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West v. Astrue

April 26, 2010

CONSTANCE A. WEST, PLAINTIFF,
v.
MICHAEL J. ASTRUE, COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, DEFENDANT.



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

MEMORANDUM RE: SOCIAL SECURITY APPEAL

Plaintiff, Constance A. West, seeks judicial review of the decision by the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (the "Commissioner") denying her application for Social Security Disability Insurance Benefits ("SSDI") and Supplemental Security Income ("SSI") under Titles II and XVI of the Social Security Act ("the Act"), 42 U.S.C. §§ 1381-83(c) (2000). Jurisdiction is established under § 1383(c)(3), which incorporates § 405(g) of the Act. 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g), 1383(c)(3). After careful and independent consideration of the matter, and for the following reasons, the Court will remand the case to the Commissioner for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

I. Background and Procedural History

On February 7, 2007, Plaintiff applied for SSDI and SSI benefits, alleging disability beginning November 1, 2005. (R. 52-54; 166-172; 181.) Plaintiff was forty-nine (49) years old on the date she alleges she became disabled (R. 52), and has past relevant work experience as a salesperson, assistant sales manager, check cashier, supervisor cashier, and head teller. (R. 184- 187; 199-201.) Plaintiff alleges that she is a major manic depressive and suffers from multiple severe medical impairments including back pains, a heart murmur, cancer polyps that were removed and are in remission (R. 182), small hiatal hernia, hypertension, biopolar disorder, and a history of polysubstance abuse (R. 99, 104-105, 116, 118-134, 137-140, 159-161).

The Social Security Administration denied Plaintiff's application on August 7, 2007.

(R. 41-45; 174-178.) On August 13, 2007, Plaintiff timely requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"). (R. 46.) The hearing was held before ALJ Margaret A. Lenzi on April 23, 2008. (R. 179-204.) In her written decision of May 12, 2008, ALJ Lenzi denied Plaintiff's application for benefits, and held that Plaintiff was not disabled within the meaning of the Act. (R. 20-32.) The ALJ found that Plaintiff suffered from severe impairments including a back condition, hypertension, headaches, bipolar affective disorder, and polysubstance abuse and dependence disorder, but that Plaintiff's impairments did not meet or medically equal one of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R. § 404, Subpt. P, App. 1. (R. 25-27.) The ALJ then determined that Plaintiff had the residual functional capacity ("RFC") to perform light work, subject to certain limitations. (R. 27-30.) Although the ALJ found that Plaintiff was unable to perform any past relevant work, the ALJ found that based on Plaintiff's age, education, work experience, and RFC, there were a significant number of jobs in the national economy that she could perform. (R. 30-32.) Thus, the ALJ found that Plaintiff was not "disabled" under the Act. (R. 32.)

Plaintiff timely filed a request for review of the ALJ's decision on February 13, 2009.

(R. 9-12.) On April 9, 2009, the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review, affirming the ALJ's decision. (R. 4-6.) Plaintiff subsequently filed the instant action, requesting that this Court reverse the Commissioner's decision, or, in the alternative, remand the case to the Commissioner for receipt of further evidence. (Doc. Nos. 3, 9.)

II. Legal Standards

A. Jurisdiction

The Social Security Act provides for judicial review by this Court of any "final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security" in a disability proceeding. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) (2000). A district court may enter a judgment "affirming, modifying, or reversing the decision of the Commissioner of Social Security, with or without remanding the cause for a rehearing." Id.

B. Standard of Review

On judicial review of the Commissioner's decision, the Commissioner's findings "as to any fact, if supported by substantial evidence, shall be conclusive." Id. "Substantial evidence is 'such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion . . . .'" Rutherford v. Barnhart, 399 F.3d 546, 552 (3d Cir. 2005) (quoting Reefer v. Barnhart, 326 F.3d 376, 379 (3d Cir. 2003)). In reviewing the record for substantial evidence, however, this Court must "not 'weigh the evidence or substitute [its own] conclusions for those of the fact finder.'" Rutherford, 399 F.3d at 552 (quoting Williams v. Sullivan, 970 ...


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