United States District Court, D. Delaware
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 the plaintiff's
application for Social Security Disability Insurance Benefits
(“DIB”) under Title II of the Social Security Act
(“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. 7, Doc. 9). For the reasons set
forth below, the plaintiff's motion will be granted, the
defendant's motion will be denied, and the instant action
will be remanded to the Commissioner for further proceedings
in accordance with this 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 September 30, 2014. (Tr.
In order to establish entitlement to DIB, the plaintiff was
required to establish that she 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 November 24, 1948, (Tr. 33), and was an
individual “closely approaching retirement
age”/ when the Administrative Law Judge
(“ALJ”) rendered his decision in this case. The
plaintiff attended college and has past relevant work as a
central processing technician and an operating room
technician. (Tr. 160, 174). The plaintiff stopped working on
September 12, 2012, when she alleges she became disabled and
unable to work due to back pain, stroke, memory loss,
dizziness and balance issues, high blood pressure and heart
murmur. (Tr. 159-60).
plaintiff filed a claim for DIB on November 27, 2012,
alleging disability commencing on September 12, 2012, due to
the foregoing conditions. She was sixty-four (64) years old
at the time. (Tr. 19-20, 35, 135-36, 159). The agency denied
the plaintiff's application initially on April 19, 2013,
and upon reconsideration on October 25, 2013. (Tr. 46-75,
79-92). The plaintiff then requested a hearing before an ALJ,
which was held on August 25, 2015. (Tr. 29-45).
issued a decision on September 16, 2015, in which he found
that the plaintiff was not disabled within the meaning of the
Act. (Tr. 17-24). The plaintiff filed a request for review,
and on March 3, 2017, the Appeals Council denied the
plaintiff's request, making the ALJ's decision the
final decision of the Commissioner. (Tr. 1-5). Since the
plaintiff exhausted her administrative remedies, she
initiated the present action on May 1, 2017, appealing the
final decision of the Commissioner. (Doc. 1).
plaintiff raises three grounds in support of her appeal of
the ALJ's determination: (1) the ALJ committed errors of
law and fact when he found she has no severe mental
impairments and included no mental limitations in her RFC,
when the record evidence demonstrates the opposite and the
ALJ purportedly relied on such evidence; (2) the ALJ violated
Third Circuit law and Agency regulation when he failed to
account for mental limitations in the residual functional
capacity, (“RFC”), assessment that he had earlier
assessed the plaintiff within his decision and which are
supported by the evidence of record to which he gave weight;
and (3) the ALJ erred when he gave great weight to the state
agency physician opinions, but arbitrarily included only some
of their opined hazard limitations in the RFC, limitations
that would preclude the performance of past work according to
the vocational expert (“VE”). As relief, the
plaintiff seeks to have this court remand her 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 [her] physical or mental impairment or impairments
are of such severity that [s]he is not only unable to do
[her] previous work but cannot, considering [her] 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 [s]he lives, or whether a specific
job vacancy exists for [her], or whether [s]he would be hired
if [s]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
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