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Harris v. Astrue

July 27, 2009

KIM HARRIS
v.
MICHAEL J. ASTRUE, COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY



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

MEMORANDUM

I. Introduction

Plaintiff Kim Harris brought this action under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), seeking judicial review of the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security, who denied the application of Kim Harris for Disability Insurance Benefits and Supplemental Security Income under Titles II and XVI, respectively, of the Social Security Act. Presently before the Court are the plaintiff's request for review and the defendant's response to the request for review. The case was sent to United States Magistrate Judge Linda K. Caracappa ("MJ") for a Report and Recommendation ("R&R"). The MJ recommended that the plaintiff's request for review be denied. Plaintiff has filed objections to the MJ's R&R.

Upon careful and independent consideration of the administrative record, the Administrative Law Judge's ("ALJ") decision, the R&R and the plaintiff's objections thereto, the Court finds that there is substantial evidence supporting the ALJ's decision.

The facts and procedural history of this case are sufficiently recounted in the R&R and the Court will not repeat them here except as necessary below.

II. Legal Standards

The Court reviews the ALJ's decision to determine whether there is substantial evidence on the record to support it. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) (2008); Burnett v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec. Admin., 220 F.3d 112, 118 (3d Cir. 2000). Substantial evidence is not a large or significant amount of evidence but rather such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept to support a conclusion. Cotter v. Harris, 642 F.2d 700, 704 (3d Cir. 1981). Contradictory evidence may be found in the record, but it is not cause for reversing the Commissioner's decision if substantial support exists for the decision within the record. Sykes v. Apfel, 228 F.3d 259, 262 (3d Cir. 2000). Even if the Court would have decided the case differently, the Court must afford deference to the Commissioner and affirm the ALJ's credibility determinations if substantial evidence supports them. Monsour Med. Ctr. v. Heckler, 806 F.2d 1185, 1190-91 (3d Cir. 1986). "The Court is bound by the ALJ's findings of fact if they are supported by substantial evidence in the record." Plummer v. Apfel, 186 F.3d 422, 427 (3d Cir. 1999). In addition, the Court must also ensure that the ALJ applied the proper legal standards. Coria v. Heckler, 750 F.2d 245, 247 (3d Cir. 1984).

To establish a disability under the Social Security Act, a claimant must demonstrate that there is some "medically determinable basis for an impairment that prevents him from engaging in any 'substantial gainful activity' for a statutory twelve-month period." Stunkard v. Sec'y of Health and Human Servs, 841 F.2d 57, 59 (3d Cir. 1988) (quoting Kangas v. Bowen, 823 F.2d 775, 777 (3d Cir. 1987); 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1) (1982). The claimant satisfies his burden by showing an inability to return to his past relevant work. Doak v. Heckler, 790 F.2d 26, 28 (3d Cir. 1986); Rossi v. Califano, 602 F.2d 55, 57 (3d Cir. 1979) (citing Baker v. Gardner, 362 F.2d 864 (3d Cir. 1966)). Once this showing is made, the burden of proof shifts to the Commissioner to show that the claimant, given his age, education, and work experience, has the ability to perform specific jobs that exist in the economy. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520. See Rossi, 602 F.2d at 57.

As explained in the following agency regulation, each case is evaluated by the Commissioner according to a five-step process:

(I) At the first step, we consider your work activity if any. If you are doing substantial gainful activity, we will find that you are not disabled.

(ii) At the second step, we consider the medical severity of your impairment(s). If you do not have a severe medically determinable physical or mental impairment that meets the duration requirement in § 404.1509, or a combination of impairments that is severe and meets the duration requirement, we will find that you are not disabled.

(iii) At the third step, we also consider the medical severity of your impairment(s). If you have an impairment(s) that meets or equals one of our listings in appendix 1 of this subpart and meets the duration requirement, we will find that you are disabled.

(iv). At the fourth step, we consider our assessment of your residual functional capacity and your past relevant work. If you can still do your past relevant work, we will find that you are not disabled.

(v). At the fifth and last step, we consider our assessment of your residual functional capacity and your age, education and work experience to see if you can make an adjustment to other work. If you can make an adjustment to other work, we will find that you are not disabled. If you cannot make an adjustment to other work, we will find that you are disabled.

20 C.F.R. ยง 404.1520 (references to other ...


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