United States District Court, D. New Jersey, Camden Vicinage
FAITHE L. KIRBY, Plaintiff,
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.
RENÉE MARIE BUMB UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
matter comes before the Court upon an appeal by Plaintiff
Faithe L. Kirby (the “Plaintiff”) of the final
determination of the Commissioner of Social Security (the
“Commissioner”) denying Plaintiff's
application for social security benefits for the period
between October 24, 2010 and January 21, 2015. (Pl.'s Br.
1). For the reasons set forth below, the Court vacates the
decision of the Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”)
and remands for proceedings consistent with this Opinion.
Social Security Act defines “disability” as the
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 twelve months.” 42 U.S.C.
§ 1382c(a)(3)(A). The Act further states that:
[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.
42 U.S.C. § 1382c(a)(3)(B).
Commissioner has promulgated a five-step, sequential analysis
for evaluating a claimant's disability, as outlined in 20
C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4)(i)-(v). In Plummer v.
Apfel, 186 F.3d 422 (3d Cir. 1999) the Third Circuit
described the Commissioner's inquiry at each step of this
analysis, as follows:
In step one, the Commissioner must determine whether the
claimant is currently engaging in substantial gainful
activity. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a). If a claimant is
found to be engaged in substantial activity, the disability
claim will be denied. Bowen v. Yuckert, 482 U.S.
137, 140 (1987).
In step two, the Commissioner must determine whether the
claimant is suffering from a severe impairment. 20 C.F.R.
§ 404.1520(c). If the claimant fails to show that his
impairments are “severe, ” he is ineligible for
In step three, the Commissioner compares the medical evidence
of the claimant's impairment to a list of impairments
presumed severe enough to preclude any gainful work. 20
C.F.R. § 404.1520(d). If a claimant does not suffer from
a listed impairment or its equivalent, the analysis proceeds
to steps four and five.
Step four requires the ALJ to consider whether the claimant
retains the residual functional capacity to perform his past
relevant work. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(d). The claimant
bears the burden of demonstrating an inability to return to
his past relevant work. Adorno v. Shalala, 40 F.3d
43, 46 (3d Cir. 1994). If the claimant is unable to resume
his former occupation, the evaluation moves to the final
At this [fifth] stage, the burden of production shifts to the
Commissioner, who must demonstrate the claimant is capable of
performing other available work in order to deny a claim of
disability. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(f). The ALJ must show
there are other jobs existing in significant numbers in the
national economy which the claimant can perform, consistent
with his medical impairments, age, education, past work
experience, and residual functional capacity. The ALJ must
analyze the cumulative effect of all the claimant's
impairments in determining whether he is capable of
performing work and is not disabled. See 20 C.F.R. §
404.1523. The ALJ will often seek the assistance of a
vocational expert at this fifth step. See Podedworny v.
Harris, 745 F.2d 210, 218 (3d Cir. 1984).
Plummer, 186 F.3d at 428.
Court recites only the facts that are necessary to its
determination on appeal, which is narrow.
applied for social security benefits on March 27, 2012,
alleging that as of April 1, 2010, she was disabled due to
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (“PTSD”),
generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, shoulder joint
degeneration, arthritis, acid reflux disease, and asthma.
(Administrative Record “A.R.” 216-19, 251).
Plaintiff's claim was denied on August 28, 2012.
(Id. at 141-45). On August 29, 2012, Plaintiff
amended the alleged onset date of her disability to March 15,
2008. (Id. at 229). Reconsideration was denied on
January 12, 2013. (Id. at 159-64). On March 13,
2013, Plaintiff requested a hearing, (A.R. 165-69), and on
June 5, 2014, a hearing was held before the Honorable
Marguerite Toland (the “ALJ”). (Id. at
41-88). Plaintiff, who was represented by counsel, testified
at the hearing. Marian Morocco, a vocational expert, also
testified at the hearing. At the time of the hearing,
Plaintiff again amended the alleged onset date to October 24,
2010. (Id. at 20, 44). On January 21, 2015, the ALJ
issued a decision finding that Plaintiff was not disabled.
(Id. at 20-34). The Appeals Council denied
Plaintiff's request for review on June 22, 2016, (A.R. 1-
6), at which time the ALJ's decision became the final
determination of the Commissioner.
Brief Factual Background
was born on June 6, 1972, and was 40 years old on the alleged
disability onset date. (Id. at 98). Her husband of
twelve years, with whom Plaintiff had a volatile and abusive
relationship, died on March 24, 2010 after battling drug and
alcohol addiction. (Id. at 56-60). At some point
during their relationship, Plaintiff also began abusing
drugs, and she suffered with addiction issues for a time.
(Id. at 56). Plaintiff has not worked since the date
of her husband's death.
suffers from a number of impairments, both physical and
mental, as is exemplified by her extensive record of
emergency room trips and visits to her primary care
physician, Dr. Gross. (Id. at 373-76, 307, 313-14,
378-84, 400, 504-05, 525-75). During the period between 2010
and 2013, Plaintiff sought treatment for, among other things:
multiple left shoulder injuries, multiple apparent suicide
attempts, generalized anxiety disorder, asthma, migraines,
PTSD, depression, insomnia, and panic attacks. (Id.)
She testified that beyond her mental inflictions, she suffers
from neck, back, shoulder, and hip pain. (Id. at
66). She takes medication to help alleviate that pain. (A.R.
to her Adult Function Report, (Id. at 262-69),
Plaintiff is now limited in her ability to “lift,
function around others, dress, and bathe.”
(Id. at 263). She cannot sleep because “pain
and insomnia keep [her] awake.” (Id.) She can,
however, still cook a full dinner every day, do some
household chores, and shop for groceries. (Id. at
264-65). Plaintiff has not driven since her husband's
death, and she can no longer ride horses, which was a hobby
of hers prior to the alleged disability onset date.
(Id. at 265-66). She also cannot lift more than
twenty pounds or walk for more than 15 minutes without a ten
minute break. (Id. at 267).
Testimony of ...