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Coe v. Astrue

March 25, 2008


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Caputo



Plaintiff, Mark J. Coe, brought this 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) action on January 18, 2007, alleging that the Social Security Commissioner's denial of Plaintiff's claim for Disability Insurance Benefits ("DIB") and Supplemental Security Income ("SSI") benefits was not supported by substantial evidence. 42 U.S.C. §§ 401-433, 1381-1383(f). The matter before me is Magistrate Judge Thomas M. Blewitt's Report and Recommendation of February 14, 2008, recommending that the appeal be denied. (Report, Doc. 14.) Plaintiff enumerated two (2) objections in response to the Report and Recommendation. (Objections, Doc. 15.) As I find that the Administrative Law Judge's ("ALJ") determinations are supported by substantial evidence, I will deny Plaintiff's objections, and adopt Magistrate Judge Blewitt's Report and Recommendation denying the appeal.


I. Factual History

Plaintiff is Mark J. Coe, who was born on August 9, 1979, and was twenty-four (24) years old at the alleged disability onset date. (Tr. 40.) Under the Regulations, Plaintiff is classified as a "younger person." (Tr. 40); 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1563(c); 416.963(c). Plaintiff graduated high school, but was on learning support. (Tr. 172.) He had worked previously as a janitor, cook, and laborer. (Tr. 172.) He went to work for a few weeks at a time, but would get frustrated and quit. (Tr. 171-72.) Plaintiff is single and lives with his parents. (Tr. 172.)

Plaintiff testified that he cannot work because the medications that he is prescribed make him dizzy and drowsy. (Tr. 172.) He currently is prescribed Seroquel, Depakote, and Wellbutrin SR. (Tr. 173.) He is treated at Northern Tier Counseling every three (3) months by Dr. Michael Lavin. (Tr. 173.) He has been treated for bipolar disorder and impulse control disorder (Tr. 105) as well as complaints of depression. (Tr. 109.) His medical records also reflect a history of anger outbursts. (Tr. 136-60.)

II. Procedural History

On January 12, 2005, Plaintiff filed an application for DIB and SSI benefits pursuant to Titles II and XVI of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 401-433, 1381-1383f, alleging disability since February 28, 2004 due to bipolar disorder and an inability to control his temper. (Tr. 51-52.) Initially, the stage agency denied his claim. (Tr. 27-30.) Plaintiff filed a timely request for a hearing, which was held before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") on July 14, 2006. (Tr. 166-81.) At the hearing, Plaintiff and a Vocational Expert ("VE") testified. (Tr. 171-81.) The ALJ denied Plaintiff benefits pursuant to his decision on October 4, 2006. (Tr. 8-17.) Plaintiff requested appellate review of the ALJ's decision. (Tr. 6-7.) The Appeals Council denied his request on January 18, 2007, making the ALJ's decision the "final decision" of the Commissioner under 42 U.S.C. § 4059(g). See Rankin v. Heckler, 761 F.2d 936, 941 (3d Cir. 1985). That decision is the subject of this appeal.

On February 14, 2008, Magistrate Judge Blewitt recommended that Plaintiff's appeal be denied. (Doc. 14.) Plaintiff timely filed objections to the Report and Recommendation on March 3, 2008. (Doc. 15.) Defendant filed a response to Plaintiff's objections on March 17, 2008. (Doc. 16.) The matter has been fully briefed by both parties and is now ripe for disposition.


A. 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).

B. Review of Social Security Administration's Findings

The factual findings of the Social Security Administration must be deemed conclusive unless the reviewing court finds that they are not supported by substantial evidence. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g); Cotter v. Harris, 642 F.2d 700, 704 (3d Cir. 1981). Substantial evidence means "such relevant evidence as a reasoning mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Lewis v. Califano, 616 F.2d 73, 76 (3d Cir. 1980); 42 U.S.C. s 405(g)." Id. Substantial evidence is more than a mere scintilla of evidence but less than a preponderance. Brown v. Bowen, 845 F.2d 1211, 1213 (3d Cir. 1988). Substantial evidence has also been described as enough evidence to withstand a directed verdict motion where the disputed proposition is one of fact for the jury. See NLRB v. Columbian Enameling & Stamping Co., 306 U.S. 292, 300 (1939); Olsen v. Schweiker, 703 F.2d 751, 753 (3d Cir. 1983).

A single piece of evidence is not substantial evidence if the Commissioner ignores countervailing evidence or fails to resolve a conflict created by this evidence. Mason v. Shalala, 994 F.2d 1058, 1064 (3d Cir. 1993). However, in an adequately developed factual record, substantial evidence may be "something less than the weight of the evidence, and the possibility of drawing two inconsistent conclusions from the evidence does not prevent [the decision] from being supported by substantial evidence." Consolo v. Federal Maritime Comm'n, 383 U.S. 607, 620 (1966).

To facilitate review of the Commissioner's decision under the substantial evidence standard, the Commissioner's decision must be accompanied by "a clear and satisfactory explication of the basis on which it rests." Cotter, 642 F.2d at 704. Conflicts in the evidence must be resolved and the Commissioner must indicate which evidence was accepted, which evidence was rejected, and the reasons for rejecting that evidence. Id. at 706-07. In determining if the Commissioner's decision is supported by substantial evidence, the Court must scrutinize the record as a whole. Smith v. Califano, 637 F.2d 968, 970 (3d Cir. 1981).


I. Disability Benefits

In order to receive disability benefits, the Plaintiff must demonstrate 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. § 432(d)(1)(A). Section 432 further states that:

[a]n individual shall be determined to be under a disability only if his physical or mental impairment or impairments are 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, regardless of whether such work exists in the immediate area in which he lives, or whether a specific job vacancy exists for him, or whether he would be hired if he applied for work. For purposes of the preceding sentence (with respect to any individual), "work which exists ...

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