United States District Court, D. New Jersey
GARDNER GARDNER, ESQUIRE On behalf of Plaintiff
TIMOTHY PATRICK REILEY SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION REGION
III, On behalf of Defendant
B. FITZSIMMONS, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
Michael Francis Suarez brings this action pursuant to Section
205(g) of the Social Security Act, as amended, 42 U.S.C.
§405(g), seeking review of a final decision of the
Acting Commissioner of Social Security who denied his
application for Disability Insurance Benefits
(“DIB”) under Title II of the Social Security
Act, 42 U.S.C. §401 et seq. (“the Act”).
Plaintiff has moved for an award of disability benefits or,
in the alternative, to reverse the case and remand for a
rehearing. The Commissioner has moved to affirm.
reasons that follow, the Commissioner's decision is
December 10, 2012, plaintiff, Michael Francis Suarez,
protectively filed an application for DIB, with an alleged
onset date of disability of March 1, 2012. [Certified
Transcript of the Record, Compiled on July 21, 2016, Doc. #9
(hereinafter “Tr.”) 83]. Plaintiff alleged
disability due to “spinal injury-cracked vertebraes-2
herniated discs; depression; nerve damage-extends through
legs to feet; and feet feel like [they are] on fire.”
[Tr. 136, 146]. His DIB claim was denied initially on April
30, 2013, and upon reconsideration on July 15, 2013. [Tr.
136-44, 146-55]. Plaintiff timely requested a hearing before
an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) on July 24,
2013. [Tr. 83].
February 27, 2015, Administrative Law Judge
(“ALJ”) Marguerite Toland held a hearing, at
which plaintiff appeared with an attorney and testified. [Tr.
103-35]. Vocational Expert (“VE”) Mary Ann R.
Maraca testified at the hearing. [Tr. 130-34]. On May 29,
2015, the ALJ found that plaintiff was not disabled, and
denied his claim. [Tr. 83-99]. Plaintiff filed a timely
request for review of the hearing decision on June 29, 2015.
[Tr. 78]. On May 17, 2016, the Appeals Council denied review,
thereby rendering ALJ Toland's decision the final
decision of the Commissioner. [Tr. 1-4]. The case is now ripe
for review under 42 U.S.C. §405(g).
represented by counsel, timely filed this action for review
and moves to reverse and/or remand the Commissioner's
STANDARD OF REVIEW
standard of review for this Court is whether the ALJ's
decision is based on substantial evidence in the record as a
whole. 42 U.S.C. §405(g). Substantial evidence is
evidence that a reasonable mind would accept as adequate to
support a conclusion; it is more than a “mere
scintilla.” Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S.
389, 401 (1971) (quoting Consolidated Edison Co. v.
NLRB, 305 U.S. 197, 229 (1938)). “Overall, the
substantial evidence standard is a deferential standard of
review.” Jones v. Barnhart, 364 F.3d 501, 503
(3d Cir. 2004); see Woody v. Sec'y of Health &
Human Servs., 859 F.2d 1156, 1159 (3d Cir. 1988).
reviewing court “must consider the (1) objective
medical facts; (2) diagnoses and medical opinions of
examining physicians; (3) subjective evidence of pain and
disability as described by plaintiff and corroborated by
others who have observed him; and (4) plaintiff's age,
educational background and work history.” Curtin v.
Harris, 508 F.Supp. 791, 793 (D.N.J. 1981). It
“need[s] from the ALJ not only an expression of the
evidence s/he considered which supports the result, but also
some indication of the evidence which was rejected.”
Cotter v. Harris, 642 F.2d 700, 705-06 (3d Cir.
1981); see Burnett v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec.
Admin., 220 F.3d 112, 121 (3d Cir. 2000)(“Although
the ALJ may weigh the credibility of the evidence, he must
give some indication of the evidence which he rejects and his
reason(s) for discounting such evidence.”)(citing
Plummer v. Apfel, 186 F.3d 422, 429 (3d. Cir.
1999)). “In the absence of such an indication the
reviewing court cannot tell if significant probative evidence
was not credited or simply ignored.” Id.
important to note that in reviewing the ALJ's decision,
this Court's role is not to start from scratch. The scope
of review is limited to determining whether the Commissioner
applied the correct legal standards and whether the record,
as a whole, contains substantial evidence to support the
Commissioner's findings of fact. See Schaudeck v.
