United States District Court, D. Delaware
DAVID J. GARRETT, SR., Plaintiff,
NANCY BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security Defendant.
MALACHY E. MANNION UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
above-captioned action is one seeking review of a decision of
the Acting Commissioner of Social Security
(“Commissioner”), denying plaintiff David J.
Garrett's application for Social Security Disability
Insurance Benefits (“DIB”) under Title II of the
Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§401-433. The court
has jurisdiction pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §405(g).
Currently before the court are the parties' cross-motions
for summary judgment. (Doc. 16, Doc. 18). For the reasons set
forth below, plaintiff's motion will be denied and
defendant's motion will be granted. Thus, the Court will
affirm the Commissioner's decision.
insurance benefits are paid to an individual if that
individual is disabled and “insured, ” that is,
the individual has worked long enough and paid social
security taxes. The last date that a claimant meets the
requirements of being insured is commonly referred to as the
“date last insured.” It is undisputed that
plaintiff met the insured status requirements of the Social
Security Act through December 31, 2014. (Tr.
In to establish entitlement to disability insurance benefits,
plaintiff was required to establish that he suffered from a
disability on or before that date. 42 U.S.C.
§423(a)(1)(A), (c)(1)(B); 20 C.F.R. §404.131(a);
see Matullo v. Bowen, 926 F.2d 240, 244 (3d Cir.
was born on December 9, 1966. (Tr. 225). He was a younger
individual when the Administrative Law Judge
(“ALJ”) rendered his decision in this case.
Plaintiff has an 11th grade education and, he
attended special education classes. (Tr. 240, 365-367). His
past work included a batch blender, furniture installer and
technician, plant worker, and truck unloader. (Tr. 37,
227-232). Plaintiff stopped working in October 2009 when he
was laid off. Plaintiff alleges that on May 1, 2011, he
became disabled and was unable to work.
filed a claim for DIB on May 11, 2011, alleging disability
commencing on May 1, 2011. He was 44 years old at the time.
(Tr. 214). He alleged that he was disabled due to several
conditions, to wit: asthma; poor sleep; bilateral ulnar
neuropathy; bilateral carpal tunnel syndrome; muscle wasting
in arms and hands; bilateral loss of dexterity in hands with
numbness and tingling; muscle cramps, spasms and
fasciculation in the whole body; arthritis; weakness in the
hands, arms and legs; severe pain and fatigue; learning
disabilities; and auditory problems. (Tr. 239, 252). The
agency denied plaintiff's application on March 23, 2012.
(Tr. 176). Plaintiff filed a request for reconsideration and,
on September 19, 2012, the agency denied his request. (Tr.
183). Plaintiff then requested a hearing before an ALJ, which
was held on June 10, 2014. (Tr. 46).
issued a decision on August 7, 2014. The ALJ found that
plaintiff was not disabled within the meaning of the Social
Security Act from May 1, 2011 through the date of his
decision. (Doc. 8-2, Tr. 25-39). Plaintiff filed a request
October 22, 2015, the Appeals Council denied plaintiff's
request for review, making the ALJ's decision the final
decision of the Commissioner. (Tr. 1). Since plaintiff
exhausted his administrative remedies, he initiated the
present action on December 22, 2015, appealing the final
decision of defendant. (Doc. 1).
appeals the ALJ's determination on three grounds: 1.
Whether the ALJ erred in his credibility findings regarding
plaintiff's testimony: 2. Whether the ALJ erred in
evaluating the opinions of plaintiff's treating
physicians; 3. Whether the ALJ erred in his Residual
Functional Capacity (“RFC”) findings in
determining that there was other work that plaintiff could
perform, i.e., substantial evidence does not support the
ALJ's RFC assessment.
relief, plaintiff seeks the court to reverse the
Commissioner's decision and remand with instructions to
award benefits, or in the alternative, to remand his case to
the Commissioner for further proceedings.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
reviewing the denial of disability benefits, the court must
determine whether the denial is supported by substantial
evidence. Brown v. Bowen, 845 F.2d 1211, 1213 (3d
Cir. 1988); Johnson v. Commissioner of Social Sec.,
529 F.3d 198, 200 (3d Cir. 2008). Substantial evidence
“does not mean a large or considerable amount of
evidence, but rather such relevant evidence as a reasonable
mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.”
