United States District Court, D. New Jersey, Camden Vicinage
RENÉE MARIE BUMB UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
matter comes before the Court upon an appeal by Plaintiff
John Knauss (the “Plaintiff”) of the final
determination of the Commissioner of Social Security (the
“Commissioner”) denying Plaintiff's
application for disability insurance benefits
(“DIB”) for the period beginning April 17, 2014.
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, 428 (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).
Court recites only the facts that are necessary to its
determination on appeal, which is limited to the
Administrative Law Judge's (“ALJ”)
consideration of Plaintiff's lumbar radiculopathy and the
weight afforded to the opinions of Dr. Pirone and Dr.
McLarnon, state-agency physicians, and Dr. Spergel, a
consulting psychologist/vocational expert, in the ALJ's
calculation of Plaintiff's Residual Functional Capacity
Brief Medical History
was born on January 31, 1961 and was 53 years old on the
alleged date of disability onset, April 17, 2014.
(Administrative Record “R.” 45, 179). Plaintiff
was involved in a motor vehicle accident in 2011, which he
testified ultimately led to his inability to work beginning
in 2014. (R. 41, 64). Plaintiff testified -- and the medical
evidence reflects to various extents -- that he suffers from
impairments to his spine as a result of his accident.
Plaintiff has suffered from herniation and stenosis at both
the cervical and lumbar levels, (Id. at 334-35,
409-14, 474-77), and cervical and lumbar radiculopathy,
(Id. at 444-64, 465-69, 520-23, 563), among other
impairments. Plaintiff attempted to combat these issues with
injection treatments, but ultimately chose (in accordance
with the recommendation of his treating physician) to undergo
an anterior cervical discectomy and fusion at ¶ 5-6 and
C6-7 in January 2015. (Id. at 535-48, 549-50,
552-68). A lumbar ...