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Best v. Commissioner of Social Security

June 13, 2008

JENNIFER BEST, PLAINTIFF,
v.
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY DEFENDANT.



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

OPINION and ORDER OF COURT SYNOPSIS

Pending before the Court are Cross-Motions for Summary Judgment. (Docket Nos. 8 and 12). Both parties have filed Briefs in Support of their Motions. (Docket Nos. 9 and 13). Plaintiff has filed a reply brief. (Docket No. 14). After careful consideration of the submissions of the parties, and for the reasons discussed below, Defendant's Motion (Docket No. 12) is granted and Plaintiff's Motion (Docket No. 8) is denied.

I. BACKGROUND

Plaintiff has brought this action under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), for review of the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner") denying her application for Disability Insurance Benefits ("DIB") under Title II of the Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 401-433.

On April 30, 2004, Plaintiff protectively filed the instant application for DIB alleging disability since October 1, 2003, due to severe allergy attacks and bone aches. (R. 45-47, 75). The state agency denied Plaintiff's claim. (R. 29-34). Plaintiff requested a hearing. (R. 35-36). Administrative Law Judge W illiam E. Kenworthy ("ALJ") held a hearing on March 16, 2006, at which time Plaintiff, who was represented by counsel, and a vocational expert testified. (R. 313-339). On July 11, 2006, the ALJ denied Plaintiff's claim for benefits finding that the Plaintiff is not disabled under the Act. (R. 15-22). The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review. (R. 5-8). After thus exhausting her administrative remedies, Plaintiff filed the instant action.

The parties have filed cross-motions for summary judgment. The Plaintiff raises two main issues on appeal. First, she claims that the prior ruling was not supported by substantial evidence because the ALJ did not give controlling weight to the opinion of her primary care physician, Dr. Harvey. Second, she contends that the hypothetical question posed to the Vocational Expert ("VE") was deficient because it did not include the limitations set forth by Dr. Harvey.

II. LEGAL ANALYSIS

A. Standard of Review

The standard of review in a social security case is whether substantial evidence exists in the record to support the Commissioner's opinion. Allen v. Bowen,881 F.2d 37, 39 (3d Cir. 1989). Substantial evidence has been defined as "more than a mere scintilla. It means such evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate." Ventura v. Shalala, 55 F.3d 900, 901 (3d Cir. 1995) (quoting Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971)). Additionally, if the Commissioner's findings of fact are supported by substantial evidence, they must be accepted as conclusive. 42 U.S.C. 405 (g); Dobrowolsky v. Califano, 606 F.2d 403, 406 (3d Cir. 1979). In making this determination, the district court considers and reviews only those findings upon which the ALJ based the decision, and cannot rectify errors, omissions or gaps therein by supplying additional facts from its own independent analysis of portions of the record which were not mentioned or discussed by the ALJ. Fargnoli v. Massarini, 247 F.3d 34, 44 n.7 (3d Cir. 2001).

To demonstrate disability and eligibility for social security benefits under the Act, 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 twelve months." 42 U.S.C. § 423 (d)(1)(A); Brewster v. Heckler, 786 F.2d 581, 583 (3d Cir. 1986). W hen resolving the issue of whether a claimant is disabled and whether a claimant is entitled to DBI benefits, the ALJ applies a five step analysis. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520 (a).

The ALJ must determine: (1) whether the claimant is currently engaging in substantial gainful activity; (2) if not, whether the claimant has a severe impairment; (3) if the claimant has a severe impairment whether it meets or equals the criteria listed in 20 C.F.R. pt. 404. subpt. P, app. 1; (4) if the impairment does not satisfy one of the impairment listings, whether the claimant's impairments prevent him from performing his past relevant work; and (5) if the claimant is incapable of performing his past relevant work, whether he can perform any other work which exists in the national economy, in light of his age, education, work experience and residual functional capacity. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520. In all but the final step, the burden of proof is on the claimant. Mason v. Shalala, 994 F.2d 1058, 1064 (3d Cir. 1993); 42 U.S.C. §§ 416(1), 423(d)(1)(A).

A district court, after reviewing the entire record may affirm, modify, or reverse the decision with or without remand to the Commissioner for rehearing. Podedworny v. Harris, 745 F.2d 210, 221 (3d Cir. 1984).

B. The Rejection of Dr. Harvey's Findings

Best first argues that the prior decision is not supported by substantial evidence because the ALJ did not give controlling weight to Dr. Harvey's conclusion that she was disabled. The Commissioner's position is that Dr. Harvey's conclusion was not persuasive because it did not meet the durational requirement set forth in the regulations, it was contradicted by his own treatment record, and it was not supported by ...


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