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Morgan v. Astrue

October 30, 2009

GRACE MORGAN, PLAINTIFF,
v.
MICHAEL J. ASTRUE, COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, DEFENDANT.



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

MEMORANDUM

Currently before the Court are the Objections of the Plaintiff, Grace Morgan, to the Report and Recommendation of United States Magistrate Judge L. Felipe Restrepo affirming the denial of Social Security disability insurance benefits. Having engaged in a thorough review of the Objections, the Response of the Commissioner of Social Security (the "Commissioner"), the Magistrate Judge's Report and Recommendation, and the certified administrative record of evidence, the Court overrules the Objections and affirms the final decision of the Commissioner.

I. PROCEDURAL HISTORY*fn1

On October 17, 2003, Plaintiff Grace Morgan, who was then fifty years old, filed a protective application for Disability Insurance Benefits ("DIB") under Title II of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 401-434, alleging disability since May 14, 1999. (R. 139-141.) Her date last insured extended through to December 31, 2004. (R. 92.) As a result of the state agency's denial of her application on initial review, (R. 109-12), Plaintiff requested an administrative hearing. (R. 113-15.) Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") Diane Moskal presided over the hearing on July 8, 2004, at which time Plaintiff claimed disability due to a musculoskeletal impairment with accompanying migraine headaches. (R. 52-89.) Additionally, the ALJ heard testimony from a vocational expert. (R. 83-89.) In an opinion issued August 7, 2004, the ALJ denied Plaintiff's claim for benefits, finding that she retained the residual functional capacity to perform a range of unskilled, light work. (R. 92-97.)

Plaintiff thereafter sought review by the Appeals Counsel. (R. 121-25.) On November 10, 2005, the Appeals Counsel vacated the ALJ's decision and remanded for resolution of the following issues: (1) the severity of Plaintiff's obesity; (2) the severity of Plaintiff's headaches; and (3) a function-by-function assessment of the claimant's ability to do work-related physical and mental activities with a sufficient rationale and specific references to evidence of record. (R. 126-29.)

The ALJ conducted a second administrative hearing on March 1, 2006, at which time Plaintiff and a second vocational expert testified. (R. 22-51.) Again, however, on May 1, 2006, the ALJ denied Plaintiff's claim for DIB, finding that she had the capacity to perform a range of unskilled, light jobs, which existed in significant numbers in the regional and national economies.

(R. 101-08.) Although Plaintiff sought review a second time, the Appeals Counsel denied Plaintiff's request and affirmed the ALJ's decision, thereby making it the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security. (R. 6-10.)

Plaintiff initiated the current action on May 7, 2008, seeking federal review of the Commissioner's decision. The Court referred the matter to Magistrate Judge L. Felipe Restrepo, who held oral argument and subsequently issued a Report and Recommendation, dated July 31, 2009, affirming the Commissioner's decision. Plaintiff filed Objections to the Report and Recommendation on August 10, 2009, and the Commissioner responded. The Court now turns to consideration of these Objections.

II. STANDARDS OF REVIEW*fn2

A. Standard for Judicial Review of an ALJ's Decision

It is well-established that judicial review of the Commissioner's decision is limited to determining whether "substantial evidence" supports the decision. Monsour Med. Ctr. v. Heckler, 806 F.2d 1185, 1190 (3d Cir. 1986). "Substantial evidence 'does not mean a large or considerable amount of evidence, but rather 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. 1999) (quoting Pierce v. Underwood, 487 U.S. 552, 564-65 (1988)). In making this determination, a reviewing court may not undertake a de novo review of the Commissioner's decision and may not re-weigh the evidence of record. Monsour, 806 F.2d at 1190. In other words, even if the reviewing court, acting de novo, would have decided the case differently, the Commissioner's decision must be affirmed if it is supported by substantial evidence. Id. at 1190-91; see also Gilmore v. Barnhart, 356 F. Supp. 2d 509, 511 (E.D. Pa. 2005) (holding that the court's scope of review is "limited to determining whether the Commissioner applied the correct legal standards and whether the record, as a whole, contains substantial evidence to support the Commissioner's findings of fact.") (quoting Schwartz v. Halter, 134 F. Supp. 2d 640, 647 (E.D. Pa. 2001).

B. Standard of Review on Objections to a Report and Recommendation

When a party makes a timely and specific objection to a portion of a report and recommendation by a United States Magistrate Judge, the district court is obliged to engage in de novo review of only those issues raised on objection. 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1) (2005); see also Sample v. Diecks, 885 F.2d 1099, 1106 n.3 (3d Cir. 1989). In so doing, a court may "accept, reject, or modify, in whole or in part, the findings and recommendations" contained in the report.

28 U.S.C. ยง 636(b)(1). The court may also, in the exercise of sound judicial discretion, rely on the Magistrate Judge's proposed findings and recommendations. ...


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