United States District Court, D. New Jersey
MCNULTY UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
plaintiff, Tyree Davis, brings this action pursuant to 42
U.S.C. §§ 405(g), 1383(c)(3) to review a final
decision of the Commissioner of Social Security
("Commissioner") denying his claims to Disability
Insurance Benefits ("DIB") and Supplemental
Security Income ("SSI") under Titles II and XVI of
the Social Security Act.
decision appealed from was largely favorable to Davis. The
Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") found that Davis
was disabled and awarded benefits starting from a disability
onset date of February 24, 2015. The ALJ found that Davis was
not disabled, however, prior to that date. It is from that
latter determination that Davis appeals.
reasons stated below, the decision of the Commissioner is
15, 2014, Mr. Davis applied for DIB and SSI, alleging a
variety of conditions, including post-traumatic stress
disorder (PTSD) resulting from his military service in Iraq.
He claimed an onset date of September 22, 2008. The claims
were denied initially and on rehearing. On June 29, 2017, the
ALJ held a video hearing, and heard testimony from the
claimant and from a vocational expert (VE). Davis was
represented by counsel at the hearing. (R. 13).
August 8, 2017, the ALJ issued a decision (R. 9-30), finding
that Davis was not under a disability prior to February 24,
2015, but became disabled on that date and has continued to
be disabled. The Appeals Council, which accepted additional
evidence, affirmed the decision of the ALJ, rendering it the
final decision of the Commissioner. (R. 1-8)
December 12, 2018, Mr. Davis filed this action, seeking to
overturn the unfavorable portion of the ALJ's decision.
Initially assigned to Chief Judge Linares, it was reassigned
to me upon Judge Linares's retirement. (DE 11)
qualify for DIB or SSI, a claimant must demonstrate that
there is some "medically determinable basis for an
impairment that prevents him or her from engaging in any
substantial gainful activity for a statutory twelve-month
period." Kangas v. Bowen, 823 F.2d 775, 777 (3d
Cir. 1987); 42 U.S.C. § 423 (d)(1) (1982). Additionally,
the claimant must show that she had disability insured status
at the time she became disabled or that she attained this
status at some point during her disability. 42 U.S.C.
§§ 4l6(i)(1), 423; 20 C.F.R. § 404.131.
The Five-Step Process and This Court's Standard of
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. This Court's
review necessarily incorporates a determination of whether
the ALJ properly followed the five-step process prescribed by
regulation. The steps may be briefly summarized as follows:
One: Determine whether the claimant has engaged in
substantial gainful activity since the onset date of the
alleged disability. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(b),
4l6.92O(b). If not, move to step two.
Two: 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, move to
Three: Determine whether the impairment meets or
equals the criteria of any impairment found in the Listing of
Impairments. 20 C.F.R. Pt. 404, subpt. P, app. 1, Pt. A.
(Those Part A criteria are purposely set at a high level to
identify clear cases of disability without further analysis).
If so, the claimant is automatically eligible to receive
benefits; if not, move to step four. Id. m
Four: Determine whether, despite any severe
impairment, the claimant retains the RFC to perform past
relevant work. Id. §§ 404.1520(e)-(f).
4l6.92O(e)-(f). If not, move to step five.
Five: At this point, the burden shifts to the
Commissioner to demonstrate that the claimant, considering
her age, education, work experience, and RFC, is capable of
performing jobs that exist in significant numbers in the
national economy. 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). If so, benefits will be
denied; if not, they will be awarded.
all legal issues, this Court conducts a plenary review.
See Schaudeck v. Comm'r of Soc Sec, 181 F.3d
429, 431 (3d Cir. 1999). As to factual findings, this Court
adheres to the ALJ's findings, as long as they are
supported by substantial evidence. Jones v.
Barnhart, 364 F.3d 501, 503 (3d Cir. 2004) (citing 42
U.S.C. § 405(g)). Where facts are disputed, this Court
will "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 such relevant evidence as a
reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a
conclusion." Zirnsak v. Colvin, 111 F.3d 607,
610 (3d Cir. 2014) (internal quotation marks and citation
omitted). Substantial evidence "is more than a mere
scintilla but may be somewhat less than a preponderance of
the evidence." Id. (internal quotation marks
and citation omitted).
there is substantial evidence to support the ALJ's
factual findings, this Court must abide by them. See
Jones, 364 F.3d at 503 (citing 42 U.S.C. § 405(g));
Zimsak, 111 F.3d at 610-11 f[W]e are mindful that we
must not substitute our own judgment for that of the fact
Court may, under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), affirm, modify, or
reverse the Commissioner's decision, or it may remand the
matter to the Commissioner for a rehearing. Bordes v.
Comm'r of Soc. Sec, 235 F.App'x 853, 865-66 (3d
Cir. 2007); Podedworny v. Harris, 745 F.2d 210, 221
(3d Cir. 1984).
is proper if the record is incomplete, or if there is a lack
of substantial evidence to support a definitive finding on
one or more steps of the five-step inquiry. See
Podedworny, 745 F.2d at 221-22. Remand is also proper if
the ALJ's decision lacks adequate reasoning or support
for its conclusions, or if it contains illogical or
contradictory findings. See Burnett v. Comm'r of Soc.
Sec, 220 F.3d 112, 119-20 (3d Cir. 2000}.