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Westbrook v. Saul

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

December 11, 2019

ANDRE WESTBROOK
v.
ANDREW SAUL [1], Commissioner of Social Security

          OPINION

          JACOB P. HART, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         Andre Westbrook brought this action under 42 USC §405(g) to obtain review of the decision of the Commissioner of Social Security denying his claim for Supplemental Security Income. He has filed a Request for Review to which the Commissioner has responded. As set forth below, I will direct that this matter be remanded for a determination regarding his ability to walk and/or stand which is consistent with the medical and other evidence, and to obtain additional vocational expert testimony to determine whether work is available which would accommodate the new RFC assessment.

         I. Factual and Procedural Background

         Westbrook was born on October 5, 1966. Record at 320. He left school after the ninth grade. Record at 354. He has no past relevant work within the meaning of the regulations, although he worked as a laborer in the distant past. Record at 29, 354.

         In March, 2009, Westbrook was awarded SSI benefits on the basis of a major depressive disorder with psychotic features. Record at 219-231. However, his benefits were terminated in August, 2013, when he was incarcerated. Record at 349.

         On January 16, 2015, Westbrook filed an application for benefits in this case. Record at 320. In it, he asserted disability as of October 10, 2006, as a result of schizophrenia, depression, anxiety, high blood pressure, gout, and disc disease. Record at 320, 353. His application was denied on May 13, 2015. Record at 245. Westbrook then sought de novo review by an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”). Record at 253.

         A hearing was held in this case on August 29, 2017. Record at 61. In a written decision dated September 18, 2017, however, the ALJ denied benefits. Record at 18. The Appeals Council denied Westbrook's request for review, permitting the ALJ's decision to stand as the final decision of the Commissioner. Record at 1. Westbrook then filed this action.

         II. Legal Standards

         The role of this court on judicial review is to determine whether the Commissioner's decision is supported by substantial evidence. 42 U.S.C. §405(g); Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389 (1971); Doak v. Heckler, 790 F.2d 26, 28 (3d Cir. 1986); Newhouse v. Heckler, 753 F.2d 283, 285 (3d Cir. 1985). Substantial evidence is relevant evidence viewed objectively as adequate to support a decision. Richardson v. Perales, supra at 401; Kangas v. Bowen, 823 F.2d 775 (3d Cir. 1987); Dobrowolsky v. Califano, 606 F.2d 403 (3d Cir. 1979). Moreover, apart from the substantial evidence inquiry, a reviewing court must also ensure that the ALJ applied the proper legal standards. Coria v. Heckler, 750 F.2d 245 (3d Cir. 1984).

         To prove disability, a claimant must demonstrate that there is some "medically determinable basis for an impairment that prevents him from engaging in any 'substantial gainful activity' for a statutory twelve-month period." 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1). As explained in the following agency regulation, each case is evaluated by the Commissioner according to a five-step process:

(i) At the first step, we consider your work activity if any. If you are doing substantial gainful activity, we will find that you are not disabled. (ii) At the second step, we consider the medical severity of your impairment(s). If you do not have a severe medically determinable physical or mental impairment that meets the duration requirement in § 404.1509, or a combination of impairments that is severe and meets the duration requirement, we will find that you are not disabled. (iii) At the third step, we also consider the medical severity of your impairment(s). If you have an impairment(s) that meets or equals one of our listings in appendix 1 of this subpart and meets the duration requirement, we will find that you are disabled. (iv). At the fourth step, we consider our assessment of your residual functional capacity and your past relevant work. If you can still do your past relevant work, we will find that you are not disabled. (v). At the fifth and last step, we consider our assessment of your residual functional capacity and your age, education and work experience to see if you can make an adjustment to other work. If you can make an adjustment to other work, we will find that you are not disabled. If you cannot make an adjustment to other work, we will find that you are disabled.

20 C.F.R. § 404.1520 (references to other regulations omitted).

         III. The ALJ's Decision and Westbrook's Request for Review

         The ALJ determined that Westbrook suffered from the severe impairments of lumbar disc bulges, gout, and a depressive disorder. Record at 20. He found that none of these impairments, and no combination of impairments, met or medically equaled a listed impairment. Record at 21. He determined that Westbrook retained the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to engage in light work, with six hours of sitting, standing, or walking in an eight-hour workday. Record at 23. He also limited Westbrook to simple one or two-step tasks in a routine, stable, work environment with very little change and no more than occasional interaction with co-workers, supervisors, or the public. Id.

         Relying upon the testimony of a vocational expert who appeared at the hearing, the ALJ found that Westbrook could work as a bench assembler, packer, or housekeeping cleaner. Record at 29. He determined, therefore, that Westbrook was not disabled. Record at 30.

         In his Request for Review, Westbrook argues that the ALJ erred in finding that he could engage in light work; wrongly assessing the evidence regarding his mental impairment; failing to include a limitation in his hypothetical questions to the vocational expert which would accommodate his moderate limitations in concentration, persistence and pace; and failing to consider medical evidence submitted before he issued his decision.

         IV. Discussion

         A. Light Work with Six Hours of ...


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