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Rawl v. Astrue

December 5, 2008

JACQUELINE RAWL, PLAINTIFF,
v.
MICHAEL J ASTRUE, 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. 9 and 11). Both parties have filed briefs in support of their Motions. (Docket Nos. 10 and 12). After careful consideration of the submissions of the parties, and based on my Opinion set forth below, I am granting Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment (Docket No. 11) and denying Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment. (Docket No. 9).

OPINION

I. BACKGROUND

Plaintiff has brought this action for review of the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner") denying her application for disability insurance benefits ("DIB") and supplemental security income ("SSI" ) under Titles II and XVI of the Social Security Act ("Act"). 42 U.S.C. §§ 1381-1383. On August 29, 2005, Plaintiff filed an application alleging that since October 14, 2003, she was disabled due to lower back pain. (R. 13). Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") John J. Porter held a hearing on May 18, 2007, at which time Plaintiff, who was represented by counsel, testified and a vocational expert testified. (R. 501-526). On July 18, 2007, the ALJ issued an unfavorable decision, finding that while Plaintiff did suffer from severe physical impairments and was therefore unable to continue her past work, Plaintiff was not disabled because she retained the residual functional capacity to perform sedentary work with a sit/stand option and was therefore able to find employment in a significant number of jobs in the national economy. (R. 13-22). After exhausting her administrative remedies, Plaintiff filed this action.

The parties have filed cross-motions for summary judgment. (Docket Nos. 9 and 11). The Plaintiff raises the following issues on appeal:

1. Whether the ALJ's decision that Plaintiff did not have a medically determinable mental impairment was based on substantial evidence.

2. Whether the ALJ improperly disregarded the opinion evidence of Dr. Andrew Cole.

(Docket No. 10, Plaintiff's Brief in Support, p. 2). I will address each issue in turn.

II. LEGAL ANALYSIS

A. Standard of Review

The standard of review in social security cases is whether substantial evidence exists in the record to support the Commissioner's decision. 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 relevant 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, the Commissioner's findings of fact, if supported by substantial evidence, are conclusive. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g); Dobrowolsky v. Califano, 606 F.2d 403, 406 (3d Cir. 1979). A district court cannot conduct a de novo review of the Commissioner's decision or re-weigh the evidence of record. Palmer v. Apfel, 995 F.Supp. 549, 552 (E.D. Pa. 1998). To determine whether a finding is supported by substantial evidence, however, the district court must review the record as a whole. See, 5 U.S.C. § 706.

To be eligible for social security benefits, the plaintiff must demonstrate that she cannot engage in substantial gainful activity because of a 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 at least 12 months. ...


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