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Ambrosini v. Astrue

July 23, 2010

TIMOTHY E. AMBROSINI, PLAINTIFF,
v.
MICHAEL J. ASTRUE, COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Arthur J. Schwab United States District Judge

Electronically Filed

MEMORANDUM OPINION

I. Introduction

Plaintiff Timothy E. Ambrosini (hereinafter "Ambrosini") brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 405 (g) and 1383(c)(3), seeking review of the final determination of the Commissioner of Social Security (hereinafter "Commissioner") denying his application for supplemental security income (hereinafter "SSI") under Title XVI of the Social Security Act (herein after the "Act"). 42 U.S.C. §§ 1381-1383f. Consistent with the customary practice in the Western District of Pennsylvania, the parties have filed cross-motions for summary judgment on the record developed during the administrative proceedings. Doc. Nos. 8, 9.

After careful consideration of the Commissioner's decision, the parties' briefs in support of their motions, and the entire evidentiary record, this Court finds that the Commissioner's decision must be vacated. Therefore, this Court will DENY the Commissioner's motion for summary judgment. Doc. No. 9. This Court will GRANT Ambrosini's motion for summary judgment insofar as it seeks a vacation of the administrative decision under review, and remand the case for further administrative proceedings. Doc. No. 8.

II. Procedural History

Ambrosini applied for SSI benefits in the present case on July 13, 2007, alleging disability as of July 13, 2007, due to agoraphobia, paranoia, dependent personality disorder, depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, back pain, high cholesterol and drug addiction. Transcript of SSA Proceedings (Doc. No. 6) at R. 190.*fn1 Ambrosini's application was denied by the state agency on March 6, 2008. R. 66-69. Ambrosini responded by filing a timely request for an administrative hearing. R. 8. On March 11, 2009, a hearing was held in Morgantown, West Virginia, before Administrative Law Judge George A. Mills III (herein after the "ALJ"). Ambrosini, who was represented by counsel, appeared and testified at the hearing.*fn2 R. 8-22. Lawrence S. Ostrowski, Ph.D., an impartial vocational expert, appeared and testified at the hearing. R. 18.

In a decision dated June 8, 2009, the ALJ determined that Ambrosini was not "disabled" within the meaning of the Act. R. 8-22. The Appeals Council denied Ambrosini's request for review on December 17, 2009, thereby making the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner in this case. R. 1-3. Ambrosini commenced this action on January 22, 2010, seeking judicial review of the Commissioner's decision. Doc. No. 3. Ambrosini and the Commissioner filed motions for summary judgment on May 17, 2010. Doc. Nos. 8, 9. These motions are the subject of this memorandum opinion.

III. STATEMENT OF THE CASE

In his decision, the ALJ made the following findings:

1. The claimant has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since July 13, 2007, the application date (20 C.F.R. § 416.920 and § 416.971 et seq.).

2. The claimant has the following severe combination of impairments: Depressive disorder; anxiety disorder; dependent personality disorder; substance abuse disorder with a history of narcotic addiction (20 CRF § 416.920(c)).

3. The claimant's impairments, including the substance use disorders, meet sections 12.04, 12.06, 12.08, and 12.09 of 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 (20 C.F.R. § 416.920(d)).

4. If the claimant stopped the substance use, the remaining limitations would cause more than a minimal impact on the claimant's ability to perform basic work activities; therefore, the claimant would continue to have a severe impairment or combination of impairments.

5. If the claimant stopped the substance use, the claimant would not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals any of the impairments listed in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 (20 C.F.R. § 416.920(d)).

6. If the claimant stopped the substance use, the claimant would have the residual functional capacity to perform a full range of work at all exertional levels but with the following non-exertional limitations: work must be unskilled involving simple instructions and tasks; must be low stress with no rapid production expectations; and involve no more than occasional interaction with supervisors and co-workers and no contact with the general public.

7. The claimant has no past relevant work. (20 C.F.R. § 416.965)

8. The claimant was born on May 30, 1970 and was 37 years old, which is defined as a younger individual, on the date the application was filed (20 C.F.R. § 416.963).

9. The claimant has at least a high school education and is able to communicate in English. (20 C.F.R. § 416.964).

10. Transferability of job skills is not an issue because the claimant does not have past relevant work experience. (20 C.F.R. § 416.968).

11. If the claimant stopped the substance use, considering the claimant's age, education, work experience, and residual functional capacity, there would be a significant number of jobs in the national economy that the claimant could perform. (20 C.F.R. § 416.960)(c) and § 416.966). R.8-22.

IV. Standards of Review

Judicial review of the Commissioner's final decisions on disability claims is provided by statute. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g)*fn3 and § 1383(c)(3)*fn4 . Section 405(g) permits a district court to review transcripts and records upon which a determination of the Commissioner is based. Because the standards for eligibility under Title II (42 U.S.C. §§ 401-433, regarding Disability Insurance Benefits, or "DIB"), and judicial review thereof, are virtually identical to the standards under Title XVI (42 U.S.C. §§ 1381-1383f, regarding Supplemental Security Income, or "SSI"), regulations and decisions rendered under the Title II disability standard, 42 U.S.C. § 423, are pertinent and applicable in Title XVI decisions rendered under 42 U.S.C. § 1381(a). Sullivan v. Zebley, 493 U.S. 521, 525 n. 3, 110 S.Ct. 885, 107 L.Ed.2d 967 (1990); Burns v. Barnhart, 312 F.3d 113, 119 n. 1 (3d Cir.2002).

Substantial Evidence If supported by substantial evidence, the Commissioner's factual findings must be accepted as conclusive. Ventura v. Shalala, 55 F.3d 900, 901 (3d Cir.1995); Wallace v. Secretary of HHS, 722 F.2d 1150, 1152 (3d Cir.1983). The district court's function is to determine whether the record, as a whole, contains substantial evidence to support the Commissioner's findings. See Adorno v. Shalala, 40 F.3d 43, 46 (3d Cir.1994) (citing Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401, 91 S.Ct. 1420, 28 L.Ed.2d 842 (1971)). The Supreme Court has explained that "substantial evidence" means "more than a mere scintilla" of evidence, but rather, is "such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Richardson, 402 U.S. ...


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