United States District Court, D. New Jersey
JAMES V. RAYMOND III, Plaintiff,
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.
WILLIAM J. MARTINI, District Judge.
Plaintiff James Raymond III brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), seeking review of a final determination by the Commissioner of Social Security (the "Commissioner") denying in part his application for a period of disability, Disability Insurance Benefits ("DIB") and Supplemental Security Income ("SSI") Benefits. For the reasons that follow, the Commissioner's decision is AFFIRMED.
I. LEGAL STANDARDS
A. The Five-Step Sequential Analysis
Under the authority of the Social Security Act, the Social Security Administration has established a five-step evaluation process for determining whether a claimant is entitled to benefits. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 416.920. In the first step, the Commissioner determines whether the claimant has engaged in substantial gainful activity since the onset date of the alleged disability. Id. §§ 404.1520(b), 416.920(b). If not, the Commissioner moves to step two to determine if the claimant's alleged impairment, or combination of impairments, is "severe." Id. §§ 404.1520(c), 416.920(c). If the claimant has a severe impairment, the Commissioner inquires in step three as to whether the impairment meets or equals the criteria of any impairment found in the Listing of Impairments. 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1, Part A. If so, the claimant is automatically eligible to receive benefits (and the analysis ends); if not, the Commissioner moves on to step four. Id. §§ 404.1520(d), 416.920(d). In the fourth step, the Commissioner decides whether, despite any severe impairment, the claimant retains the Residual Functional Capacity ("RFC") to perform past relevant work. Id. §§ 404.1520(e)-(f), 416.920(e)-(f). The claimant bears the burden of proof at each of these first four steps. At step five, the burden shifts to the Social Security Administration to demonstrate that the claimant is capable of performing other jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy in light of the claimant's age, education, work experience and RFC. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(g), 416.920(g); see Poulos v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 474 F.3d 88, 91-92 (3d Cir. 2007) (citations omitted).
B. Standard of Review
For the purpose of this appeal, the court conducts a plenary review of the legal issues. See Schaudeck v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec. Admin., 181 F.3d 429, 431 (3d Cir. 1999). The factual findings of the ALJ are reviewed "only to determine whether the administrative record contains substantial evidence supporting the findings." Sykes v. Apfel, 228 F.3d 259, 262 (3d Cir. 2000). Substantial evidence is "less than a preponderance of the evidence but more than a mere scintilla." Jones v. Barnhart, 364 F.3d 501, 503 (3d Cir. 2004) (citation omitted). "It means such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Id. When substantial evidence exists to support the ALJ's factual findings, this Court must abide by the ALJ's determinations. See id. (citing 42 U.S.C. § 405(g)).
On May 5, 2009, Plaintiff filed an application for disability, DIB, and SSI. Plaintiff alleged disability with an onset date of December 31, 2000, due to impairments involving multi-level disc disease, osteoarthritis of multiple joints, and the residual effects of multiple fractures and orthopedic injuries resulting from a construction accident. The SSI claim was granted on December 9, 2009, with disability established as of December 1, 2008. On November 25, 2009, the disability and DIB claim under Title II was initially denied, because disability could not be established on or prior to December 31, 2005, Plaintiffs' last date insured. Plaintiff's claim for disability and DIB was denied on reconsideration on September 3, 2010. On September 8, 2011, Plaintiff testified at a hearing before Administrative Law Judge Richard L. De Steno (the "ALJ"). On September 20, 2011, the ALJ issued a partially favorable decision finding Plaintiff disabled starting on February 21, 2006. Accordingly, the ALJ awarded SSI from that date. However, because Plaintiff's insured status expired on December 31, 2005, the ALJ denied Title II benefits. The ALJ recognized that Plaintiff had several severe impairments, but found that those impairments did not meet or equal the impairments found in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1, Part A. The ALJ also found that Plaintiff had the residual functional capacity ("RFC") to perform sedentary work. Finally, the ALJ determined that, prior to February 21, 2006, there were jobs in significant numbers in the national economy that Plaintiff could have performed.
On July 5, 2012, the Appeals Counsel denied Plaintiff's request for review. Plaintiff now brings the instant appeal, challenging the ALJ's determination that he was not disabled prior to February 21, 2006.
Plaintiff argues that the ALJ: (1) failed to properly assess Plaintiff's credibility; (2) incorrectly found that Plaintiff retained the RFC for sedentary work; and (3) incorrectly relied on the Medical-Vocational Guidelines ("Grids") at step five. Each of these issues will be addressed in turn.
A. The ALJ correctly assessed Plaintiff's credibility.
The ALJ found that Plaintiff's statements concerning the intensity, persistence, and limiting effects of his symptoms are not credible to the extent that they are inconsistent with an RFC for sedentary work. R. 26. Plaintiff argues that this credibility finding is not based upon substantial evidence. Pl.'s Br. 14. The Court disagrees. When assessing a plaintiff's credibility, the ALJ should consider the objective medical evidence, as well as seven additional factors. Social Security Ruling ("SSR") 96-7p, 1996 WL 374186, at *3. Those factors are (i) the extent of daily activities, (ii) the location, duration, frequency, and intensity of pain or other symptoms, (iii) precipitating and aggravating factors, (iv) the type, dosage, effectiveness, and side effects of any medication, (v) treatment other than medication for the symptoms, (vi) measures used to relieve pain or other symptoms, and (vii) other factors concerning functional limitations and restrictions due to pain or other symptoms. See id.; 20 C.F.R. §§ ...