United States District Court, D. New Jersey
WILLIAM J. MARTINI, U.S.D.J.
Tillman ("Claimant") seeks judicial review pursuant
to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) and Local Civil Rule 9.1 of a
final partially favorable decision by an administrative law
judge ("ALJ") of the Commissioner of the Social
Security Administration that found him to be disabled after
May 18, 2017, but not before. ECF No. ; R. at 11-24; R. at
25-41. In the Decision, the ALJ concluded that Claimant: (1)
was not disabled during the time period of November 28, 2013
through May 17, 2017; and (2) was deemed to be disabled as of
May 18, 2017 based upon the absence of his left eye and the
lack of visual acuity that had developed in his right eye. R.
at 16; see also R. at 20. Claimant now objects to
the ALJ's conclusions that he was not deemed to be
disabled prior to May 18, 2017. ECF No. .
Court has carefully considered the administrative record, as
well as the submissions that have been made in support of and
in opposition to the instant appeal. See ECF Nos.
, , . Claimant did not file a reply to the
Commissioner's brief. See ECF No.  at 2.
There was no oral argument. L. Civ. R. 78.1(b); L. Civ. R.
9.1. For the reasons set forth below, the Decision is
Court writes for the parties who are familiar with the facts
and the procedural history of the case. The Court therefore
specifically addresses in the discussion below only those
facts relevant to the issues raised on appeal.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
social security appeal from an ALJ's final decision, the
district court conducts 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). Thus, so long as there is substantial evidence to
support the Commissioner's findings, district courts must
affirm the decision, even if this Court "would have
decided the factual inquiry differently." Hartranft
v. Apfel, 181 F.3d 358 360 (3d Cir. 1999).
The Five-Step Sequential Analysis
II of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. § 423(a)(1)(D),
"provides for the payment of [disability insurance
benefits] to persons who have contributed to the program and
who suffer from a physical or mental disability."
Bowen v. Yuckert, 482 U.S. 137, 140 (1987). In order
to establish eligibility for benefits, a claimant has the
burden of demonstrating that he or she is unable "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
12 months." 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A); 20 C.F.R.
Social Security Administration uses a five-step sequential
evaluation to determine if a claimant is entitled to
benefits: (1) whether the claimant is currently engaged in
substantial gainful activity; (2) whether claimant has a
severe impairment; (3) whether this impairment meets or
equals a listed impairment; (4) whether the impairment
prevents claimant from performing her past-relevant work; and
(5) whether the claimant can perform any other work which
exists in the national economy, in light of her age,
education, work experience, and RFC. 20 C.F.R. §§
404.1520, 416.920(e)-(f), Part 404 Subpart P, Appendix 1.
Claimant bears the burden of proof for the first four steps,
and the burden shifts to the Commissioner as to step five. 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).
The ALJ's Findings
found that as of November 28, 2013, Claimant suffered from an
impairment of "low vision right eye (with left eye
enucleated)." R. at 17. However, the ALJ noted that
prior to May 18, 2017, Claimant "did not have an
impairment or combination of impairments that meets or
medically equals the severity of one of the listed
impairments in" the relevant regulations. R. at 18. The
ALJ stated that although Claimant testified he "had to
leave his last job because items were blurry and he had
difficulty seeing them," vision exams prior to May 18,
2017, including an exam in March 2015 by Dr. Prinze Mack, did
not demonstrate the required intensity, persistence, and
limiting effects of his symptoms prior to May 18, 2017 such
that Claimant was still at that time capable of performing
his past relevant work. The ALJ further determined that:
Beginning on May 18, 2017, the severity of [Claimant's]
impairment has met the criteria of [the ...