Pierce v. Underwood, 487 U.S. 552 (1988);
Hartranft v. Apfel, 181 F.3d 358, 360. (3d Cir.
1999), Johnson, 529 F.3d at 200. It is less than a
preponderance of the evidence but more than a mere scintilla.
Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401
receive disability benefits, the plaintiff 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.
[a]n individual shall be determined to be under a disability
only if his physical or mental impairment or impairments are
of such severity that he 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, regardless
of whether such work exists in the immediate area in which he
lives, or whether a specific job vacancy exists for him, or
whether he would be hired if he applied for work. For
purposes of the preceding sentence (with respect to any
individual), ‘work which exists in the national
economy' means work which exists in significant numbers
either in the region where such individual lives or in
several regions of the country.
42 U.S.C. §423(d)(2)(A).
present case, there are cross-motions for summary judgment.
“In Social Security cases, the substantial evidence
standard applies to motions for summary judgment brought
pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(c).”
Antoniolo v. Colvin, 208 F.Supp.3d 587, 595 (D.Del.
2016) (citing Woody v. Sec'y of the Dep't of
Health & Human Servs., 859 F.2d 1156, 1159 (3d
DISABILITY EVALUATION PROCESS
plaintiff must establish 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.” Fargnoli v. Massanari,
247 F.3d 34, 38-39 (3d Cir. 2001) (quoting Plummer v.
Apfel, 186 F.3d 422, 427 (3d Cir. 1999) (internal
quotations omitted). “A claimant is considered unable
to engage in any substantial gainful activity ‘only if
his physical or mental impairment or impairments are of such
severity that he 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 . . . .'”
Fargnoli, 247 F.3d at 39 (quoting 42 U.S.C.
five-step evaluation process is used to determine if a person
is eligible for disability benefits. See 20 C.F.R.
§404.1520. See also Plummer, 186 F.3d at 428.
If the Commissioner finds that a plaintiff is disabled or not
disabled at any point in the sequence, review does not
proceed any further. See 20 C.F.R. §404.1520. The
Commissioner must sequentially determine: (1) whether the
claimant is engaged in substantial gainful activity; (2)
whether the claimant has a severe impairment; (3) whether the
claimant's impairment meets or equals a listed
impairment; (4) whether the claimant's impairment
prevents the claimant from doing past relevant work; and (5)
whether the claimant's impairment prevents the claimant
from doing any other work. See 20 C.F.R.
the ALJ proceeded through each step of the sequential
evaluation process to conclude that the plaintiff was not
disabled within the meaning of the Act. The ALJ found that
plaintiff has not engaged in substantial gainful activity
since May 1, 2011, the alleged onset date. Next, the ALJ
determined that plaintiff suffered from severe impairments,
including the following: obesity; bilateral carpal tunnel
syndrome; degenerative disc disease of the cervical and
lumbar spines; ulnar neuropathies of the elbows; left wrist
ulnar neuropathy; right elbow osteoarthritis; right shoulder
impairment; migraines; fasciculation disorder; hypertension;
hyperlipidemia; hypothyroidism; sleep apnea; learning
disorder; anxiety disorder; and depression. (Tr. 27). The ALJ
also determined that the plaintiff's allergic rhinitis,
mild left ventricular hypertrophy; subependymoma; and
auditory problems were non-severe impairments. (Tr. 27-28).
then found that plaintiff does not have an impairment or
combination of impairments that meets or medically equals the
severity of one of the listed impairments. (Tr. 28).
found that plaintiff had the RFC to perform less than full
range of sedentary work with restrictions, namely: no
climbing activities; no work at unprotected heights or
dangerous machinery; no work overhead; limited to occasional
stooping or squatting; no crawling; cannot engage in frequent
reaching or ...