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Rodkey v. Berryhill

United States District Court, D. Delaware

April 23, 2019

JAMES W. RODKEY, Plaintiff
NANCY BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant



         The 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. 11, Doc. 13). For the reasons set forth below, defendant's motion will be granted and plaintiff's motion will be denied.

         I. BACKGROUND[1]

         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 Act through December 31, 2014. (Tr. 14).[2] In order to establish entitlement to DIB, the 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).

         The plaintiff was born on July 7, 1961, (Tr. 37), and was fifty-three (53) years old, a person “closely approaching advanced age, ” 20 C.F.R. §404.1563(c), (d), on his date last insured. (Tr. 70). The plaintiff has obtained a GED, and his past relevant work was as a carpenter, construction worker and HVAC installer. (Tr. 41, 198, 211).

         The plaintiff protectively filed a claim for DIB on July 17, 2013, alleging disability commencing on December 10, 2010. (Tr.). The agency denied the plaintiff's application initially on September 18, 2013, and upon reconsideration on February 26, 2014. (Tr. 84, 101). The plaintiff requested a hearing before an ALJ, which was held on October 21, 2015. (Tr. 33-69).

         The plaintiff testified at the hearing before the ALJ. (Tr. 37-56). Also testifying at the hearing was Jennifer Guediri, a vocational expert (“VE”). Considering the medical evidence of record, as well as the plaintiff's testimony, the ALJ posed a hypothetical question to the VE considering an individual with the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform light work except the plaintiff requires a sit/stand option defined as having the ability to stand and stretch in place following thirty (30) minutes of sitting, or having the ability to sit after thirty (30) minutes of standing; the plaintiff can no more than frequently push and pull with the lower left extremity, can never climb ladders, ropes, and scaffolds and can never crawl; the plaintiff can occasionally stoop, kneel, balance, crouch, and climb ramps and stairs; the plaintiff is limited to not more than frequent reaching in all directions with his right shoulder, and no more than occasional pushing and pulling with his bilateral upper extremities; the plaintiff is to have no more than occasional exposure to vibrations and hazards such as unprotected heights and moving machinery. Based on this hypothetical, the VE testified that such a person would be able to perform work as a gate guard, usher and counter clerk. (Tr. 25, 57-67).

         The ALJ issued a decision on December 31, 2015, finding that plaintiff was not disabled within the meaning of the Act. (14-26). The plaintiff filed a request for review, which was denied by the Appeals Council, making the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner. (Tr. 1-3). Since plaintiff exhausted his administrative remedies, he initiated the present action on June 19, 2017, appealing the final decision of the Commissioner. (Doc. 1).

         The plaintiff appeals the ALJ's determination arguing that the ALJ did not give legally sufficient good reasons to reject his treating physician's assessment of his work related limitations. As relief, the plaintiff seeks to have the court reverse the Commissioner's decision and remand his case to the Commissioner for further proceedings.


         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 ...

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