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Small v. Saul

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

November 21, 2019

ANDREW SAUL, Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, Defendant



         Troy Lamont Small (“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 his claim for disability insurance benefits (“DIB”) under Title II of the Social Security Act. Plaintiff has filed a brief in support of his request for review, the Commissioner has responded to it, and Plaintiff has filed a reply. For the reasons set forth below, Plaintiff's request for review is denied and judgment is entered in favor of the Commissioner.


         On January 15, 2015, Plaintiff applied for DIB, alleging disability since March 25, 2014, because of physical problems. R. 46. The claim was denied, initially, and Plaintiff requested a hearing. Id. On May 11, 2017, Plaintiff appeared before Ryan Hoback, Administrative Law Judge (“the ALJ”), for an administrative hearing; Plaintiff, who was represented by an attorney, and vocational expert Christine A. Carozza Slusarski (“the VE”) testified at the hearing. R. 64-101. On December 13, 2017, the ALJ, using the sequential evaluation process for disability, [2] issued an unfavorable decision. R. 46-58. The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review, on September 26, 2018, making the ALJ's findings the final determination of the Commissioner. R. 1-3. The parties have consented to this court's jurisdiction, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c)(1).


         A. Personal History

         Plaintiff, born in October 1967, R. 71, was 50 years old when the ALJ rendered his decision. He completed high school and two years of college, R. 73, and worked as a cable installer for 17 years. R. 74, 92. Plaintiff lives with his wife and adult step-daughter. R. 72.

         B. Plaintiff's Testimony

         At the May 11, 2017 administrative hearing, Plaintiff testified regarding limitations that he alleges result from his physical impairments. R. 71-91. Plaintiff stated that the main reason he was unable to work was his constant pain. R. 77. His pain does not result from an accident or injury, instead, his doctor has told him that the discs in his back have been compressed and worn down as a result of the work he performed on a daily basis. Id. Plaintiff has undergone two surgeries on his back, one in 2014 and one in 2015. R. 83. He stated that, for approximately two to four months after the 2015 surgery, he felt better, however, his pain then resumed at its previous level. R. 85, 87.

         Plaintiff described problems in his left leg; if he sits for 20 to 30 minutes, his leg becomes numb. R. 86. Prior to his first surgery, Plaintiff had left leg pain from his hip down to his ankle; the 2014 surgery resolved this pain, but not the numbness. R. 87.

         Plaintiff testified that, due to his pain, he is unable to sleep through the night. R. 80. He usually awakens at 2:00 a.m., stays awake for three or four hours, then eats breakfast. Id. Then, Plaintiff either lays down again and spends most of his day in bed, or sits in his recliner or lies on a couch, with his feet propped up. Id. He can only focus and concentrate, while watching television, if he is lying down. R. 89.

         Plaintiff is able to cook eggs for breakfast, use a microwave to heat food and prepare sandwiches. Id. He is unable to clean the house, wash his dirty clothes, or help grocery shop; he is able to load a dishwasher. R. 81. Plaintiff no longer attends religious services; he dines out approximately twice a month and had attended two movies over the previous three years. R. 82.

         C. Vocational Testimony

         The VE classified Plaintiff's past position as a cable installer as a skilled, [3] heavy job[4]. R. 92. The ALJ asked the VE to consider a person of Plaintiff's age, education, work experience, who was limited to light[5] work, with standing and walking reduced to two hours, occasionally able to climb ramps and stairs, balance, stoop, kneel, crouch and crawl, never able to climb ladders, ropes or scaffolds and able to tolerate occasional exposure to unprotected heights, moving mechanical parts, humidity, wetness, extreme cold and vibration, and, finally, occasionally able to drive a car. R. 93. The VE responded that this person could not perform Plaintiff's past job, but could perform the light, unskilled[6] jobs of: (1) sorter (51, 000 positions in the national economy); (2) assembler for plastic hospital products (60, 500 positions in the national economy); and (3) inspector for surgical instruments (51, 000 positions in the national economy). R. 93-94. The VE explained that most light jobs require six hours of standing and walking, but, based on her 30 years of experience as a counselor, she opined that the three jobs she identified could be performed from a bench-desk position with the worker sitting most of the time. R. 94. The VE also identified sedentary[7] jobs the hypothetical person could perform: (1) envelope addresser (35, 000 positions in the national economy); (2) food and beverage order clerk (93, 000 positions in the national economy); and (3) table worker (51, 000 positions in the national economy). R. 94-95. The VE further opined that, if a person was absent from work three or more days per month, he would not be employable. R. 95. In addition, if the person were off-task 20 percent of the workday, he would be unemployable. R. 96. Finally, if the person could not, in combination, sit, stand or walk for eight consecutive hours, he could not work. Id.

         III. THE ...

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