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Impaglia v. Astrue

February 3, 2009


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Malcolm Muir United States District Judge

Complaint Filed 03/24/2008

(Judge Muir)



The above-captioned action is one seeking review of a decision of the Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner") denying Plaintiff Ann M. Impaglia's claim for social security supplemental security income benefits.

Supplemental security income (SSI) is a federal income supplement program funded by general tax revenues (not social security taxes). It is designed to help aged, blind and disabled individuals who have little or no income.

Impaglia, who was born on January 23, 1964, claims that she became disabled on May 1, 2004, because of hepatitis C, diabetes and asthma. Tr. 60, 68 and 73.*fn1 At the time of the onset of her alleged disability, Impaglia was not employed. Impaglia had worked in the laundry department of a hospital and as a delivery person for several automobile parts stores. Tr. 74. Her last employment was in July of 1996. Tr. 24, 66 and 74.*fn2

Impaglia did not graduate from high school but attended school up through part of the 12th grade. Tr. 23.

On January 23, 2006, Impaglia protectively filed an application for supplemental security income benefits. Tr. 9, 59 and 68. After her claim was denied initially, a hearing was held on March 6, 2007, before an administrative law judge. Tr. 17-36. On May 8, 2007, the administrative law judge issued a decision denying Impaglia's application for benefits. Tr. 9-16. Impaglia filed a request for review of the decision with the Appeals Council of the Social Security Administration. Tr. 5. On January 24, 2008, the Appeals Council concluded that there was no basis upon which to grant Impaglia's request for review. Tr. 1-3. Thus, the administrative law judge's decision stood as the final decision of the Commissioner.

On March 24, 2008, Impaglia filed a complaint in this court requesting that we reverse the decision of the Commissioner denying her supplemental security income benefits. The Clerk of Court assigned responsibility for this case to Judge Conner but referred it to Magistrate Judge Smyser for preliminary consideration. By order of September 12, 2008, the case was reassigned to the undersigned judge for disposition.

The Commissioner filed an answer to the complaint and a copy of the administrative record on September 11, 2008. On November 13, 2008, because Impaglia failed to file an appellate brief in accordance with the Local Rules of Court, we issued an order directing her to do so within 10 days. On November 21, 2008, Impaglia filed a 4-page brief*fn3 and on December 23, 2008, Defendant filed a 16-page brief. The appeal*fn4 became ripe for disposition on January 15, 2009, when Impaglia elected not to file a reply brief.

When considering a social security appeal, we have plenary review of all legal issues decided by the Commissioner. See Poulos v. Commissioner of Social Security, 474 F.3d 88, 91 (3d Cir. 2007); Schaudeck v. Commissioner of Social Sec. Admin., 181 F.3d 429, 431 (3d Cir. 1999); Krysztoforski v. Chater, 55 F.3d 857, 858 (3d Cir. 1995). However, our review of the Commissioner's findings of fact pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) is to determine whether those findings are supported by "substantial evidence." Id.; Brown v. Bowen, 845 F.2d 1211, 1213 (3d Cir. 1988); Mason v. Shalala, 994 F.2d 1058, 1064 (3d Cir. 1993). Factual findings which are supported by substantial evidence must be upheld. 42 U.S.C. §405(g); Fargnoli v. Massanari, 247 F.3d 34, 38 (3d Cir. 2001)("Where the ALJ's findings of fact are supported by substantial evidence, we are bound by those findings, even if we would have decided the factual inquiry differently."); Cotter v. Harris, 642 F.2d 700, 704 (3d Cir. 1981)("Findings of fact by the Secretary must be accepted as conclusive by a reviewing court if supported by substantial evidence."); Keefe v. Shalala, 71 F.3d 1060, 1062 (2d Cir. 1995); Mastro v. Apfel, 270 F.3d 171, 176 (4th Cir. 2001); Martin v. Sullivan, 894 F.2d 1520, 1529 & 1529 n.11 (11th Cir. 1990).

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 Consolidated Edison Co. v. N.L.R.B., 305 U.S. 197, 229 (1938)); Johnson v. Commissioner of Social Security, 529 F.3d 198, 200 (3d Cir. 2008); Hartranft v. Apfel, 181 F.3d 358, 360 (3d Cir. 1999). Substantial evidence has been described as more than a mere scintilla of evidence but less than a preponderance. Brown, 845 F.2d at 1213. In an adequately developed factual record substantial evidence may be "something less than the weight of the evidence, and the possibility of drawing two inconsistent conclusions from the evidence does not prevent an administrative agency's finding from being supported by substantial evidence." Consolo v. Federal Maritime Commission, 383 U.S. 607, 620 (1966).

Substantial evidence exists only "in relationship to all the other evidence in the record," Cotter, 642 F.2d at 706, and "must take into account whatever in the record fairly detracts from its weight." Universal Camera Corp. v. N.L.R.B., 340 U.S. 474, 488 (1971). A single piece of evidence is not substantial evidence if the Commissioner ignores countervailing evidence or fails to resolve a conflict created by the evidence. Mason, 994 F.2d at 1064. The Commissioner must indicate which evidence was accepted, which evidence was rejected, and the reasons for rejecting certain evidence. Johnson, 529 F.3d at 203; Cotter, 642 F.2d at 706-707. Therefore, a court reviewing the ...

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