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Garrett v. Berryhill

United States District Court, D. Delaware

February 8, 2018

DAVID J. GARRETT, SR., Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY BERRYHILL[1], Acting Commissioner of Social Security Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM

          MALACHY E. MANNION UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         The 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.

         I. BACKGROUND[2]

         Disability 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. 25).[3] 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. 1990).

         Plaintiff 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.

         Plaintiff 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).

         The ALJ 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 for review.

         On 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).

         Plaintiff 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.

         As 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.

         II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         When 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 (1971).

         To 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. §432(d)(1)(A). Furthermore,

[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).

         In the 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 Cir.1988).

         III. DISABILITY EVALUATION PROCESS

         The 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. §423(d)(2)(A)).

         A 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. §404.1520.

         Here, 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).

         The ALJ 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).

         The ALJ 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 ...


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