HOLLAND v. ASTRUE
MEMORANDUM JUDGMENT ORDER denying 19 plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment and granting 23 defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment. The decision of the Commissioner of Social Security is affirmed. See Memorandum Judgment Order for further details. Signed by Judge Gustave Diamond on 3/14/11. (kw)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE WESTERN DISTRICT OF PENNSYLVANIA
SCOTT J. HOLLAND, Plaintiff, v. Civil Action No. 09 192J MICHAEL J. ASTRUE , COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant. MEMORANDUM JUDGMENT ORDER AND NOW, this of the parties'
2011, upon due consideration
cross-motions for summary judgment pursuant to
plaintiff's request for review of the decision of the Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner") denying his applications for disability insurance benefits ("DIB") and supplemental security
income ("SSI") under Title II and Title XVI, respectively, of the Social Security Act ("Act"), IT IS ORDERED that the Commissioner's motion for summary judgment hereby is, (Document No. 23) be, and the same
granted and plaintiff's motion for summary judgment
(Document No. 19) be, and the same hereby is, denied. As the factfinder, an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") has an obligation to weigh all of the facts and evidence of record and may reject or discount any evidence if the ALJ explains 186 F.3d 422, 429 the (3d
reasons for doing so. Cir. 1999).
Plummer v. Apfel,
Where the ALJ's findings of fact are supported by evidence, a reviewing court is bound by those
inquiry (3d Cir. by the
Massanari, is not
247 F.3d 34, determined
presence of impairments, but by the effect that those impairments have upon an individual's ability to perform substantial gainful activity. Jones v. Sullivan, 954 F.2d 125, 129 (3d Cir. 1991).
These well-established principles preclude a reversal or remand of the ALJ's decision here because the record contains substantial evidence to support the ALJ's findings and conclusions. Plaintiff filed his DIB and SSI applications on March 21, 2007, alleging disability beginning March 21, 2006, due to gout, arthritis and tendinitis. At plaintiff's request, 2008. that On February 13, plaintiff is not Plaintiff's applications were denied. an ALJ held a hearing on December 18, 2009, the ALJ issued a decision finding The Appeals Council denied
plaintiff's request for review on May 15, 2009, making the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner. action followed. Plaintiff, who has a ninth-grade education, was 44 years old at the time of the ALJ's decision and is classified as a younger individual 416.963(c). under the regulations. 20 C.F.R. §§404.1563(c), The instant
Although plaintiff has past relevant work experience
as a construction worker, welder and awning frame maker, he has not engaged in substantial gainful activity at any time since his alleged onset date of disability. After
testimony from plaintiff and a vocational expert at the hearing, the ALJ concluded meaning of the Act. that plaintiff that plaintiff is not disabled within the
Although the medical evidence established from the
arthritis/degenerative disc disease apnea,
hypertension, diabetes, sleep
obesitYI depression and a history of alcohol dependence,
those impairments, alone or in combination the criteria of any of the listed
do not meet or equal set forth in
Appendix 1 of 20 C.F.R'I Subpart PI Regulation No.4
The ALJ found that plaintiff retains the residual functional capacity to perform a additional kneeling ramps.
work with a limited to
number of occasional
crouching, crawling and climbing stairs and
plaintiff is limited to simple,
repetitive tasks that are not performed in a fast-paced production environment and that involve only simple work-related decisions and relatively few work place changes. Further, plaintiff is
limited to occasional interaction with supervisors and co-workers, and no interaction with the general public. FinallYI plaintiff is
limited to occupations that do not involve the handling, sale or preparation of food, alcoholic beverages or access to narcotic
drugs, and which are not in the medical field (collectivelYI the "RFC Findingll) . As a result of these limitations
the ALJ determined that Nonetheless
plaintiff could not perform his past relevant work.
'Ill.A072 (Rev. 8/82)
based upon the vocational expert's testimony,
the ALJ concluded
that plaintiff's age, educational background, work experience and residual functional capacity enable him to make a vocational
adjustment to other work that exists in significant numbers in the national' economy, such as
inspector /packer, a floor worker or a stock checker.
the ALJ found that plaintiff is not disabled within the meaning of the Act. The Act defines "disability" as the inability to engage in substantial gainful activity by reason of a physical or mental impairment which can be expected to last for a continuous period of at least twelve months. 42 U.S.C. §§423 (d) (1) (A) ,
1382c(a) (3) (A).
