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Grasty v. Astrue

September 29, 2009


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Eduardo C. Robreno, J.


Plaintiff, Diahann Grasty ("Plaintiff") filed this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and 1383(c)(3), seeking judicial review of a final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration ("Commissioner") denying Plaintiff's application for disability insurance benefits ("DIB") and supplemental security income benefits ("SSIB") under Titles II and XVI of the Social Security Act.

Upon consideration of Plaintiff's motion for summary judgment (doc. no. 9), Defendant's response thereto (doc. no. 11), Plaintiff's reply thereto (doc. no. 14), Magistrate Judge Angell's Report and Recommendation (doc. no. 18), and Plaintiff's objections to the Report and Recommendation (doc. no. 19), the Court will approve and adopt the Report and Recommendation.


A. Factual Background

Plaintiff was born on January 13, 1958 and completed twelfth grade along with three years of college education. Administrative Record*fn1 107, 126. Plaintiff has relevant past work experience as a housekeeper, customer service representative, and relay operator. Id. at 22. The longest period of employment for Plaintiff was from 1994 until 1999, during which time she worked eight hours a day, five days a week as a customer service representative for the hearing impaired. The Vocational Expert who testified at Plaintiff's administrative hearing identified the housekeeper job as unskilled and light work, whereas the relay operator and customer service positions were rated as semi-skilled and sedentary. Id. at 21. Plaintiff alleges that she is disabled due to the following conditions: carpal tunnel, diffused tendonitis, herniated disc, diabetes, right shoulder impingement, insomnia and depression. Id. at 15, 52, 146. Plaintiff contends that she suffers from a litany of ailments, but that her orthopedic conditions with respect to her neck, shoulder, and upper extremities are a result of injuries sustained in two separate SEPTA bus accidents occurring on March 3, 2006 and August 9, 2006. Plaintiff is right-hand dominant.

Id. at 41. Plaintiff alleges that the onset date for disability is March 14, 2003.

B. Procedural Background

On September 21, 2006, Plaintiff first filed her applications for DIB and SSIB. These applications were denied on November 2, 2006, and Plaintiff timely filed a request for hearing. Id. at 53-62. On December 3, 2007, Administrative Law Judge Christine McCafferty (the "ALJ") held a hearing, at which both Plaintiff and Vocational Expert James H. Earhardt (the "VE") testified.

On December 28, 2007, the ALJ issued a decision finding that Plaintiff suffered from the following severe impairments: cervical disc disease, right shoulder tendonitis and a mood disorder. Id. at 17-18. The ALJ further found, however, that Plaintiff did not suffer from the following severe conditions: hypertension, diabetes, and carpal tunnel syndrome. Id. The ALJ denied Plaintiff's DIB and SSIB claims, concluding that Plaintiff did not qualify as disabled due to her residual functional capacity ("RFC") to perform her past work as a housekeeper, relay operator, and customer service representative. Id. at 22-23.

On May 28, 2008, the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review of the ALJ's decision. Plaintiff subsequently filed this motion on December 27, 2008, seeking review of the ALJ's decision. Following the filing of this motion for summary judgment by Plaintiff, this case was referred to Magistrate Judge Angell for a report and recommendation.

Magistrate Judge Angell recommends that Plaintiff's motion for summary judgment be denied, and that judgment be entered in favor of Defendant.*fn2 Plaintiff has filed objections to the Report and Recommendation and the matter is now before the Court.


A. Legal Standard

In reviewing the Commissioner's final determination that a person is not disabled and therefore not entitled to Social Security benefits, the Court is precluded from independently weighing the evidence or substituting its own conclusions for those reached by the ALJ. Burns v. Barnhart, 312 F.3d 113, 118 (3d Cir. 2002). Instead, the Court must review the factual findings presented in order to determine whether they are supported by substantial evidence. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g); Rutherford v. Barnhart, 399 F.3d 546, 552 (3d Cir. 2005). Substantial evidence constitutes that which a "reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Rutherford, 399 F.3d at 552 (internal quotations and internal quotation marks omitted). "It is 'more than a mere scintilla but may be somewhat less than a preponderance of the evidence'" Id. (quoting Ginsburg v. Richardson, 436 F.2d 1146, 1148 (3d Cir. 1971)). If the ALJ's findings of fact are supported by substantial evidence, the Court is bound by those findings. See Fargnoli v. Massanari, 247 F.3d 34, 38 (3d Cir. 2001).

B. Magistrate Judge Angell's Analysis

After reviewing the ALJ's determination, Magistrate Judge Angell concluded: (1) that the ALJ did not commit reversible error by failing to include in the hypothetical questioning of the VE certain limitations with respect to Plaintiff's handling and fingering ability in her right upper extremity; (2) that substantial evidence supported the ALJ's decision that Plaintiff can return to her past relevant work as a housekeeper, relay operator or customer service representative; (3) that the ALJ committed no reversible error of law by purportedly disregarding certain medical evidence; (4) that the ALJ afforded proper weight to ...

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