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Madison v. Astrue

July 29, 2008


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Kosik


Presently before us is a dispute concerning a decision by the Commissioner of Social Security in which the Commissioner denied Plaintiff, Ann Marie Madison's ("Madison" or "Plaintiff") claim for disability insurance benefits ("DIB"), pursuant to Title II of the Social Security Act ("Act"), 42 U.S.C. §§ 401--434. We review the record pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) and § 1383(c)(3) to determine whether there is substantial evidence to support the Commissioner's decision. The matter was assigned to Magistrate Judge Malachy E. Mannion. In his Report and Recommendation filed on April 1, 2008, the Magistrate Judge found that substantial evidence supported the Commissioner's decision and recommended that Madison's appeal be denied. Plaintiff filed objections to the Report and Recommendation. For the reasons that follow, we agree with the Magistrate Judge and find that the Commissioner's decision is supported by substantial evidence. Accordingly, Plaintiff's appeal will be denied.


On November 18, 2004, Plaintiff applied for disability insurance benefits, alleging disability beginning December 28, 2000. (R. 16.) The Social Security Administration initially denied the claim on March 9, 2005. Plaintiff timely filed a request for a hearing, and on October 16, 2006, an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"), denied Plaintiff's claim for DIB. (R. 16-25.)

The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review of the ALJ's decision*fn1 (R. 5-7, 11-12), thereby making the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner. See 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Plaintiff appealed the ALJ's decision, and the matter was assigned to Magistrate Judge Mannion who issued a Report and Recommendation. Plaintiff objects to the Report and Recommendation, claiming that the Magistrate Judge erred when he upheld the ALJ's finding that Plaintiff retained the residual functional capacity ("RFC") to perform light work, and that the Magistrate Judge improperly upheld the ALJ's finding that Plaintiff is capable of performing work as a data entry clerk and typist. We will review and consider Plaintiff's objections.


After thirty years of work as a research assistant, Plaintiff has not worked since December 28, 2000. (R. 269-70.)As a result of lower back and leg pain, Plaintiff saw Brian A. Powers, M.D., who diagnosedher with acute low back pain with probable exacerbation of an old disc disease. (R. 120.) After approximately one month of physical therapy, Dr. Powers noted that Plaintiff had excellent range of motion of her spine, she did not suffer from any spasms, and she had no point tenderness and no neurologic deficit. (R. 115.)

On November 16, 2004, Plaintiff underwent left shoulder athroscopy and athroscopic acromioplasty surgery. (R. 146.) David J. Caucci, M.D., the performing surgeon, estimated that Plaintiff would be disabled for six months after the surgery. (R. 207.) On December 7, 2004, William S. Maigur, M.D., completed a Multiple Impairment Questionnaire in which he stated that Plaintiff could sit for one hour or less, stand for one hour, but that she could never lift or carry with her left arm, and had marked limitations in her left upper extremity with grasping, turning and twisting objects, performing fine manipulations, and engaging in reaching, including overhead reaching. (R. 196-200.) After examining Plaintiff on February 21, 2005, Gregory Salko, M.D., stated that she could occasionally lift and carry two to three pounds with her right arm, stand and walk one hour or less, sit for eight hours, and could push and pull unlimitedly. (R. 221.) On March 4, 2005, Gerald Gryczko, M.D., completed a Residual Functional Capacity Assessment Form and found that although Plaintiff had osteoarthritis and left shoulder rotator cuff syndrome, she could perform light work, but was limited in pushing and pulling with the left upper extremity. (R. 231-32.) Dr. Gryczko, a state agency medical expert, stated that Plaintiff could never climb a ladder, rope, or scaffold, could never crawl, but could occasionally climb a ramp or stairs, and occasionally balance, stoop, kneel, and crouch. (R. 231-32.) On January 4, 2006, Plaintiff returned to Dr. Caucci, and stated that her back pain was "tolerable" and that for the most part she was better. (R. 246.) He noted that she suffered from a small midline posterior bulging annulus, a possible mild herniation, a bulging disc, and mild degenerative disc disease. (R. 246.)

Plaintiff has a high school education, and has previously worked as a research assistant and an administrative officer. (R. 263, 273-78.) Plaintiff testified that she drives short distances, cooks, does laundry, and grocery shops with the help of her husband. (R. 288.) She further testified that she can sit for approximately twenty minutes, stand for twenty to twenty-five minutes, and can walk around the block. (R. 285-86, 292.)


When objections are filed to a Report and Recommendation of a Magistrate Judge, we review de novo those portions of the report to which objections are made. 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(C) (2000). In our review, we may accept, reject, or modify, in whole or in part, the findings or recommendations made by the Magistrate Judge. 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(C). Although our review is de novo, we may, in the exercise of sound judicial discretion, rely upon the Magistrate Judge's proposed recommendations if appropriate. United States v. Raddatz, 447 U.S. 667, 676 (1980).

When a claimant appeals from a final decision by the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, we will uphold the Commissioner's decision if it is supported by substantial evidence. See 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) (2000); 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.'" Pierce v. Underwood, 487 U.S. 552, 565 (1988) (quoting Consol. Edison Co. v. NLRB, 305 U.S. 197, 229 (1938)); see Hartranft v. Apfel, 181 F.3d 358, 360 (3d Cir. 1999). "It consists of more than a mere scintilla of evidence but less than a preponderance." Stunkard v. Sec'y of Health and Human Servs., 841 F.2d 57, 59 (3d Cir. 1988). If the conclusion of the ALJ is supported by substantial evidence, we may not set aside the Commissioner's decision even if we would have decided the factual inquiry differently. Hartranft, 181 F.3d at 360.


To receive disability benefits under the Social Security Act, an individual 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). The individual must show that there is a medically determinable basis for impairment. See Kangas v. Bowen, 823 F.2d 775, 777 (3d Cir. 1987). Physical impairment is "an impairment that results from anatomical, physiological, or psychological abnormalities which are demonstrated by medically acceptable clinical and laboratory diagnostic techniques." 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(3). Moreover, [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 n 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 in the national economy" means work which exists in significant numbers either in the region where such individual lives or in several regions of the country. 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(2)(A).

The Social Security Administration uses a sequential five-step evaluation process to determine whether an individual qualifies for disability benefits. See 20 C.F.R. ยง 404.1520. If the ALJ finds that an individual is disabled or is not disabled at any step in ...

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