United States District Court, D. Delaware
before me are Plaintiff Adrienne Todd's Motion for
Summary Judgment (D.I. 18) and Defendant's Cross-Motion
for Summary Judgment (D.I. 21). The Parties have fully
briefed the issues. (D.I. 19, 22, 23). For the reasons set
out below, I will remand Ms. Todd's case for further
consideration consistent with this opinion.
action arises from the denial of Ms. Todd's claim for
Disability Insurance Benefits under Title II of the Social
Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 401-434. Ms. Todd filed
her benefits application on April 19, 2013. (Tr. at 15). She
alleged disability beginning August 18, 2012 due to anxiety,
status-post left rotator cuff repair, status-post spinal
fusion, and status-post torn meniscus. (Tr. at 15, 232). Her
application was denied at the initial and reconsideration
levels. (Tr. at 143-54). Ms. Todd requested and received a
hearing before an administrative law judge ("ALJ").
(Tr. at 156-57).
held an administrative hearing on July 12, 2016. (Tr. at
41-81). Ms. Todd and a vocational expert testified.
(Id.). The ALJ issued a decision denying Ms.
Todd's request for Disability Insurance Benefits on
January 11, 2017. (Tr. at 12-31). The ALJ found that, through
the date Ms. Todd was last insured, she had many severe
knee disorder, carpal tunnel syndrome, status post left
shoulder arthroscopy, status post cervical fusion, chronic
headaches, diffuse chronic pain, back disorder, phlebitis and
thrombophlebitis, status post revision of gastrojejunal
anastomosis, status post gastric bypass, history of lupus,
fibromyalgia, rheumatoid arthritis, neuropathy, left ulnar
neuropathy, obesity, anxiety, major depressive disorder, and
(Tr. at 17). Considering these impairments, the ALJ made a
residual functional capacity ("RFC") finding that
stipulated: sedentary work, unskilled work, no exposure to
more than moderate noise intensity, no more than occasional
postural activity, no kneeling, no crawling, no climbing, no
overhead reaching, no more than occasional use of ramps and
stairs, no work at exposed heights, no more than occasional
work around moving machinery, no pushing or pulling with
lower extremities, no more than frequent fingering, and no
more than occasional exposure to atmospheric irritants. (Tr.
at 21). Based on the vocational expert's testimony that,
despite these limitations, work existed in the national
economy for Ms. Todd, the ALJ found Ms. Todd was not
disabled. (Tr. at 30).
Todd requested review by the Appeals Council and was denied.
(Tr. at 1-6). She filed this action on March 16, 2018. (D.I.
Commissioner must follow a five-step sequential analysis when
determining if an individual is disabled. 20 C.F.R. §
404.1520. The Commissioner must determine whether the
applicant: (1) is engaged in substantial gainful activity;
(2) has a "severe" medical impairment; (3) suffers
from an impairment that is listed in the regulation's
appendix; (4) can still perform past relevant work; and (5)
can perform any other work existing in significant numbers in
the national economy. McCrea v. Comm 'r of Soc.
Sec, 370 F.3d 357, 360 (3d Cir. 2004) (citing 20 C.F.R.
reviewing court is limited to determining whether the
Commissioner's factual findings are supported by
"substantial evidence." 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).
"Substantial evidence" is "such relevant
evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to
support a conclusion." Pierce v. Underwood, 487
U.S. 552, 564-65 (1988). In reviewing whether substantial
evidence supports the Commissioner's findings, the court
may not "re-weigh the evidence or impose [its] own
factual determinations." Chandler v. Comm 'r of
Soc. Sec, 667 F.3d 356, 359 (3d Cir. 2011). The
reviewing court must defer to the ALJ and affirm the
Commissioner's decision, even if it would have decided
the factual inquiry differently, so long as substantial
evidence supports the decision. Hartranft v. Apfel,
181 F.3d 358, 360 (3d Cir. 1999).
reviewing court must also review the ALJ's decision to
determine whether the correct legal standards were applied.
Sykes v. Apfel, 228 F.3d 259, 262 (3d Cir. 2000).
The court's review of legal issues is plenary.
Todd only challenges the ALJ's step five analysis.
Specifically, she challenges whether the ALJ considered her
ability to sustain work and whether the ALJ's RFC finding
adequately accounted for all of her impairments.
Todd argues that the ALJ failed to consider whether she is
able to sustain work prior to finding that she was not
disabled. Disability is defined as the "inability to
engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any
medically determinable physical or mental impairment which .
. . has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous
period of not less than 12 months." 42 U.S.C. §
423(d)(1)(A). As part of the disability analysis, an ALJ is
required to consider whether a claimant is able "to do
sustained work activities in an ordinary work setting on a
regular and continuing basis." SSR 96-8P at *2 (S.S.A.
July 2, 1996). A "regular and continuing basis" is
"8 hours a day, for 5 days a week, or an equivalent work
schedule." Id. Thus, in addition to physical
and mental limitations, the ALJ must consider the frequency
of a claimant's impairment-related hospitalizations and
medical appointments when determining whether the claimant is
disabled. See Kangas v. Bowen,823 F.2d 775, 778 (3d
Cir. 1987) (holding that the ALJ should have considered the
claimant's six hospitalizations in a sixteen-month period
when formulating an RFC finding); Ashe v. Berryhill,