Appeals Council, to correlate with the date she stopped working. R. 757; Pl. Br. at 1. The Social Security Administration denied Plaintiff's claim twice, therefore, she requested a hearing. R. 556-63. 564-69; Pl. Br. at 1; Resp. at 3.

         On April 4, 2018, Plaintiff appeared before Bonnie Hannan, Administrative Law Judge (“the ALJ”), for her video hearing; Plaintiff, represented by an attorney, and a vocational expert, Diane Haller (“the VE”), testified at the hearing. R. 483-517. On July 31, 2018, the ALJ, using the sequential evaluation process for disability[2], issued an unfavorable DIB decision. R. 25-35. Plaintiff timely appealed and offered additional evidence and a supporting brief, R. 757-772; however, on March 8, 2019, the Appeals Council denied her appeal. R. 1-8. On May 13, 2019, Plaintiff now seeks judicial review from this Court; both parties have consented to the undersigned's jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c).


         A. Personal History

         Plaintiff, born on July 22, 1979, R. 701, R. 489, was 38 years old on the date of the administrative hearing. R. 489. She is 5 feet, 5 inches tall and weighs approximately 320 pounds. R. 705. Plaintiff possesses a high school diploma and completed one year of college. R. 491, R. 704. She last worked for 16 years as a credentialing coordinator at St. Luke's Hospital. R. 492. Plaintiff currently resides with her husband and eleven-year-old daughter in East Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania. R. 489-490.

         B. Plaintiff's Testimony

         Plaintiff testified about her impairments, at the April 4, 2018 administrative hearing. R. 483-517. She stated that her RA and compromised immune system adversely impact her ability to work. R. 494. Plaintiff reported she is unable to take medication for her RA when she is suffering from any other illness or infection. R. 494-95. She testified that, as a result of her ailments, some days she is unable to get out of bed, struggles to sit and stand, cannot bend over, and cannot lift. R. 494. She struggles to write, use a knife, bathe and dress herself without her husband's or daughter's assistance. R. 499. Furthermore, Plaintiff has arthritis in her spine and asthmatic bronchitis. R. 499, R. 505.

         Plaintiff stated that her weight, which fluctuates from 300 to 340 pounds, R. 490-91, requires use of a cane to ambulate at home and a handrail in the bathroom beside the toilet to assist her; she has had multiple steroid injections in her knees which creak and swell. R. 504-506.

         C. Vocational Testimony

         At the administrative hearing, the VE classified Plaintiff's prior credentialing coordinator position as sedentary. R. 511-12. The ALJ asked the VE a series of hypothetical questions that consider a person of Plaintiff's age, education, past sedentary[3] work experience, with occasional ability to climb ramps and stairs, but no ability to climb ladders, ropes or scaffolds, kneel, crouch or crawl, or work at unprotected heights or with moving mechanical parts. R. 512. The VE responded that this individual, generally, could perform Plaintiff's past job of credentialing coordinator. Id. The ALJ asked whether there would be any other work that an individual in the hypothetical could perform. The VE identified three suitable sedentary jobs: (1) new account clerk (45, 000 positions nationally), (2) touch-up inspector, electronics (38, 000 jobs nationally), and (3) final assembler (33, 000 positions nationally). R. 512-13.

         Next, the ALJ asked the VE to consider the same person, but with additional limitations on frequent bilateral handling, fingering and feeling. R. 513. The VE answered that these restrictions still would allow the person to generally perform Plaintiff's past work. Id. These hand problems would preclude work as a touch-up inspector; however, the individual could work as a screener for printed circuits (42, 000 positions nationally), instead. Id. The VE opined that, although an individual who required a cane could perform the credentialing clerk position as the job is generally performed, they would not be able perform Plaintiff's actual job, because it also required carrying 30 pound boxes of files. R. 514. The ALJ asked whether the same individual would be able to perform the new account clerk, final assembler and the screener for printed circuits jobs; the VE responded that the person would be able to do so. Id. The VE further testified that any such employees would be under fairly direct supervision, could not be off task more than five percent of the time on a regular basis, and could not be absent more than a once a month during the first year of employment. Id. Finally, the VE confirmed that her testimony was consistent with the Dictionary of Occupational Titles; some testimony regarding off task time and absenteeism was based on her professional experiences. R. 514-15.

         III. THE ...

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