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Parsley v. Astrue

July 2, 2009

STACEY ANN PARSLEY PLAINTIFF,
v.
MICHAEL J. ASTRUE, COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, DEFENDANT.



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

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER OF COURT July 2, 2009

I. Introduction

Plaintiff, Stacy Ann Parsley, 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 her application for supplemental security income ("SSI") under title XVI of the Social Security Act ("Act"), 42 U.S.C. §§ 1381-1383(f).

II. Background

A. Facts

Plaintiff was born on April 7, 1965, and was thirty-seven years old at the alleged onset of disability. Plaintiff completed eleventh grade prior to discontinuing her formal education and has no full-time past relevant work experience.

Plaintiff alleges disability as of December 1, 2002, due to a psychotic disorder and depression. The record reflects that Plaintiff has not engaged in substantial gainful work activity since June 2, 2004, when she filed for SSI.

B. Procedural History

Plaintiff initially filed an application for SSI on June 2, 2004 in which she claimed total disability since December 1, 2002. An administrative hearing was held on December 13, 2005 before Administrative Law Judge Douglas W. Abruzzo ("ALJ"). Plaintiff was represented by counsel and testified at the hearing. Dr. Morton H. Morris, an impartial vocational expert, also testified at the hearing.

On June 30, 2006, the ALJ rendered a decision unfavorable to Plaintiff in which he found that Plaintiff could perform a range of work at all exertional levels if she discontinued her drug abuse. The ALJ also found that Plaintiff could perform work that exists in significant numbers in the national economy and was therefore not "disabled" within the meaning of the Act. The ALJ's decision became the final decision of the Commissioner on August 8, 2008, when the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request to review the decision of the ALJ.

On September 8, 2008, Plaintiff filed a Complaint in this Court in which she seeks judicial review of the decision of the ALJ. The parties have filed cross-motions for summary judgment. Plaintiff contends that the ALJ's decision is not based on substantial evidence, is not in accordance with the proper legal standards, and is the product of an analytical process that failed to fully and fairly analyze the evidence. The Commissioner contends that the decision of the ALJ should be affirmed as it is supported by substantial evidence demonstrating that Plaintiff is able to work when she is not abusing drugs. The Court finds the ALJ's decision is not supported by substantial evidence, and as such, the case will be remanded for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

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'n 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; ...


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