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Acevedo v. Saul

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

January 10, 2020

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



         January 10, 2020 Plaintiff, Daisyvette Acevedo, 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 her 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. 15), to which plaintiff filed a response in opposition (Doc. 16). For the reasons set forth below, the plaintiff's Request for Review will be GRANTED to the extent that the case will be remanded for further proceedings, and the Motion to Stay will be DENIED.


         Plaintiff filed an application for SSI on October 30, 2015, alleging disability beginning September 30, 2008. (R. 157-68.) Plaintiff's claim was denied initially; she then filed a request for a hearing. (R. 70-89, 93-95.) A hearing was held on January 18, 2018, before Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) Brian Battles. (R. 37-69.) Plaintiff, represented by counsel, appeared and testified. A vocational expert (“VE”) was available to testify at the administrative hearing by telephone, but the ALJ did not seek her testimony at that time. Instead, the ALJ obtained responses to written interrogatories from the VE and from a medical expert (“ME”) subsequent to the hearing. See R. 270-91, 1024-28.

         In a decision dated June 26, 2018, the ALJ found that plaintiff was not disabled under the Act. (R. 12-31.) The ALJ made the following findings:

1. The claimant has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since October 22, 2015, the application date (20 CFR 416.971 et seq.).
2. The claimant has the following severe impairments: hidradenitis suppurativa; migraines; depression; anxiety; bipolar disorder; and scoliosis (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 she could occasionally balance, stoop, kneel, crouch and crawl and occasionally climb ramps and stairs. The claimant cannot climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds. The claimant cannot work in hazardous environments such as unprotected heights or around dangerous machinery and open flames. The claimant can tolerate occasional contact with supervisors, coworkers, and the public. The claimant can perform unskilled, simple, routine, repetitive tasks and can work in a low stress job, defined as only making occasional decisions, and tolerating only occasional changes in the work setting. Finally, the individual would need to be in a position that would allow her to stand for 5 minutes after sitting for 30 minutes, in addition to normal breaks, throughout the workday while remaining at the workstation to alleviate pain and discomfort.
5. The claimant has no past relevant work (20 CFR 416.965).
6. The claimant was born on September 15, 1985, and was 30 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 at least a high school education and is able to communicate in English (20 CFR 416.964).
8. Transferability of job skills is not an issue because the claimant does not have past relevant work (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 October 22, 2015, the date the application was filed (20 CFR 416.920(g)).

(R. 15-31.)

         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. 1-8, 153-56.) 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.[2] 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).


         At the time of the January 18, 2018 administrative hearing, plaintiff was thirty-two years old and lived with her fourteen-year-old daughter in a two-story home. (R. 45-46.) Plaintiff has a driver's license and estimated that she drives once per week, either to a doctor's appointment or to pick up her daughter. (R. 47.) With respect to her education, plaintiff stated that she is a high school graduate and also obtained a certification in medical billing. (R. 47-48.)

         Plaintiff's counsel explained that plaintiff has hidradenitis suppurativa (“HS”), which results in skin lesions on her back, arms, face, hips, and groin. (R. 44.)[3] Plaintiff's counsel noted that HS is a listed condition and ...

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