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HIRSCHFELD v. APFEL

February 26, 2001

SHARON A. HIRSCHFELD PLAINTIFF,
V.
KENNETH S. APFEL, COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Kauffman, District Judge.

  MEMORANDUM & ORDER

Plaintiff, Sharon A. Hirschfeld ("Hirschfeld"), brought this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) and 1383(3)(3), seeking judicial review of the final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, Defendant Kenneth S. Apfel (the "Commissioner"), denying her claim for Disability Insurance Benefits ("DIB") under Title II of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. § 401-433. Both Hirschfeld and the Commissioner have filed motions for summary judgment. The Court designated Magistrate Judge Arnold C. Rapoport to submit proposed findings of fact and recommendations for the disposition of Hirschfeld's appeal. See 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B); Local Rule 72.1(d)(1)(C).

Magistrate Judge Rapoport recommended that the Court deny Hirschfeld's motion for summary judgment and grant the Commissioner's motion for summary judgment. Hirschfeld has objected to the Magistrate Judge's Report and Recommendation. The Court therefore must "make a de novo determination of those portions of the [Magistrate Judge's] report or specified proposed findings or recommendations to which objection is made." 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B). Having reviewed the Magistrate Judge's report and Hirschfeld's objections, the Court will approve and adopt the Report and Recommendation of the Magistrate Judge.

I. RELEVANT PROCEDURAL HISTORY

Hirschfeld filed an application for Disability Insurance Benefits on January 16, 1997, alleging that chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS), fibromyalgia, Raynaud's syndrome, degenerative spondylosis, hypotension, and gastrointestinal reflux disorder (GERD) had rendered her disabled since November 30, 1990. (R. at 18.) After her application was denied initially and upon reconsideration, (R. at 67, 72), Hirschfeld requested a hearing before an administrative law judge ("ALJ"), (R. at 75).

ALJ Jonathan L. Wesner held a hearing in this matter on March 4, 1998, during which he heard testimony from the claimant and from a Vocational Expert, and he reviewed the medical reports on file. (R. at 17.) Following the hearing, the ALJ found that Hirschfeld had a high school education and was a "younger individual" within the meaning of the Regulations. (R. at 22.)*fn1 The ALJ further found that Hirschfeld had a severe impairment due to chronic fatigue syndrome and mild degenerative spondylosis, but that she retained the residual functional capacity to perform a range of sedentary work. (R. at 18, 21.) Based on these findings, the ALJ concluded that Hirschfeld was not disabled as defined by the Social Security Act and therefore was not eligible for disability benefits. (R. at 17, 19.) The Appeals Council denied Hirschfeld's request for a review of the ALJ's Decision on November 30, 1999, thus rendering the ALJ's Decision the final decision of the Commissioner. (R. at 6.) On January 31, 2000, Hirschfeld filed this action seeking reversal of the final decision of the Commissioner.

II. STANDARDS OF REVIEW

A. The Commissioner's Decision

Judicial review of a social security case is based upon the pleadings and the transcript of the record. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). The scope of the Court's review of the Commissioner's decision 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. Berger v. Apfel, 200 F.3d 1157, 1161 (8th Cir. 2000); Schmidt v. Apfel, 201 F.3d 970, 972 (7th Cir. 2000); Crowley v. Apfel, 197 F.3d 194, 197 (5th Cir. 1999); Kelley v. Apfel, 185 F.3d 1211, 1213 (11th Cir. 1999); Shepherd v. Apfel, 184 F.3d 1196, 1199 (10th Cir. 1999); Tejada v. Apfel, 167 F.3d 770, 773 (2d Cir. 1999); Armstrong v. Commissioner of Soc. Sec. Admin., 160 F.3d 587, 589 (9th Cir. 1998); Walters v. Commissioner of Soc. Sec., 127 F.3d 525, 528 (6th Cir. 1997); Craig v. Chater, 76 F.3d 585, 589 (4th Cir. 1996); Jesurum v. Secretary of the United States Dep't of Health & Human Servs., 48 F.3d 114, 117 (3d Cir. 1995); see Schaudeck v. Commissioner 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) (citing Krysztoforski v. Chater, 55 F.3d 857, 858 (3d Cir. 1995)).

"The Court is bound by the ALJ's findings of fact if they are supported by substantial evidence in the record." Plummer v. Apfel, 186 F.3d 422, 427 (3d Cir. 1999). "Substantial evidence `does not mean a large or considerable amount of evidence, but rather such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.'" Hartranft v. Apfel, 181 F.3d 358, 360 (3d Cir. 1999) (quoting Pierce v. Underwood, 487 U.S. 552, 108 S.Ct. 2541, 101 L.Ed.2d 490 (1988)); see also Plummer, 186 F.3d at 427 (noting that "substantial evidence" has been defined as "more than a mere scintilla"). "The court cannot conduct de novo review of the Commissioner's decision or re-weigh the evidence of record." Palmer v. Apfel, 995 F. Supp. 549, 552 (E.D.Pa. 1998).

B. The Magistrate Judge's Report and Recommendation

The Court does review de novo, however, those portions of the Magistrate Judge's Report and Recommendation to which Hirschfeld has objected. See 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(C). Therefore, the Court "may accept, reject or modify, in whole or in part, the findings and recommendations made by the magistrate." Id. In considering Hirschfeld's objections to the Magistrate Judge's Report and Recommendation, the Court has independently reviewed the entire record, including the Report and Recommendation, the ALJ's written Decision, the transcript of the hearing, the hearing exhibits, and the summary judgment briefs.

III. SOCIAL SECURITY LAW

Title II of the Social Security Act (the "Act"), 49 Stat. 620, as amended, provides for the payment of insurance benefits to persons who have contributed to the program and who suffer from a disability. 42 U.S.C. § 423(a)(1)(D). "Disability" is defined as an "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 12 months." 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A); see also 20 C.F.R. § 404.1505(a). The Act further provides that:


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