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Curry v. Astrue

January 26, 2009


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Baylson, J.


Plaintiff, Faye E. Curry ("Curry," "Plaintiff") seeks judicial review of the decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration ("Commissioner," "Defendant") denying her application for the Supplemental Security Income ("SSI") disability program under the Social Security Act ("the Act"), 42 U.S.C. §§ 1381-1383(c) (2000). Jurisdiction is established under § 405(g) of the Act. For the reasons that follow, the Court will deny Curry's motion and affirm the decision of the Commissioner.

I. Background and Procedural History

A. Procedural History

Curry is a 53 year-old female who is able to communicate in English and has completed the twelfth grade. (R. 37, 53). Under the Commissioner's regulations, Curry is currently classified as a person "closely approaching advanced age," 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1563, 416.963 (2008), though at the time her application was filed in 2005 she was considered a "younger person," id.

Curry protectively filed an application for SSI benefits on August 4, 2005.*fn1 (R. 17, 37). The State Agency that reviewed her application denied her claim after determining that she did not have any impairments which significantly limited her work ability. (R 21). Curry's application was also denied by the Commissioner on September 14, 2005. (R. 17, 29). Curry, not represented by counsel, filed a timely request for a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") on October 12, 2005 (R. 17, 28); she later waived the right to appear before the ALJ and permitted the ALJ's decision to be made solely on the record (R. 25).

On December 15, 2006, ALJ Janice C. Volkman rendered her decision, finding that Curry was not disabled for the purpose of the SSI application. (R. 17-22). Specifically, the ALJ found, contrary to the State Agency's decision, that Curry has severe impairments which limit her to the residual functional capacity of the full range of light work. (R. 19-21). However, the ALJ concluded, after considering Curry's age, education, work experience, and her residual functional capacity and without consulting a vocational expert, that "there are jobs in significant numbers in the national economy" that Curry could perform according to the Medical-Vocational Guidelines, 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 2, and denied her request for benefits. (R. 21-22). Curry filed a timely appeal with the Appeals Council on January 24, 2007. (R. 11-13).

After an extension of time was granted to permit her counsel to gather the necessary evidence and prepare for the appeal, (R. 6-7, 9-10), the Appeals Council determined that there was no reason to review the decision of the ALJ and denied the appeal (R. 3). Curry subsequently filed a complaint in this Court seeking judicial review of the Commissioner's decision on December 14, 2007. (Doc. 3). Curry, now represented by counsel, moved for summary judgment on the appeal. (Doc. 8). After reviewing the documents in the record in preparation for a decision, this Court entered an Order directing Curry to state what additional evidence would have been presented to the ALJ had Curry been represented by counsel at the administrative level. (Doc. 11). The additional briefing has been received and reviewed, and Curry's motion for summary judgment is now ripe for decision.

B. Plaintiff's Work History

Beginning in 1994, Curry's work history includes two jobs. First, from 1994 until 1999, Curry was employed as a housekeeper and cleaner, maintaining both private homes and a sports arena for four hours per day, five days per week. (R. 50). While seemingly inconsistent with the number of hours worked, Curry stated that each day she walked four hours, stood four hours, climbed four hours, stooped four hours, kneeled three hours, crouched three hours, reached four hours, and wrote/typed/handled small objects four hours. (R. 51).*fn2 She also stated that she frequently lifted 25 pounds. (R. 51). In 2001, Curry began employment as a child sitter, working eight hours per day and five days per week. (R. 50). As of January 1, 2002, however, Curry was no longer working; she noted that she stopped performing daycare services due to being fired.

(R. 50). Besides these two positions, Curry has not provided any other employment history.

C. Plaintiff's Medical Conditions and Treatment

In Curry's application for SSI benefits, she stated that she was disabled due to an irregular heartbeat, asthma, and hepatitis C. (R. 49-50). After conducting a review of the record, the ALJ found the additional potential conditions of high blood pressure, substance abuse, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease ("COPD"), neuropathy, and back pain. (R. 17, 19). Curry stated that these disabilities began on June 14, 2004, though a specific reason for the onset is undisclosed by Curry or her medical records. (R. 50). The record does not contain a disability determination by a treating physician.

II. Jurisdiction and Standard of Review

The Social Security Act provides for judicial review by this Court of any "final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security" in a disability proceeding. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). A district court may enter a judgment "affirming, modifying, or reversing the decision of the Commissioner of Social Security, with or without remanding the cause for a rehearing." Id.

On judicial review of the decision, the Commissioner's findings "as to any fact, if supported by substantial evidence, shall be conclusive." Id. (emphasis added). "Substantial evidence is 'such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion . . . .'" Rutherford v. Barnhart, 399 F.3d 546, 552 (3d Cir. 2005) (quoting Reefer v. Barnhart, 326 F.3d 376, 379 (3d Cir. 2003)). Substantial evidence is "'more than a mere scintilla but may be somewhat less than a preponderance of the evidence.'" Rutherford, 399 F.3d at 552 (quoting Ginsburg v. Richardson, 436 F.2d 1146, 1148 (3d Cir. 1971)). In reviewing the record for substantial evidence, however, this Court must "not 'weigh the evidence or substitute [its own] conclusions for those of the fact-finder.'" Rutherford, 399 F.3d at 552 (quoting Williams v. Sullivan, 970 F.2d 1178, 1182 (3d Cir. 1992)). The substantial evidence standard "is deferential and includes deference to inferences drawn from the facts if they, in turn, are supported by substantial evidence." Schaudeck v. Comm'r of S.S.A., 181 F.3d 429,431 (3d Cir. 1999).

As for the legal standards applied in the case, this Court's review is plenary. See Allen v. Barnhart, 417 ...

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