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Hild v. Astrue

July 28, 2008

RANDARL HILD, PLAINTIFF,
v.
MICHAEL J. ASTRUE, COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, DEFENDANT



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Magistrate Judge Mannion

Judge Jones

MEMORANDUM

This matter is before the Court on the report and recommendation of Magistrate Judge Malachy E. Mannion (Doc. 13) which recommends that the plaintiff's appeal from the decision of the Commissioner of Social Security denying his claim for Supplemental Security Income be denied. The plaintiff, Randall Hild, filed objections to the report and recommendation (Doc. 14), and the Commissioner filed a response thereto (Doc. 15). Hild was granted leave to file a reply to the Commissioner's response and did so (Doc. 19).*fn1 This matter is now ripe for the Court's review. For the reasons set forth below, the Court will adopt the Magistrate Judge's report and recommendation and deny the plaintiff's appeal.

I. STANDARD OF REVIEW

A. Review of a Magistrate Judge's Report and Recommendation

When, as here, objections are filed to the report of a magistrate judge, the district court makes a de novo determination of those portions of the report or the proposed findings or recommendations to which objections are made. 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1); United States v. Raddatz, 447 U.S. 667, 674-75 (1980). Under this standard, a court may accept, reject, or modify, in whole or in part, the magistrate judge's findings or recommendations. Id. Although the standard of review is de novo, 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1) permits whatever reliance the district court, in the exercise of sound discretion, chooses to place on a magistrate judge's proposed findings and recommendations. Raddatz, 447 U.S. at 674-75; see also Mathews v. Weber, 423 U.S. 261, 275 (1976); Goney v. Clark, 749 F.2d 5, 7 (3d Cir. 1984).

B. Review of the Commissioner's Denial of Benefits

A district court's review of the Commissioner's denial of benefits, however, is more limited. The court's role is to "determine whether there is substantial evidence to support the Commissioner's decision." Jones v. Barnhart, 364 F.3d 501, 503 (3d Cir. 2004) (citing Plummer v. Apfel, 186 F.3d 422, 427 (3d Cir. 1999). Substantial evidence "does not mean a large or considerable amount of evidence, but rather such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Hartranft v. Apfel, 181 F.3d 358, 360 (3d Cir. 1999) (citing Pierce v. Underwood, 487 U.S. 552 (1988)). "It is less than a preponderance of the evidence but more than a mere scintilla." Jones, 364 F.3d at 503 (quoting Jesurum v. Sec'y of the U.S. Dep't of Health & Human Servs., 48 F.3d 114, 117 (3d Cir. 1995)). "Overall, the substantial evidence standard is a deferential standard of review." Id. (citing Schaudeck v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec. Admin., 181 F.3d 429, 431 (3d Cir. 1999). "Where the ALJ's findings of fact are supported by substantial evidence, we are bound by those findings, even if we would have decided the factual inquiry differently." Fargnoli v. Massanari, 247 F.3d 34, 38 (3d Cir. 2001).

II. DISCUSSION

The procedural and factual background of this case are amply set forth in the report and recommendation, and the parties are thoroughly familiar with this history. Therefore, the Court will address below only the procedural and factual details necessary to address the plaintiff's objections to the report and recommendation.

The plaintiff raises two objections to the Magistrate Judge's report and recommendation: (1) that the Magistrate Judge erred in holding that the ALJ's finding that the plaintiff's depression is "not severe" was supported by substantial evidence and (2) that the Magistrate Judge erred in holding that the ALJ properly considered the evidence presented. Both objections will be overruled.

A. Whether the ALJ's Finding That the Plaintiff's Depression Is "Not Severe" Is Supported by Substantial Evidence

A five-step evaluation process is used to determine if a claimant meets the eligibility requirements for disability benefits or SSI.*fn2 See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)-(f), 416.920(a)-(f). At the second step of this sequential process, the claimant must establish that he has a "severe impairment." Id. at §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(ii), 416.920(a)(4)(ii). To be "severe," and impairment must significantly limit the claimant's physical or mental ability to do basic work activities. Id. at §§ 404.1520(c), 404.1521(a), 416.920(c), 416.921(a). "Basic work activities" are "the abilities and aptitudes necessary to do most jobs." Id. at §§ 404.1521(b), 416.921(b). Examples of basic work activities include: (1) physical functions such as walking, standing, sitting, lifting, pushing, pulling, reaching, carrying, or handling; (2) capacities for seeing, hearing, and speaking; (3) understanding, carrying out, and remembering simple instructions; (4) use of judgment; (5) responding appropriately to supervision, co-workers and usual work situations; and (6) dealing with changes in a routine work setting. Id.

"The burden placed on an applicant at step two is not an exacting one." McCrea v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 370 F.3d 357, 360 (3d Cir. 2004). "[A]n applicant need only demonstrate something beyond a slight abnormality or a combination of slight abnormalities which would have no more than a minimal effect on an individual's ability to work." Id. (quoting Social Security Ruling 85-28, 1985 WL 56856, at *3 (Nov. 30, 1984) and citing Newell v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 347 F.3d 541, 546 (3d Cir. 2003)). Step-two is essentially "a de minimis screening device to dispose of groundless claims," and therefore, "[a]ny doubt as to whether this showing has been made is to be resolved in favor of the applicant." Id. (citing Newell, 347 F.3d at ...


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