The impairment or impairments must be so severe
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. §§423 (d) (2) (A), 1382c (a) (3) (B) .
The Commissioner has promulgated regulations that incorporate a five-step sequential evaluation process for determining whether a claimant is disabled. The ALJ must determine: (1) whether the
claimant is currently engaged in substantial gainful activi ty; (2) if not, whether he has a severe impairment; (3) if so, whether his (4) from
impairment meets or equals the criteria listed in Appendix 1; if not, whether the claimant's impairment and (5) prevents if so, him
performing his past relevant work;
claimant can perform any other work that exists in the national
in light of his age, functional capacity.
work experience and §§404.1520(a) (4),
If the claimant is found disabled or not disabled Id.
at any step, further inquiry is unnecessary. In this case,
plaintiff challenges the ALJ's findings at At step 3, that his
steps 3 and 5 of the sequential evaluation process. plaintiff argues that the ALJ erred by concluding
impairments do not meet or equal any listing in Appendix 1. Further, plaintiff claims the ALJ's step 5 finding that he retains the residual functional capacity to perform work that exists in the national economy is not supported by substantial evidence. The court finds these arguments lack merit. Plaintiff first challenges the ALJ's findings at step 3 of the sequential evaluation process. At step 3, the ALJ must
determine whether the claimant's impairments meet or equal one of the listed impairments. Burnett v. Commissioner of Social The
Security Administration, 220 F.3d 112, 119 (3d Cir. 2000).
listings describe impairments that prevent an adult, regardless of age, education or work experience, from performing any gainful
20 C.F.R. §§404.1525(a), 416.925(a)
Knepp v. Apfel,
204 F.3d 78, 85 (3d Cir. 2000).
"If the impairment is equivalent
to a listed impairment, then [the claimant] is per se disabled and no further analysis is necessary." It is the ALJ's burden to Burnett, 220 F.3d at 119. identify the relevant listed
impairment in the regulations that compares with the claimant's impairment.
. at 120 n.2.
However, it is the claimant's burden
to present medical findings that show his impairment matches or is equivalent to a listed impairment. 1178, 1186 (3d Cir. 1992). Williams v. Sullivan, 970 F.2d
In determining whether the claimant's
impairment meets or equals a listed impairment, the ALJ must set forth the reasons for her decision. Burnett, 220 F.2d at 119.
According to plaintiff, the ALJ erred in failing to find that he meets or equals a listing under 12.04 (affective disorders) or 12.06 (anxiety related disorders). Contrary to plaintiff's
position, a review of the record establishes that the ALJ employed the appropriate analysis in arriving at her step 3 finding. ALJ analyzed the medical evidence of record and found The that
plaintiff suffers from gout, arthritis/degenerative disc disease, hypertension, history of diabetes, alcohol sleep apnea, obesity, of depression and a are severe
dependence, the ALJ
impairments, even when considered in combination, equal any listed impairment.
do not meet or
The ALJ's decision indicates that 3.10,
she considered the listings contained in sections 1.04,
4.01, 9.08, 12.04, 12.09 and 14.09, but she found that plaintiff's conditions do not satisfy all the criteria of any of those
lPlaintiff has argued that the ALJ failed to consider his impairments in combination in determining that he is not disabled. Plaintiff's argument is without merit. In connection with her step 3 finding, the ALJ explained that even when considered in combination, plaintiff's severe impairments do not meet or equal any listing. (R. 13). Further, the ALJ's detailed decision makes clear that she considered all of plaintiff's impairments in combination in a ssessing his resi dual functional capacity. (R. 15-19) .
- 6 -
The ALJ then explained her reasoning as to (R.
why plaintiff's impairments do not meet or equal any listing.
The ALJ satisfied her burden; however, plaintiff failed to sustain his burden of showing that his impairments meet, or are equal to, a listing. Other than broadly asserting that he meets criteria of listings 12.04
or equals all of the paragraph "B"
and/or 12.06, plaintiff did not demonstrate that the evidence of record substantiates his argument. 2 that no medical source of Furthermore, the court notes found that plaintiff's
impairments meet or equal a listing.
