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Alst-Smith v. Astrue

June 27, 2008


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Caputo


Presently before the Court are United States Magistrate Judge Malachy E. Mannion's Report and Recommendation (Doc. 9) and Plaintiff Nanci Van Alst-Smith's 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 Nanci Van Alst-Smith applied for SSI and DIB on March 31, 2003, alleging that she had been disabled since April 18, 2002 with "migraines, asthma, chronic back and shoulder pain syndrome, a left hip impairment and carpal tunnel syndrome." (Report and Recommendation, Doc. 9, at 1.) Plaintiff was born on June 28, 1966, has attained a twelfth grade level of education, and has worked, in the past, as a clerk for seven (7) years, and most recently, as a machine operator supervisor for eight (8) years. (Id. at 4; R. 22, 57.) At a hearing before the Administrative Law Judge (ALJ), Plaintiff "testified that she takes care of her own person needs, she cleans occasionally, she reads occasionally and watches television." (Report and Recommendation, Doc. 9, at 4.) Kristan Sagliocco, a vocational expert (VE), testified that based on the ALJ's determination of Plaintiff's limitations; Plaintiff's age, education, and work history; and a residual functional capacity (RFC) for sedentary work with an option to sit or stand, Plaintiff could perform work, such as that of a guard, dispatcher or clerk. (Id. at 4-5.)

In the 1980's, Plaintiff had two Harrington rods placed in her back due to a fracture of her lumbar spine. (Id. at 5.) In 2002, Plaintiff injured her shoulder and received successful surgery; she was under the care of Dr. Earnest Edwards. (Id.) In 2003, Plaintiff experienced back pain and a muscle spasm from increased muscle tone and decreased flexion. (Id.) In that same year, she also experienced headaches but also had full range of motion and normal gait, strength, and sensation in her back. (Id.)

In late 2003, Plaintiff switched doctors and began to see Dr. Matt Vegari. (Id. at 6.) He soon diagnosed carpal tunnel syndrome, prescribing wrist splints and medication and advising that Plaintiff not lift, push, or pull in excess of fifteen (15) pounds. (Id.) An MRI of Plaintiff at the same time also revealed mild disc dessication in her spine. (Id.) Dr. Vegari diagnosed plaintiff with "radiculopathy, bulging discs . . . migraine headaches and cervicogenic headaches, a sleep disorder . . . [and a] compression fracture." (Id.) In 2004, an MRI of Plaintiff's spine was normal, and an MRI of her shoulder showed tendinitis but no tear in her rotator cuff. (Id.) Plaintiff was diagnosed with moderate severe obstructive airways disease and mild ventilatory impairment and was later diagnosed by Disability Determination Services (DDS) with neck problems, back problems, breathing problems, migraines, carpal tunnel, and a shoulder injury. (Id.) DDS determined that Plaintiff could perform light duty work. (Id.) However, Plaintiff's physician, Dr. Vegari stated that Plaintiff was "temporarily totally disabled." (Id.)

Plaintiff's application for benefits was denied by the ALJ on December 8, 2005. (Id. at 1.) The Appeals Council denied her request for review of this decision on July 27, 2007. (Id. at 2.) Therefore, the ALJ's decision was the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security. (Id. at 2.) On April 1, 2008, United States Magistrate Judge Malachy E. Mannion recommended that Plaintiff's appeal of the Commissioner of Social Security (Commissioner)'s decision be denied. (Id. at 11.)


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).


I. Disability ...

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