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Rivera v. Astrue

January 29, 2009


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


Plaintiff, Freddy Rivera, seeks judicial review of the decision by the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration ("Defendant") denying his application for Social Security Disability Income ("SSDI") and Supplemental Security Income ("SSI") under the Social Security Act ("the Act"), 42 U.S.C. §§ 1381-83(c)(2000). For the reasons described below, the Court will affirm the decision of the ALJ and deny Plaintiff's request for benefits or a new hearing.

I. Background and Procedural History

On June 6, 2005, Plaintiff filed an application for SSDI and SSI benefits under Titles II and XVI respectively of the Social Security Act.(R. 43-46). Plaintiff's application complains that, as of September 2003, he is limited in his ability to work because he suffers from diabetes, swollen legs, high cholesterol and liver problems. (R. 53-54). The application was initially denied on August 15, 2005 after the Administration determined that his condition was not severe enough to warrant benefits, (R. 29-32), and Plaintiff filed a timely request for a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") on October 13, 2005, (R. 33).

The hearing before theALJ, Judge Irving A. Pianin, occurred on April 23, 2007. (R. 178-202). On May 10, 2007, the ALJ issued a decision finding that Plaintiff was not disabled within the meaning of the Act and denying Plaintiff all benefits. (R. 13-23). The ALJ concluded that Plaintiff suffered from severe impairments, including obesity, renal failure, diabetes mellitus, hypertension, and left leg diverticulitis, and could not perform his past work as a pizza maker. (Id.). However, the ALJ also found that there were other jobs in the national economy that Plaintiff could perform despite his limitations and thus did not consider Plaintiff disabled under the Act. (Id.). Plaintiff timely filed a request for review of the ALJ's decision on September 5, 2007. (R. 12). On February 20, 2008 the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review, affirming the decision of the ALJ. (R. 5-7). Pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and 1383(c), Plaintiff then filed the instant action, requesting this Court reverse the Commissioner's decision and award benefits, or in the alternative, remand the case for further consideration. (Docs. Nos. 2, 12).

II. Legal Standards

A. Jurisdiction

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) (2000).

B. Standard of Review

On judicial review of the Commissioner's decision, the Commissioner's findings "as to any fact, if supported by substantial evidence, shall be conclusive." Id. "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)). 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)). This Court's review of the legal standards applied by the ALJ is plenary. See Allen v. Barnhart, 417 F.3d 396, 398 (3d Cir. 2005).

C. Disability Claims Analysis

The Social Security Act defines disability as 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 12 months." 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A).

The Commissioner of the Social Security Administration has promulgated regulations requiring a five-step analysis to determine the eligibility of claimants for benefits. First, if the claimant is engaged in substantial gainful activity, the claim must be denied. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(b), 416.920(b). Second, the claim must be denied unless the claimant is suffering from a severe impairment or combination of impairments that significantly limits physical or mental ability to do basic work activities. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(c), 416.920(c). Third, if the claimant's severe impairment(s) meets or equals the severity of an impairment listed in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1, the claim is approved. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(d), 416.920(d).

Fourth, if the claim is not approved under Step 3, the claim will be denied if the claimant retains the residual functional capacity ("RCF") to meet the physical and mental demands of his or her past relevant work. 20 C.F.R. ยงยง 404.1520(e)-(f), 416.920(e)-(f). Finally, if the claimant does not retain the RFC to perform past relevant work and there is no other work in the national economy that the claimant can perform, considering his or her RFC, age, ...

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