For these reasons, the court
finds that the ALJ's step 3 finding is supported by substantial evidence.
2In order to satisfy the paragraph "B" criteria of listings 12.04 or 12.06, plaintiff's condition must result in at least two of the following: (1) marked restriction of activities of daily living; (2) marked difficulties in maintaining social functioning; (3) marked difficulties in maintaining concentration, persistence or pace i or (4) repeated episodes of decompensation, each of extended duration. See Appendix I, §§12.04B, 12.06B. The ALJ's finding that plaintiff does not satisfy the paragraph "B" criteria because he has no restrictions in activi ties of daily living, moderate difficulties in social functioning, moderate difficulties in concentration, persistence or pace, and no episodes of decompensation is supported by substantial evidence. specifically, plaintiff is incorrect that his two hospitalizations which were precipitated by suicidal thoughts or gestures satisfies the requirement of episodes of decompensation. The term "repeated episodes of decompensation, each of extended duration" are exacerbations or temporary increases in symptoms accompanied by a loss of adaptive functioning that occur at least three times within one year, each lasting for at least two weeks. Id. , §12.00C4. In this case, plaintiff was hospitalized two times in one year, and neither hospitalization last at least two weeks. (R. 326-42, 349). Further, on each occasion when plaintiff was released from the hospital, his mental status was stable. (R. 334,349). 7 -
The court likewise finds that the ALJ's step 5 finding is supported by substantial evidence. At step 5, the Commissioner
must show there are other jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy which the claimant can perform consistent with his age, education, past work experience and residual
functional capacity. Residual functional
20 C.F.R. §§404.1520(g) (1), 416.920(g) (1). capacity is defined as that which an
individual still is able to do despite the limitations caused by his impairments. 20 C.F.R. §§404.1545(a) (1),
247 F.3d at 40. capacity, the
In assessing a claimant's residual ALJ is required to of consider jobs, 20 the
claimant's ability physical, mental,
such as C.F.R.
sensory and other requirements.
§§404.1545(a) (4), 416.945(a) (4). Here, plaintiff argues that the ALJ erred at step 5 because she failed to properly consider and evaluate his subjective
allegations arising from his back pain, diabetes, and arthritis pain in his knees and left hip and, as a result, she incorrectly assessed plaintiff's residual functional capacity. The court
finds that these arguments lack merit. Plaintiff first claims that the ALJ erred in evaluating his pain and other subj ecti ve complaints. A claimant's complaints and
other subjective symptoms must be supported by objective medical evidence. 20 C.F.R. §§404.1529(c), 416.929(c)
Apfel, 181 F.3d 358, 362 (3d Cir. 1999).
An ALJ may reject the
claimant's subjective testimony if she does not find it credible
so long as she explains why she is rej ecting the testimony. Schaudeck v. Commissioner of Social Security, 181 F.3d 429, 433 (3d Cir. 1999). Here, the ALJ properly analyzed plaintiff's
subjective complaints and then explained why she found plaintiff's testimony not entirely credible. In evaluating plaintiff's complaints, the ALJ complied with the appropriate regulations and considered all of the relevant evidence in the record, including the medical evidence,
plaintiff's activities of daily living, plaintiff's medications and the extent of his treatment, plaintiff's own statements about his symptoms and statements by his physicians about his symptoms and how they affect him. See 20 C.F.R. §§404.1529(c) (1) and
(c) (3), §§416.929(c) (1) and (c) (3) i Social Security Ruling 96-7p. The ALJ then considered the extent to which plaintiff's alleged functional limitations reasonably could be accepted as consistent with the evidence of record and how those limitations affect his ability to work. 20 C.F.R. §§404.1529(c) (4), 416.929(c) (4). The
ALJ concluded that the objective evidence is inconsistent with plaintiff's allegation of total disability. Accordingly, the ALJ
determined that plaintiff's testimony regarding his pain was not entirely credible. (R.17). This court finds that the ALJ
adequately explained the basis for her credibility determination, (R. 15-19), and is satisfied that such determination is supported by substantial evidence. Plaintiff next argues that as a result of the ALJ's failure to properly consider
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