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Kachik v. Astrue

September 27, 2010

JOSEPH P. KACHIK, PLAINTIFF,
v.
MICHAEL J. ASTRUE, COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, DEFENDANT.



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

MEMORANDUM ORDER

I. INTRODUCTION

Plaintiff, Joseph P. Kachik ("Plaintiff") brought this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and 1383(c)(3), seeking judicial review of the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security denying his claims for disability insurance benefits ("DIB") and supplemental security income ("SSI") under Titles II and XVI of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. § 401 et seq, and § 1381 et seq. Presently pending before the Court is a Report and Recommendation of the Magistrate Judge recommending that the Defendant's motion for summary judgment be denied and that the case be remanded to the ALJ for further proceedings. The Defendant has filed objections to the Magistrate Judge's Report and Recommendation. For the reasons set forth below, the Defendant's objections will be sustained, the Defendant's motion for summary judgment will be granted, and the Plaintiff's motion for summary judgment will be denied.

II. PROCEDURAL HISTORY

Plaintiff filed applications for DIB and SSI benefits claiming disability due to osteoporosis in his hip and lower back, anxiety and depression (Administrative Record, hereinafter "AR", 14; 337). His applications were denied, and he requested and was granted an administrative hearing before an administrative law judge ("ALJ") (AR 299-300; 303; 309; 601). A hearing was held on November 19, 2007 (AR 36-62). An impartial vocational expert testified that an individual with the Plaintiff's vocational profile could perform the light jobs of an agricultural produce sorter or assembler (AR 26).

Thereafter on July 25, 2008, the ALJ concluded, in a written decision, that the Plaintiff was not entitled to a period of disability, DIB or SSI under the Act (AR 11-27). The ALJ found that the Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since his alleged onset date and that he was insured for benefits through December 31, 2004 (AR 17). The ALJ then determined that his obesity, lumbar degenerative changes, dysthymia, anxiety disorder and polysubstance abuse were severe impairments, but when viewed individually or in combination, did not meet or equal any listed impairment in the regulations (AR 18-20). Finally, the ALJ found that the Plaintiff, a "younger individual" under the regulations, retained the residual functional capacity ("RFC") such that he could perform light exertional work, in a low stress environment, with the need to avoid jobs requiring frequent interaction with the general public or co-workers (AR 20). The ALJ concluded that the Plaintiff could perform the jobs cited by the vocational expert at the administrative hearing (AR 26).

Plaintiff filed his Complaint in this Court on June 23, 2009. The case was referred to United States Magistrate Judge Susan Paradise Baxter for report and recommendation in accordance with the Magistrates Act, 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1), and Rules 72.1.3 and 72.1.4 of the Local Rules for Magistrates. Thereafter, cross motions for summary judgment were filed, and the Magistrate Judge filed a report on August 4, 2010, recommending that the Plaintiff's motion for summary judgment be denied to the extent he requested an award of benefits, but granted to the extent that he sought a remand for further proceedings. See Report and Recommendation [Doc. No. 14]. It was further recommended that the Defendant's motion for summary judgment be denied. Id. Defendant filed timely objections [Doc. No. 15] and the Plaintiff has filed a response thereto [Doc. No. 16]. This matter is now ripe for disposition.

III. LEGAL STANDARDS

A. Standard of Review of an ALJ's Decision

The Court must affirm the determination of the Commissioner unless it is not supported by substantial evidence. See 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Substantial evidence does not mean a large or considerable amount of evidence, but only "such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Pierce v. Underwood, 487 U.S. 552, 564-65 (1988) (quoting Consolidated Edison Co. v. NLRB, 305 U.S. 197, 229 (1938)); see Richardson v. Parales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971). It has been defined as less than a preponderance of evidence but more than a mere scintilla. See Richardson, 402 U.S. at 401; Jesurum v. Secretary of the United States Dept. of Health and Human Servs., 48 F.3d 114, 117 (3d Cir. 1995). Additionally, if the ALJ's findings of fact are supported by substantial evidence, they are conclusive. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g); Richardson, 402 U.S. at 390. A district court cannot conduct a de novo review of the Commissioner's decision nor re-weigh evidence of record. Palmer v. Apfel, 995 F. Supp. 549, 552 (E.D.Pa. 1998); see also Monsour Medical Center v. Heckler, 806 F.2d 1185, 90-91 (3rd Cir. 1986) ("even where this court acting de novo might have reached a different conclusion . . . so long as the agency's factfinding is supported by substantial evidence, reviewing courts lack power to reverse either those findings or the reasonable regulatory interpretations that an agency manifests in the course of making such findings."). To determine whether a finding is supported by substantial evidence, however, the district court must review the record as a whole. See 5 U.S.C. § 706.

B. Standard of Review of a Report and Recommendation

When objections are filed to the report and recommendation of a magistrate judge, the district court makes a de novo determination of those portions of the report or the proposed findings or recommendations to which objections are made. 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1); see also Sample v. Diecks, 885 F.2d 1099, 1106 n.3 (3rd Cir. 1989). In so doing, the 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); see also Brophy v. Halter, 153 F. Supp. 2d 667, 669 (E.D.Pa. 2001). The court may also, in the exercise of sound judicial discretion, rely on the magistrate judge's proposed findings and ...


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