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Lee Anderson v. Saul

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

December 12, 2019

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


          THOMAS J. RUETER United States Magistrate Judge

         United States Magistrate Judge December 12, 2019 Plaintiff, Roger Thomas Lee Anderson, 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 supplemental security income (“SSI”) under Title XVI of the Social Security Act (“Act”).

         Plaintiff filed a Brief and Statement of Issues in Support of Request for Review (“Pl.'s Br.”), defendant filed a Response to Plaintiff's Request for Review (“Def.'s Br.”), and plaintiff filed a reply thereto (“Pl.'s Reply”). Additionally, defendant filed a Motion to Stay (Doc. 14), to which plaintiff filed a response in opposition (Doc. 15). For the reasons set forth below, the plaintiff's Request for Review will be GRANTED to the extent that the case be remanded for further proceedings, and the Motion to Stay will be DENIED.


         Plaintiff filed an application for SSI on January 15, 2014, alleging disability beginning July 24, 2008. (R. 174-84.) Plaintiff's claim was denied initially; he then filed a timely request for a hearing. (R. 96, 99-104.) A hearing was held on October 20, 2015, before Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) Anne W. Chain. (R. 32-68.) Plaintiff, represented by counsel, appeared and testified. Christine A. Carrozza-Slusarski, a vocational expert (“VE”), also testified.[2]

         In a decision dated January 24, 2018, the ALJ found that plaintiff was not disabled under the Act. (R. 14-31.) The ALJ made the following findings:

1. The claimant has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since January 15, 2014, the application date/amended alleged onset date of disability (20 CFR 416.971 et seq.).
2. The claimant has the following severe impairments: degenerative disc disease (DDD), coronary artery disease (CAD), recurrent hernia, obesity, substance addiction disorder, affective disorder, and anxiety related disorder (20 CFR 416.920(c)).
3. The claimant does not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals the severity of one of the listed impairments in 20 CFR Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 (20 CFR 416.920(d), 416.925, and 416.926).
4. After careful consideration of the entire record, the undersigned finds that the claimant has the residual functional capacity to perform sedentary work as defined in 20 CFR 416.967(a) except that he requires a sit/stand option; uses a cane for ambulation; cannot engage in more than occasional pushing/pulling with the lower extremities; cannot engage in climbing ladders, ropes, or scaffolds or crawling; cannot engage in more than occasional climbing of stairs/ramps, balancing, stooping, kneeling, crouching; no more than occasional exposure to extreme temperatures, pulmonary irritants including fumes, odors, dusts, gases, and poor ventilation, humidity, wetness, vibration, and moving machinery; no exposure to unprotected heights; limited to routine tasks with short simple instructions, simple work related decisions with few workplace changes; no interaction with the public; no work with codependents such as team work; no more than occasional interaction with coworkers and supervisors.
5. The claimant is unable to perform any past relevant work (20 CFR 416.965).
6. The claimant was born on November 30, 1970 and was 43 years old, which is defined as a younger individual age 18-44, on the date the application was filed (20 CFR 416.963).
7. The claimant has a limited education and is able to communicate in English (20 CFR 416.964).
8. Transferability of job skills is not an issue in this case because the claimant's past relevant work is unskilled (20 CFR 416.968).
9. 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 416.969 and 416.969(a)).
10. The claimant has not been under a disability, as defined in the Social Security Act, since January 15, 2014, the date the application was filed and the claimant's amended alleged onset date of disability (20 CFR 416.920(g)).

(R. 14-27.)

         Plaintiff filed a request for review of the ALJ's decision that was denied and the ALJ's decision became the final decision of the Commissioner. (R. 1-10, 146-73.) 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. § 1382c(a)(3)(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. § 1382c(a)(3)(B). Under the Act, the claimant has the burden of proving the existence of a disability and must furnish medical evidence indicating the severity of the impairment. 42 U.S.C. § 1382c(a)(3)(H)(i).

         The Social Security Administration employs a five-part procedure to determine whether an individual has met this burden. 20 C.F.R. § 416.920.[3] This process requires the Commissioner to consider, in sequence, whether a claimant: (1) is currently employed; (2) has a severe impairment; (3) has an impairment which meets or equals the requirements of a listed impairment; (4) can perform past relevant work; and (5) if not, whether the claimant is able to perform other work, in view of his age, education, and work experience. See id. The claimant bears the burden of establishing steps one through four of the five-step evaluation process, while the burden shifts to the Commissioner at step five to show that the claimant is capable of performing other jobs existing in large numbers in the national economy. Hess v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 931 F.3d 198, 201 (3d Cir. 2019).


         Plaintiff's testimony from the administrative hearing on October 20, 2015, reveals that plaintiff has a ninth-grade education and is able to read, write, and perform simple math. (R. 42.) Plaintiff has not worked since his application date, but in the past worked at several supermarkets stocking shelves. (R. 42-43.) Such work required plaintiff to remain on his feet most of the time and to lift in excess ...

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