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Tacza v. Astrue

June 25, 2009

DONNA J. TACZA, PLAINTIFF,
v.
MICHAEL J. ASTRUE, COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Magistrate Judge Lisa Pupo Lenihan

OPINION AND ORDER

I. Conclusion

For the reasons set forth below, the Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgement will be denied, the Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment granted, and the decision of the Commissioner of Social Security to deny Plaintiff's application for Supplemental Security Income ("SSI") will be affirmed.

II. Procedural History

Donna J. Tacza ("Plaintiff"), by her counsel, timely filed a Complaint pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §405(g) and § 1383(c)(3) for review of the Commissioner's final determination disallowing her claim. The prior procedural history in this matter is as follows:

Plaintiff protectively applied for SSI in October, 2005. She alleges disability owing to conditions including back and knee impairments and hypertension. After the state agency denied her application, a hearing was held before the Administrative Law Judge (the "ALJ") on April 11, 2007, at which Plaintiff was represented by counsel and a vocational expert (the "VE") testified. By Decision dated June 19, 2007, the ALJ denied Plaintiff's application for SSI. Specifically, the ALJ agreed the Plaintiff had the severe impairments for degenerative disc disease, hyperlipidemia, hypertension, restrictive lung disease/asthma, bursitis, gastritis, and obesity. See Transcript at 18 (Decision of ALJ). He further concluded, however, with significant and specific discussion of the medical records, that neither the clinical and objective findings nor her activities of daily living were consistent with Plaintiff's assertions of totally debilitating symptomatology. See id. at 20-23. Accordingly, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff retained the ability to perform a very limited range of unskilled, light work with no more than occasional walking and standing, or postural maneuvers or climbing; an option to sit and stand throughout the work day; only occasional fine fingering/feeling or push/pulling; no prolonged writing or frequent keyboard work with the left non-dominant hand; and only simple, routine repetitive tasks in a stable work environment. See id. at 19. Plaintiff appealed, and the Appeals Council denied her request for review. This civil action was then filed.

Plaintiff asserts that the ALJ erred in (1) failing to properly consider her subjective allegations; (2) failing to provide "persuasive contradictory evidence to invalidate the opinions of [Plaintiff's] treating and examining" physicians and failing to give those opinions "controlling weight"; (3) concluding that Plaintiff did not meet a listed impairment; and (4) failing to adequately support his "characterization of [P]laintiff's residual functional capacity" ("RFC"). See Plaintiff's Brief.

III. "Substantial Evidence" Standard of Review

In reviewing an administrative determination of the Commissioner, the question before any court is whether there is "substantial evidence" in the agency record to support the findings of the Commissioner that the plaintiff failed to sustain her burden of demonstrating that she was disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). See also, e.g.,

Substantial evidence is defined as "such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Hartranft v. Apfel, 181 F.3d 358, 360 (3d Cir. 1000) (citing Pierce v. Underwood, 487 U.S. 552, 565 (1988)); Plummer v. Apfel, 186 F.3d 422 (3d Cir. 1999). Although there may be contradictory evidence in the record, and/or although this Court may have found otherwise, it is not cause for remand or reversal of the Commissioner's decision if substantial support exists. Sykes v. Apfel, 228 F.3d 259, 262 (3d Cir. 2000).

IV. Disability Evaluation

The term "disability" is defined in 42 U.S.C. Section 423(d)(1)(A) as: 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....

The requirements for a disability determination are provided in 42 U.S.C. Section 423(d)(2)(A):

An individual shall be determined to be under a disability only if his physical or mental impairment or impairments are of such severity that he is not only unable to do his previous work but cannot, considering his age, education, and work experience, engage in any other kind of substantial gainful work which exists in the national economy.... For purposes of the preceding sentence... 'work which exists in ...


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