United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania
TRAVIS D. BEACH, Plaintiff,
ANDREW M. SAUL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security,  Defendant.
OPINION AND ORDER OF COURT
Donetta W. Ambrose U.S. Senior District Judge
before the Court are Cross-Motions for Summary Judgment. [ECF
Nos. 8, 11]. Both parties have filed Briefs in Support of
their Motions. [ECF Nos. 9, 12]. After careful consideration
of the submissions of the parties, and based on my Opinion
set forth below, I am denying Plaintiff's Motion for
Summary Judgment and granting Defendant's Motion for
has brought this action for review of the final decision of
the Commissioner of Social Security
(“Commissioner”) denying his application for
Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”) under Title
II of the Social Security Act (“Act”). On or
about May 5, 2015, Plaintiff applied for DIB. [ECF No. 6-7
(Ex. 3D)]. In his application, he alleged that since February
29, 2012, he has been disabled due to degenerative disc
disease and other spinal conditions. [ECF No. 6-8 (Ex. 3E)].
His date last insured is December 31, 2017. [ECF No. 6-2 at
The state agency denied his claims initially, and he
requested an administrative hearing. Administrative Law Judge
(“ALJ”) William J. Bezego held an initial video
hearing on May 18, 2017, after which he ordered Plaintiff to
undergo a consultative orthopedic examination. [ECF No. 6-2,
at 28-51]. After the consultative exam, Plaintiff requested a
supplemental hearing which was held on August 10, 2017. [ECF
No. 6-3]. Plaintiff appeared at the hearing and testified on
his own behalf. Id. A vocational expert also was
present at the hearing and testified. Id. at 62-69.
In a decision dated August 24, 2017, the ALJ found that jobs
existed in significant numbers in the national economy that
Plaintiff could perform and, therefore, that Plaintiff was
not disabled under the Act. [ECF No. 6-2, at 12-21].
Plaintiff requested review of the ALJ's determination by
the Appeals Council, but the Appeals Council denied
Plaintiff's request for review. [ECF No. 6-2]. Having
exhausted all of his administrative remedies, Plaintiff filed
parties have filed Cross-Motions for Summary Judgment. [ECF
Nos. 8 & 11]. The issues are now ripe for my review.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
standard of review in social security cases is whether
substantial evidence exists in the record to support the
Commissioner's decision. Allen v. Bowen, 881
F.2d 37, 39 (3d Cir.1989). Regardless of “the meaning
of ‘substantial' in other contexts, the threshold
for such evidentiary sufficiency is not high.”
Biestek v. Berryhill, 139 S.Ct. 1148, 1154 (U.S.
2019). Substantial evidence has been defined as “more
than a mere scintilla.” Ventura v. Shalala, 55
F.3d 900, 901 (3d Cir. 1995) (quoting Richardson v.
Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971)). “It means -
and means only - such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind
might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.”
Biestek, 139 S.Ct. at 1154. The Commissioner's
findings of fact, if supported by substantial evidence, are
conclusive. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g); Dobrowolsky v.
Califano, 606 F.2d 403, 406 (3d Cir. 1979). A district
court cannot conduct a de novo review of the
Commissioner's decision or re-weigh the evidence of
record. Palmer v. Apfel, 995 F.Supp. 549, 552 (E.D.
Pa. 1998). Where the ALJ's findings of fact are supported
by substantial evidence, a court is bound by those findings,
even if the court would have decided the factual inquiry
differently. Hartranft v. Apfel, 181 F.3d 358, 360
(3d Cir. 1999). To determine whether a finding is supported
by substantial evidence, however, the district court must
review the record as a whole. See 5 U.S.C. §
eligible for social security benefits, the plaintiff must
demonstrate that he cannot engage in substantial gainful
activity because of a 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 at least 12 months. 42 U.S.C. § 1382(a)(3)(A);
Brewster v. Heckler, 786 F.2d 581, 583 (3d Cir.
Commissioner has provided the ALJ with a five-step sequential
analysis to use when evaluating the disabled status of each
claimant. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520. The ALJ must determine:
(1) whether the claimant is currently engaged in substantial
gainful activity; (2) if not, whether the claimant has a
severe impairment; (3) if the claimant has a severe
impairment, whether it meets or equals the criteria listed in
20 C.F.R. pt. 404, subpt. P, app. 1; (4) if the impairment
does not satisfy one of the impairment listings, whether the
claimant's impairments prevent him from performing his
past relevant work; and (5) if the claimant is incapable of
performing his past relevant work, whether he can perform any
other work which exists in the national economy, in light of
his age, education, work experience and residual functional
capacity. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520. The claimant carries the
initial burden of demonstrating by medical evidence that he
is unable to return to his previous employment (steps 1-4).
Dobrowolsky, 606 F.2d at 406. Once the claimant
meets this burden, the burden of proof shifts to the
Commissioner to show that the claimant can engage in
alternative substantial gainful activity (step 5).
district court, after reviewing the entire record may affirm,
modify, or reverse the decision with or without remand to the
Commissioner for rehearing. Podedworny v. Harris,
745 F.2d 210, 221 (3d Cir. 1984).
WHETHER THE ALJ PROPERLY EVALUATED THE MEDICAL OPINION
found that Plaintiff had severe impairments, including
degenerative disc disease, obesity, and arthritis, right
knee. [ECF No. 6-2, at 15]. He then found that
Plaintiff's impairments or combination of impairments did
not meet or medically equal the severity of one of the listed
impairments in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1.
Id. The ALJ further found that Plaintiff had the
residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform
sedentary work, except that he requires a sit/stand option
every 30 minutes. [ECF No. 6-2, at 15-20]. The ALJ ultimately
concluded that considering Plaintiff's age, education,
work experience, and RFC, there were jobs ...