Comm'r of Soc. Sec. Admin., 181 F.3d 429,
431 (3d Cir. 1999) (noting that the circuit court has plenary
review of all legal issues, and reviews the administrative
law judge's findings of fact to determine whether they
are supported by substantial evidence); Plummer, 186
F.3d at 427. “[W]hether there is substantial evidence
supporting the appellant's view is not the question here;
rather, we must decide whether substantial evidence supports
the ALJ's decision.” Bonet ex rel. T.B. v.
Colvin, 523 Fed.Appx. 58, 59 (2d Cir. 2013)(citations
omitted); Hartranft v. Apfel, 181 F.3d 358, 360 (3d
Cir. 1999)(“We will not set the Commissioner's
decision aside if it is supported by substantial evidence,
even if we would have decided the factual inquiry
SSA LEGAL STANDARD
the Social Security Act, every individual who is under a
disability is entitled to disability insurance benefits.
considered disabled under the Act and therefore entitled to
benefits, Mr. Suarez must demonstrate that he is unable to
work after a date specified “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 12
months.” 42 U.S.C. §423(d)(1)(A). Such impairment
or impairments must be “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.” 42 U.S.C. §423(d)(2)(A); see
also 20 C.F.R. §404.1520(c) (requiring that the
impairment “significantly limits your physical or
mental ability to do basic work activities” to be
is a familiar five-step analysis used to determine if person
is disabled. See 20 C.F.R. §404.1520(a)(4); 20 C.F.R.
§ 416.920(a)(4). Under this process, the ALJ must
sequentially determine: (1) whether the claimant is engaged
in substantial gainful activity; (2) whether the claimant has
a severe impairment; (3) whether the claimant's
impairment meets or equals a listed impairment; (4) whether
the claimant is able to do his or her past relevant work; and
(5) whether the claimant is able to do any other work,
considering his or her age, education, work experience and
residual functional capacity (“RFC”). 20 C.F.R.
§404.1520(a)(4)(i-v);20 C.F.R. §416.920(a)(4)(i-v).
steps three and four, the ALJ must also assess a
claimant's RFC. RFC is defined as “that which an
individual is still able to do despite the limitations caused
by his or her impairment(s).” Burnett v. Comm'r
of Soc. Sec., 220 F.3d 112, 121 (3d Cir. 2000)
(citations omitted); 20 C.F.R. §404.1545 (a)(1)
(“Your residual functional capacity is the most you can
still do despite your limitations. We will assess your
residual functional capacity based on all the relevant
evidence in your case record.”); see also 20 C.F.R.
§416.945 (a)(1). In making this assessment, the ALJ
considers all of the claimant's medically determinable
impairments, including any non-severe impairments identified
by the ALJ at step two of his or her analysis. 20 C.F.R.
disability determination involves shifting burdens of proof.
The claimant bears the burden of proof at steps one through
four. If the claimant satisfies this burden, then the
Commissioner must show at step five that jobs exist in the
national economy that the claimant can perform. Mason v.
Shalala, 994 F.2d 1058, 1064 (3d Cir. 1993). The
ultimate burden of proving disability under the Act lies with
the claimant. See 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(5)(A); 20 C.F.R.
THE ALJ'S DECISION
the above-described five step evaluation process, ALJ Toland
concluded that plaintiff was not disabled under the Social
Security Act. [Tr. 83-95]. At step one, the ALJ found that
plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity
from his alleged onset date of March 1, 2012. [Tr. 85].
two, the ALJ found that plaintiff had lumbrosacral
spondylosis without myelopathy, degenerative disc disease of
the lumbar spine, mild left peroneal neuropathy of the
fibular head, lumbar radiculopathy, and mild diffuse coronary
disease affecting the right coronary artery with mild to
moderate ventricular hypertrophy, all severe impairments
under the Act and regulations. Id.
three, the ALJ found that plaintiff's impairments, either
alone or in combination, did not meet or medically equal the
severity of one of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R. Pt.
404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. [Tr. 87]. The ALJ specifically
considered Listings 1.04 (disorders of the spine), 4.04C
(coronary artery disease), and 11.14 (peripheral
moving on to step four, the ALJ found plaintiff had the RFC
to perform light work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b),
except he can stand/walk up to six hours per day but no more
than one hour at a time and then would need to sit/shift
positions for five minutes per hour while remaining on task.
He can occasionally stoop, and he can occasionally climb
ramps and stairs. He cannot climb ropes, ladders or
scaffolds. He must avoid concentrated exposure to dust,