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Dematteo v. Astrue

May 10, 2010

RAYMOND W. DEMATTEO, PLAINTIFF,
v.
MICHAEL J. ASTRUE, COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Nora Barry Fischer, District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER OF COURT

I. INTRODUCTION

Plaintiff Raymond Dematteo ("Plaintiff") brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §405(g), seeking judicial review of the final determination of the Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner") denying Plaintiff's application for disability insurance benefits ("DIB") under Title II of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 401-433. The parties have filed cross motions for summary judgment pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56, and the record has been developed at the administrative level. (Doc. Nos. 6, 8). For the following reasons, the Court finds that the decision of the ALJ is supported by substantial evidence; therefore, Plaintiff's motion for summary judgment is denied and Defendant's motion for summary judgment is granted.

II. PROCEDURAL HISTORY

Plaintiff filed his application for DIB on October 19, 2006, alleging disability since July 1, 2006 due to blindness in his right eye and poor vision in his left eye.*fn1 (R. 134, 153). Plaintiff's claim was denied at the initial level on February 9, 2007. (R. 95). He requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") on April 12, 2007. (R. 102). A hearing was held on July 8, 2008 before ALJ John J. Mulrooney, II. (R. 56-91). Plaintiff, who was represented by counsel, and Judy Schollaert, a vocational expert, testified. Id. On August 11, 2008, the ALJ issued a decision finding that Plaintiff was not disabled within the meaning of the Act. (R. 17-26). The Appeals Council subsequently denied Plaintiff's request for review, thereby making the decision of the Commissioner final in this case. (R. 1). Plaintiff now seeks review of that decision by this Court.

III. STANDARD OF REVIEW

This Court's review is limited to determining whether the Commissioner's decision is supported by substantial evidence. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g); Adorno v. Shalala, 40 F.3d 43, 46 (3d Cir. 1994). The Court may not undertake a de novo review of the Commissioner's decision or re-weigh the evidence of record. Monsour Med. Ctr. v. Heckler, 806 F.2d 1185, 1190 (3d Cir. 1986). Congress has clearly expressed its intention that "[t]he findings of the Commissioner of Social Security as to any fact, if supported by substantial evidence, shall be conclusive." 42 U.S.C. §405(g). 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." Pierce v. Underwood, 487 U.S. 522, 565, 108 S.Ct. 2541, 101 L.Ed.2d 490 (1988). As long as the Commissioner's decision is supported by substantial evidence, it cannot be set aside, even if this court "would have decided the factual inquiry differently." Haranft v. Apfel, 181 F.3d 358, 360 (3d Cir. 1999). "Overall, the substantial evidence standard is a deferential standard of review." Jones v. Barnhart, 364 F.3d 501, 503 (3d Cir. 2004).

In order to establish a disability under the Act, a claimant must demonstrate a "medically determinable basis for an impairment that prevents [her] 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); 42 U.S.C. §423 (d)(1). A claimant is considered unable to engage in substantial gainful activity "only if [her] physical or mental impairment or impairments are of such severity that [she] is not only unable to do [her] previous work but cannot, considering [her] age, education, and work experience, engage in any other kind of substantial gainful work which exists in the national economy." 42 U.S.C. §423 (d)(2)(A).

An ALJ must do more than simply state factual conclusions to support his ultimate findings. Baerga v. Richardson, 500 F.2d 309, 312-13 (3d Cir. 1974). The ALJ must make specific findings of fact. Stewart v. Secretary of HEW, 714 F.2d 287, 290 (3d Cir. 1983). Moreover, the ALJ must consider all medical evidence contained in the record and provide adequate explanations for disregarding or rejecting evidence. Weir on Behalf of Weir v. Heckler, 734 F.2d 955, 961 (3d Cir. 1984); Cotter v. Harris, 642 F.2d 700, 705 (3d Cir. 1981).

The Social Security Administration ("SSA"), acting pursuant to its rule making authority under 42 U.S.C. §405(a), has promulgated a five-step sequential evaluation process to determine whether a claimant is "disabled" within the meaning of the Act. The United States Supreme Court summarized this process as follows:

If at any step a finding of disability or non-disability can be made, the SSA will not review the claim further. At the first step, the agency will find non-disability unless the claimant shows that he is not working at a "substantial gainful activity." [20 C.F.R.] §§ 404.1520 (b), 416.920 (b). At step two, the SSA will find non-disability unless the claimant shows that he has a "severe impairment," defined as "any impairment or combination of impairments which significantly limits [the claimant's] physical or mental ability to do basic work activities." [20 C.F.R.] §§ 404.1520(c), 415.920(c). At step three, the agency determines whether the impairment which enabled the claimant to survive step two is on the list of impairments presumed severe enough to render one disabled; if so, the claimant qualifies. [20 C.F.R.] §§ 404.1520(d), 416.920(d). If the claimant's impairment is not on the list, the inquiry proceeds to step four, at which the SSA assesses whether the claimant can do his previous work; unless he shows that he cannot, he is determined not to be disabled. If the claimant survives the fourth stage, the fifth, and final, step requires the SSA to consider so-called "vocational factors" (the claimant's age, education, and past work experience), and to determine whether the claimant is capable of performing other jobs existing in significant numbers in the national economy. [20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(f), 404.1560(c), 416.920(f), 416.960(c).

Barnhart v. Thomas, 540 U.S. 20, 24-5, 124 S.Ct. 176, 157 L.Ed. 2d 333 (2003)(footnotes omitted).

If the claimant is determined to be unable to resume previous employment, the burden shifts to the Commissioner (Step 5) to prove that, given plaintiff's mental or physical limitations, age, education, and work experience, he or she is able to perform substantial gainful activity in jobs available in the national economy. Heckler v. Campbell, 461 U.S. 458, 461, 103 S.Ct. 1952, 76 L.Ed.2d 66 (1983); Stunkard, 842 F.2d at 59; Kangas, 823 F.2d 775, 777 (3d Cir. 1987); Doak v. Heckler, 790 F.2d 26, 28 (3d Cir. 1986).

IV. FACTS

A. General Background

Plaintiff was born on May 2, 1951, making him fifty-seven years of age at the time of the ALJ's decision. (R. 134). A fifty-seven year old is considered a "person of advanced age" under 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(e). Plaintiff completed high school and had previously been employed as a bakery truck driver for twenty-seven years. (R. 153). He retired from that work in May 2006. Id. Plaintiff avers July 1, 2006 as the onset of his disability. (R. 149).

B. Medical Background

Plaintiff claims to be disabled based on severely decreased vision in both eyes due to retinal detachment in the right eye, severe obstructive sleep apnea syndrome, high blood pressure, and hyperlipidemia. (Plaintiff's Brief, Doc. No. 7, p. 2). Plaintiff underwent cataract*fn2 surgery in 2005 and retired from his long-term employment in May 2006 for reasons unrelated to his vision problems. (R. 75-76).

On December 14, 2005, Plaintiff sought treatment with Dr. Bharat Jain, a sleep specialist, for difficulty sleeping and snoring. (R. 197). Plaintiff underwent a formal sleep study on January 31, 2006 and was diagnosed with moderate to severe sleep apnea syndrome.*fn3 (R. 195). Frequent respiratory disturbances were recorded during the test despite the use of a continuous positive ...


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