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Williams v. Astrue

January 10, 2008


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Caputo



Presently before the Court are Magistrate Judge Thomas M. Blewitt's Report and Recommendation (Doc. 9) and Plaintiff Denise Williams' Objections to the Magistrate Judge's Report and Recommendation (Doc. 10). The Magistrate Judge recommended that the Court deny Plaintiff's appeal of the Commissioner of Social Security (Commissioner)'s decision that denied her claim for disability insurance benefits (DIB) and supplemental security income (SSI). For the reasons set forth below, the Court will adopt the Magistrate Judge's Report and Recommendation and overrule Plaintiff's Objections. Accordingly, Plaintiff's appeal will be denied.


Plaintiff Denise Williams applied for DIB and SSI on Septemer 26, 2002, alleging that she has been disabled since May 2, 2002, with a neck injury, left shoulder injury, pain in her arms and right hand, fatigue, and phlebitis. (Report and Recommendation, Doc. 9, at 1.) Plaintiff was born May 1, 1952, has an eleventh grade education and past work experience as a cashier and packager. (Id. at 5.) Plaintiff testified at the ALJ hearing that she suffers from diabetes, bilateral carpal tunnel syndrome, a urinary problem, and pain and discomfort that leave her unable to sleep through the night, sit or stand for more than fifteen (15) or twenty (20) minutes at a time, or walk for more than approximately ten (10) minutes at a time. (Id. at 6-7.)

After an initial denial, a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ), and a supplemental ALJ hearing on remand from the Appeals Council, Plaintiff's application for benefits was denied on April 18, 2006, and that decision became the final decision of the Commissioner. (Id. at 1-2.) Plaintiff sought judicial review of the ALJ's denial before Magistrate Judge Blewitt, who recommended Plaintiff's appeal be denied. (Id. at 25.) Plaintiff filed objections to Magistrate Judge Blewitt's recommendation, which are now fully briefed and ripe for disposition.


I. Review of Magistrate Judge's Report and Recommendation

Where objections to the magistrate judge's report are filed, the Court must conduct a de novo review of the contested portions of the report, Sample v. Diecks, 885 F.2d 1099, 1106 n.3 (3d Cir. 1989) (citing 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(C)), provided the objections are both timely and specific, Goney v. Clark, 749 F.2d 5, 6-7 (3d Cir. 1984). In making its de novo review, the Court may accept, reject, or modify, in whole or in part, the factual findings or legal conclusions of the magistrate judge. See 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1); Owens v. Beard, 829 F. Supp. 736, 738 (M.D. Pa. 1993). Although the review is de novo, the statute permits the Court to rely on the recommendations of the magistrate judge to the extent it deems proper. See United States v. Raddatz, 447 U.S. 667, 675-76 (1980); Goney, 749 F.2d at 7; Ball v. United States Parole Comm'n, 849 F. Supp. 328, 330 (M.D. Pa. 1994). Uncontested portions of the report may be reviewed at a standard determined by the district court. See Thomas v. Arn, 474 U.S. 140, 154 (1985); Goney, 749 F.2d at 7. At the very least, the Court should review uncontested portions for clear error or manifest injustice. See, e.g., Cruz v. Chater, 990 F. Supp. 375, 376-77 (M.D. Pa. 1998).

II. Review of Commissioner's Findings

The Commissioner's factual findings must be deemed conclusive unless the reviewing court finds they are not supported by substantial evidence. Cotter v. Harris, 642 F.2d 700, 704 (3d Cir. 1981). Substantial evidence is "more than a mere scintilla." Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971) (quoting Consol. Edison Co. v. N.L.R.B., 305 U.S. 197, 229 (1938)). Substantial evidence is less than a large or considerable amount of evidence; it only requires enough relevant evidence that a reasonable mind might accept it as adequate to support a conclusion. Hartranft v. Apfel, 181 F.3d 358, 360 (3d Cir. 1999). Evidence is not substantial if it is overwhelmed by other evidence. Kent v. Schweiker, 710 F.2d 110, 114 (3d Cir. 1983).

III. Eligibility for Disability Benefits

To determine whether an individual is disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act, and thus eligible for disability benefits, the Commissioner employs a five-step analysis. First, the Commissioner must determine (1) whether the applicant is engaged in substantial gainful activity; (2) whether the applicant has a severe physical or mental impairment; and (3) whether the applicant's impairment meets or equals an impairment listed in Appendix 1, Subpart P, Regulations No. 4. If so, Plaintiff is considered disabled. If not, then (4) the Plaintiff must establish that she is unable, with her residual functional capacity, to perform her past relevant work. (5) If Plaintiff does so, the burden shifts to the Commissioner to demonstrate that other jobs exist in ...

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