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Poppenhouse v. Astrue

June 30, 2009


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Terrence F. McVerry United States District Court Judge


I. Introduction

Plaintiff, Daniel T. Poppenhouse, brought this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1383(c) for judicial review of the final determination of the Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner"), which denied his application for supplemental security income ("SSI") under title II of the Social Security Act ("Act"), 42 U.S.C. § 1381-1383(f).

II. Background

A. Facts

Plaintiff was born August 11, 1986, and was twenty years old at the time he applied for SSI. Plaintiff has no formal education beyond the eighth grade or any vocational training. Plaintiff has no relevant past work experience. He receives $132 per month in food stamps from the government.

Plaintiff alleges disability as of August 1, 2002, due to obesity, sleep apnea, and enlarged adenoids. During the administrative hearing, Plaintiff testified that he weighed approximately 589 pounds at a height of 5'10". He reported that his weight has remained the same for about the last five years. The record reflects that Plaintiff has not engaged in substantial gainful work activity prior to or since alleging disability.

B. Procedural History

Plaintiff filed an application for SSI on September 14, 2005, in which he claimed total disability since August 1, 2002. An administrative hearing was held on November 8, 2007, before Administrative Law Judge James J. Pileggi ("ALJ"). Plaintiff was represented by counsel and testified at the hearing. Karen Krull, M.Ed., an impartial vocational expert, also testified at the hearing.

On December 17, 2007, the ALJ rendered an unfavorable decision to Plaintiff in which he found that Plaintiff had the residual functional capacity to perform the full range of sedentary work and, therefore, was not "disabled" within the meaning of the Act. The ALJ's decision became the final decision of the Commissioner on September 3, 2008, when the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request to review the decision of the ALJ.

On October 23, 2008, Plaintiff filed his Complaint in this Court in which he seeks judicial review of the decision of the ALJ. The parties have filed cross-motions for summary judgment. Plaintiff contends that the ALJ erred in (1) his consideration of medical evidence; (2) his credibility determination as to Plaintiff's testimony; and (3) his failure to question and consider the testimony of the vocational expert. The Commissioner contends that the decision of the ALJ should be affirmed as it is supported by substantial evidence. The Court agrees with the Commissioner and will therefore grant the motion for summary judgment filed by the Commissioner and deny the motion for summary judgment filed by Plaintiff.

III. Legal Analysis

A. Standard of Review

The Act limits judicial review of disability claims to the Commissioner's final decision. 42 U.S.C. § 1383(c)(3). If the Commissioner's finding is supported by substantial evidence, it is conclusive and must be affirmed by the Court. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g); Schaudeck v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec. Admin., 181 F.3d 429, 431 (3d Cir. 1999). The Supreme Court has defined "substantial evidence" as "such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389 (1971); Hartranft v. Apfel, 181 F.3d 358, 360 (3d Cir. 1999). It consists of more than a scintilla of evidence, but less than a preponderance. Stunkard v. Secretary of Health & Human Servs., 841 F.2d 57, 59 (3d Cir. 1988).

When resolving the issue of whether an adult claimant is or is not disabled, the Commissioner utilizes a five-step sequential evaluation. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520 and 416.920 (1995). This process requires the Commissioner to consider, in sequence, whether a claimant (1) is working, (2) has a severe impairment, (3) has an impairment that meets or equals the requirements of a listed impairment, (4) can return to his or her past relevant work, and (5) if not, whether he or she can perform other work. See 42 U.S.C . § 404.1520; Burnett v. Commissioner of Social Security, 220 F.3d 112, 118-19 (3d Cir. 2000) (quoting Plummer v. Apfel, 186, F.3d 422, 428 (3d Cir. 1999)).

To qualify for disability benefits under the Act, a claimant must demonstrate that there is some "medically determinable basis for an impairment that prevents him or her from engaging in any substantial gainful activity for a statutory twelve-month period."

Kangas v. Bowen, 823 F.2d 775, 777 (3d Cir. 1987); 42 U.S.C. § 423 (d)(1) (1982).

This may be done in two ways:

(1) by introducing medical evidence that the claimant is disabled per se because he or she suffers from one or more of a number of serious impairments delineated in 20 C.F.R. Regulations No. 4, Subpt. P, Appendix 1. See Heckler v. Campbell, 461 U.S. ...

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