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Harris v. Astrue

January 26, 2009

CYNTHIA HARRIS, PLAINTIFF,
v.
MICHAEL J. ASTRUE, COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Arthur J. Schwab United States District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION

I. Introduction

Plaintiff Cynthia Harris ("Harris" or "plaintiff") brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1383(c)(3), which incorporates 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), seeking judicial review of the final determination of the Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner" or "defendant") 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. §§ 401-433, 1381-1383f. Consistent with the customary practice in the Western District of Pennsylvania, the parties have filed cross-motions for summary judgment based on the record developed during the administrative proceedings. (Doc. Nos. 8 & 10).

After careful consideration of the Commissioner's decision, the memoranda of the parties, and the evidence contained in the record, the Court finds that the decision of the Commissioner is not "supported by substantial evidence" within the meaning of § 405(g). Therefore, the Court will deny defendant's motion for summary judgment and grant the plaintiff's motion for summary judgment. The ALJ's decision will be reversed, the Court will order an award of benefits, and remand for further proceedings.

II. Procedural History

Plaintiff protectively filed an application for DIB on February 1, 2005, and for SSI on February 13, 2005, alleging disability as of January 1, 2003, resulting from bipolar disorder, anxiety, hidradenitis suppurativa, and arthritis in the left knee. (R. 86-88, 134, 599-605). Plaintiff's claims were denied on initial review, and plaintiff requested a hearing. (R. 35-36, 63). A hearing was held before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") on August 25, 2006, during which claimant was represented by counsel and appeared and testified. (R. 612-51). An impartial vocational expert ("VE") was also present and gave testimony. Id. By decision dated November 2, 2006, the ALJ denied plaintiff's claims. (R.37-50). Plaintiff requested review through the Appeals Council, which initially denied her request. (R. 78, 51-53). Subsequently, however, the Appeals Council remanded the case to an ALJ for consideration of additional evidence. (R. 54-56). A second hearing was held on August 24, 2007, before the ALJ in which plaintiff, who was represented by counsel, again appeared and testified. (R. 652-97). Additionally, a VE was also present and gave testimony. Id. Plaintiff is insured for DIB through March 31, 2010. (R. 16).

On January 30, 2008, the ALJ issued an unfavorable decision regarding plaintiff's claims, finding that plaintiff was able to perform a range of light work and that jobs suitable for plaintiff, considering her impairments, existed in the national economy.*fn1 (R. 13-28). The ALJ concluded, therefore, that plaintiff was not disabled under the Act.*fn2 Id.

On May 21, 2008, the Appeals Council denied plaintiff's request for review, thereby making the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner. (R. 6-8). Plaintiff subsequently commenced this action against the Commissioner, seeking judicial review of the Commissioner's decision. Plaintiff and the Commissioner filed cross-motions for summary judgment on November 19, 2008. (Doc. Nos. 8 & 10). These motions are the subject of this memorandum opinion.

III. Statement of the Case

In his decision, the ALJ made the following findings:

1. The claimant meets the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act through March 31, 2010.

2. The claimant has not engaged in substantial gainful activity at any time relevant to this decision (20 C.F.R. 404.1520(b) and 416.920(b)).

3. The claimant has the following severe combination of impairments: hidradenitis suppurativa; degenerative joint disease of the knees; degenerative disc disease of the lumbar spine; fibromyalgia syndrome; perianal squamous cell carcinoma, status post excision and radiation therapy; obesity; and major depressive disorder, single episode, severe with psychotic features (20 C.F.R. 404.1520(c) and 416.920(c).

4. The claimant does not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals one of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 (20 C.F.R. 404.1520(d), 404.1525, 404.1526, 416.920(d), 416.925 and 416.926).

5. After careful consideration of the entire record, the undersigned finds that the claimant has the residual functional capacity to perform a range of light work; must have the ability to briefly (one to two minutes) change position at least every 30 minutes; can perform all postural movements on an occasional basis, except cannot climb ladders, ropes, scaffolds, stairs, or ramps; can perform no overhead work; can perform no more than occasional bending and no bending past 45 degrees; should perform no fast paced or assembly line work or work that requires the setting of workplace goals or more than occasional changes in the work setting; and is limited to jobs involving short and simple, one- to two-step instructions, no close concentration or attention to detail for extended periods, no work with the general public, and no close interaction with coworkers or supervisors.

6. The claimant is unable to perform any past relevant work (20 C.F.R. 404.1565 and 416.965).

7. The claimant was born on September 7, 1957 and was 45 years old on the alleged disability onset date, which is defined as a younger individual age 45-49. Since attaining age 50 on September 6, 2007, the claimant is considered to be closely approaching advanced age (20 C.F.R. 404.1563 and 416.963).

8. The claimant has a limited education and is able to communicate in English (20 C.F.R. 404.1564 and 416.964).

9. The claimant's limitations preclude the transferability of any acquired job skills (20 C.F.R. 404.1568 and 416.968).

10. Considering the claimant's age, education, work experience, and residual functional capacity, there are jobs that exist in significant number in the national economy that the claimant can perform (20 C.F.R. 404.1560(c), 404.1566, 416.960(c), and 416.966).

11. The claimant has not been under a "disability," as defined in the Social Security Act, from January 1, 2003 through the date of this decision (20 C.F.R. 404.1520(g) and 416.920(g)).

(R. 16-28).

IV. Standards of Review

Judicial review of the Commissioner's final decisions on disability claims is provided by statute. 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g)*fn3 and 1383(c)(3)*fn4 . Section 405(g) permits a District Court to review transcripts and records upon which a determination of the Commissioner is based. Because the standards for eligibility under Title II (42 U.S.C. §§ 401-433, regarding Disability Insurance Benefits, or "DIB"), and judicial review thereof, are virtually identical to the standards under Title XVI (42 U.S.C. §§ 1381-1383f, regarding Supplemental Security Income, or "SSI"), regulations and decisions rendered under the Title II disability standard, 42 U.S.C. § 423, are pertinent and ...


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