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Gott v. Berryhill

United States District Court, D. Delaware

September 3, 2019

JOSEPH V. GOTT, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

         Presently before the Court are Plaintiffs motion for summary judgment (D.I. 9) and Defendant's cross-motion for summary judgment (D.I. 11). I have reviewed the parties' briefing. (D.I. 10, 12, 14). For the following reasons, I will remand the case for further consideration consistent with this opinion.

         I. BACKGROUND

         This action arises from the denial of Plaintiff s claim for Disability Insurance Benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 401-434.[1] Plaintiff filed his benefits application on December 31, 2014. He alleged disability beginning December 31, 2012. His application was denied initially on March 19, 2015, and upon reconsideration on September 25, 2015. Plaintiff subsequently requested a hearing before an administrative law judge ("ALJ"). (Tr. at 13).

         The ALJ held a hearing on July 10, 2017. The ALJ heard testimony from Plaintiff and a vocational expert. Plaintiff also submitted written evidence that the ALJ admitted into the record. The ALJ issued a decision denying Plaintiffs request for Disability Insurance Benefits on August 17, 2017. (Id. at 13-22). The ALJ found that, through the date Plaintiff was last insured, he had the following severe impairments: degenerative disc disease of the lumbar spine and a left thumb injury. (Id. at 16). Upon consideration of the entire record, the ALJ determined,

[Plaintiff] had the residual functional capacity to perform light work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b) except he could occasionally climb ramps and stairs, but never ladders, ropes, or scaffolds. He could occasionally balance, stoop, kneel, crouch, and crawl. He could occasionally handle and finger with the non-dominant left upper extremity. He could have occasional exposure to extreme cold, vibration, and hazards.

(Id.). The vocational expert testified that, in view of Plaintiff s age, education, work experience, and residual functional capacity, Plaintiff could perform the requirements of certain jobs in the national economy. (Id. at 21). Based on the testimony of the vocational expert, the ALJ found that Plaintiff was not disabled. (Id.).

         The Appeals Council denied Plaintiffs request for review of the ALJ's decision. (Tr. at 1-6). Plaintiff filed this action on May 30, 2018.

         II. LEGAL STANDARD

         The 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. §404.1520).

         A 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).

         The 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. Id.

         III. ANALYSIS

         Plaintiff makes three arguments in support of his motion for summary judgment. First, the ALJ erred by posing a defective hypothetical question to the vocational expert. Second, the ALJ erred by determining that Plaintiff had a residual functional capacity for light work. Third, the ALJ erred in determining the severity of Plaintiff s impairments.

         A. Defective Hypothetical Question to the ...


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