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Walker v. Astrue

August 9, 2010

BETTY J. WALKER PLAINTIFF,
v.
MICHAEL J. ASTRUE COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, DEFENDANT



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Anita B. Brody, J.

MEMORANDUM

I.INTRODUCTION

Plaintiff Betty J. Walker ("Walker") brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), which grants district courts jurisdiction to review final decisions by the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration ("Commissioner") denying claims for Supplemental Security Income ("SSI") benefits under Title XVI of the Social Security Act. The United States Magistrate Judge ("Magistrate") conducted an initial review and issued a Report and Recommendation ("R & R") that I affirm Administrative Law Judge Christine McCafferty's ("ALJ") decision to deny benefits. Walker submitted five objections to the R & R and requested a de novo determination. I reviewed the record and will remand for reconsideration of step five of the disability evaluation.

II. JURISDICTION AND LEGAL STANDARD

Jurisdiction is proper under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). A district court "must uphold a final agency determination unless [it] find[s] that it is not supported by substantial evidence in the record." Rutherford v. Barnhart, 399 F.3d 546, 552 (3d Cir. 2005). Substantial evidence is something "more than a mere scintilla;" rather, it is "such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Id. (internal quotation marks omitted). A reviewing court must not "weigh the evidence or substitute [its own] conclusions for those of the fact-finder." Id. (internal quotation marks omitted).

A district court conducts a de novo review of objections to the magistrate's R & R. Fed. R. Civ. P. 72(b)(3).

III. FACTUAL BACKGROUND

Walker is fifty-four years old and suffers from osteoarthritis, HIV, and hypertension. (Record at 13, 16.) She has a high school education and is unemployed. (Id.) On March 24, 2006, Walker filed an application for SSI benefits, claiming that severe leg pain, HIV, and high blood pressure prevented her from working. (R. at 61.) Walker's claim was denied and Walker promptly filed a request for a hearing by an administrative law judge. (R. at 61, 66.) On September 5, 2007, Judge McCafferty held a hearing. (R. at 35.)

Administrative courts use a five-step analysis to decide if a SSI applicant is disabled. See Rutherford, 399 F.3d at 551. The burden is on the claimant in the first four steps to show that she: "(1) is not currently engaged in gainful employment because she (2) is suffering from a severe impairment (3) that is listed in an appendix (or is equivalent to such a listed condition) or (4) that leaves her lacking the [residual functional capacity] to return to her previous employment." Id. If the claimant satisfies the third step, then she is per se disabled. Id. If the claimant fails to satisfy the third step, but demonstrates that she lacks the residual functional capacity ("RFC") to return to her previous employment, "the burden then shifts to the Commissioner at step [five] to show that other jobs exist in significant numbers in the national economy that the claimant could perform." Id.

On September 27, 2007, the ALJ issued a decision. Following the five-step analysis, the ALJ concluded that Walker was not "disabled." (R. at 11.) The ALJ found that Walker satisfied steps one and two because she had "not engaged in substantial gainful activity since March 24, 2006" and because she suffered from a severe impairment.*fn1 (R. at 13.) The ALJ found that Walker failed to satisfy step three, however, because she "does not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals one of the listed impairments" in an appendix. (R. at 14.) Thus, the analysis moved to step four. Although the ALJ determined that Walker had the RFC to perform the full range of light work, with some limitations, she also found that Walker had no past relevant employment to which she could return. (R. at 14-16.) Therefore, the analysis moved to the fifth and final step. (R. at 16.) Relying on testimony from a vocational expert ("VE"), the ALJ found that occupations that Walker could perform exist in significant numbers in the national economy. (Id.)

On November 19, 2007, Walker sought review of the ALJ's decision. (R. at 193-202.) On December 5, 2008, the Social Security Appeals Council ("Appeals Council") denied her request for review. (R. at 4-7.) On January 28, 2009, Walker filed this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), alleging that the ALJ's decision to deny benefits was not supported by substantial evidence. (R & R 3.) The Magistrate issued a R & R supporting the ALJ's decision.

(R & R 10-18.) She concluded that the ALJ's RFC determination, decision to deny Walker disability status, and conclusion that significant numbers of occupations that Walker could perform exist in the national economy were all supported by substantial evidence. (Id.) Walker now objects to the R & R.

IV. DISCUSSION

Walker makes five objections to the R & R. Specifically, Walker claims that the Magistrate failed to address: 1) the ALJ's failure to discuss the opinion of Walker's treating physician assistant; 2) the weight given by the ALJ to the opinion of the state agency reviewer; 3) the evaluation of physical therapy records submitted to the Appeals Council; 4) the ALJ's failure to comply with Social Security Ruling ("SSR") 00-4p and to marshal substantial evidence showing that there are significant numbers of jobs or occupations in the national economy that Walker could perform; and 5) the ALJ's non-compliance with SSR 83-12 and SSR 83-14. The ...


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