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Johnston v. Astrue

June 19, 2008


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



Pending before the Court are Cross-Motions for Summary Judgment. (Docket Nos. 7 and 9). Both parties have filed Briefs in Support of their Motions. (Docket Nos. 8 and 10). After careful consideration of the submissions of the parties, and for the reasons discussed below, Defendant's Motion (Docket No. 9) is granted and Plaintiff's Motion (Docket No. 7) is denied.


Plaintiff has brought this action under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) and 42 U.S.C. 1383 (c)(3), 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. §§ 401-434 and Supplemental Security Income ("SSI") under 42 U.S.C. §§ 1381-1383f.

On April 24, 2005, Plaintiff protectively filed the instant application for DIB and SSI alleging disability since December 30, 2000, due to a bad mental state, depression, panic attacks, diverticulitis, and irritable bowel syndrome. (R. 66-71, 83). The state agency denied Plaintiff's claim. (R. 58-62). Plaintiff requested a hearing. (R. 51-52). Administrative Law Judge Raymond J. Zadzilko ("ALJ") held a hearing on November 14, 2006, at which time Plaintiff, who was represented by counsel, and a vocational expert ("VE") testified. (R. 359-405). On January 25, 2007, the ALJ denied Plaintiff's claim for benefits finding that the Plaintiff is not disabled under the Act. (R. 21-33). The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review on August 16, 2007. (R. 7-10). After thus exhausting her administrative remedies, Plaintiff filed the instant action.

The parties have filed cross-motions for summary judgment. The Plaintiff raises four main issues on appeal. First, she claims that the ALJ erred in determining that Plaintiff's sleep apnea and irritable bowel syndrome were not severe impairments. Second, she contends that the ALJ erred in concluding that Plaintiff did not meet a mental health listing. Third, she claims that the ALJ erred in his consideration of Plaintiff's credibility. Fourth, she contends that the ALJ erred in not including the limitation in her left hand in his hypothetical to the VE.


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 ...

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