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Rae A. Carpenter v. Commissioner of Social Security

December 14, 2010


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


Presently before the Court for disposition are cross motions for summary judgment. For the reasons set forth below, the plaintiff's motion for summary judgment (Document No.9) will be denied and the defendant's motion for summary judgment (Document No.13) will be granted.

On May 10, 2010, Rae A. Carpenter by her counsel, filed a complaint pursuant to Section 205(g) of the Social Security Act, as amended, 42 U.S.C. §405(g) for review of the Commissioner's final determination disallowing her claim for Supplemental Security Income benefits under Sections 1614 and 1631 of the Act, as amended, 42 U.S.C. §1381 cf.

The instant application for Supplemental Security Income Benefits was filed on July 27, 2007 (R.103-109). On October 24, 2007, benefits were denied (R.75-79), and on December 5, 2007, the plaintiff requested a hearing (R.84). Pursuant to that request a hearing was held on December 12, 2008 (R.10-58). In a decision filed on February 11, 2009, an Administrative Law Judge denied benefits (R.61-74), and on March 19, 2009, the plaintiff requested reconsideration of that determination (R.8-9). On March 13, 2010, the Appeals Council affirmed the prior determination (R.1-3). The instant complaint was filed on May 10, 2010.

In reviewing an administrative determination of the Commissioner, the question before any court is whether there is substantial evidence in the agency record to support the findings of the Commissioner that the plaintiff failed to sustain his/her burden of demonstrating that he/she was disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act. Richardson v. Paralyze, 402 U.S. 389 (1971); Adorn v. Halala, 40 F.3d 43 (3d Cir. 1994).

It is provided in 42 U.S.C. Section 405(g) that: The court shall have power to enter, upon the pleadings and transcript of the record, a judgment affirming, modifying, or reversing the decision of the Commissioner of Social Security, with or without remanding the cause for a rehearing. The findings of the Commissioner of Social Security as to any fact, if supported by substantial evidence, shall be conclusive....

Substantial evidence is more than a mere scintilla. It means such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion. Johnson v. Camber. 529 F.3d 198 (3d Cir.2008) and the court may not set aside a decision supported by substantial evidence. Hartranft v. Apfel, 181 F.3d 358 (3d Cir.1999)

The purpose of the Supplemental Security Income Program is to provide additional income to persons of limited resources who are aged, blind or disabled . 42 U.S.C. §1381; Chalmers v. Halala, 23 F. 3d 752 (3d Cir. 1994). To be eligible for such benefits, an individual's income must not exceed a certain established maximum and he/she must demonstrate certain eligibility requirements.

As set forth in 20 C.F.R. § 416.905(a) disability is defined as: the inability to do any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment which can be expected to result in death or which has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than 12 months...

To meet this definition, you must have a severe impairment(s) that makes you unable to do your past relevant work... or any other substantial gainful work that exists in the national economy.

A physical or mental impairment is defined in 20 C.F.R. §416.908 as an:

impairment [which] result[s] from anatomical, physiological, or psychological abnormalities which [are demonstrated] by medically acceptable clinical and laboratory diagnostic techniques.

For purposes of determining whether or not the plaintiff met the eligibility requirements, certain evidence was considered by the Commissioner.

At the hearing held on December 12, 2008 (R.10-58), the plaintiff appeared with counsel (R.12) and testified that she completed the eighth grade and has limited math and reading skills (R.15-17); that she lives with her two minor children (R.14) and that she worked as a babysitter and restaurant table cleaner (R.17,19).

The plaintiff also testified that she experiences constant pain due to fibromyalgia and arthritis and suffers from irritable bowel syndrome (R.21,22, 27); that she experiences frequent uncontrollable bowel movements (R.24,38); that she takes medication for pain but it does not help (R.27-28); that her mother and sister perform household chores for her (R.30-32,34); that she can walk very short distances and stand or walk for about a half hour (R.30-32); that she experiences difficulty sitting (R.32-33); that she watches television and listens to music (R.36); that she has difficulty concentrating (R.40); that she also suffers from carpal tunnel syndrome and can only use her hands for about twenty minutes (R.41,43); that she has difficulty lifting her hands above shoulder level (R.44) and that she experiences difficulty sleeping(R.45).

At the hearing, a vocational expert was called upon to testify (R.48-58). He characterized the plaintiff's past work as light and unskilled (R.48). When asked to assume an individual of the plaintiff's age, education and past work experience who could perform light work with a sit/stand option with limited hand involvement (R.48-49), the witness testified that such an individual could perform the plaintiff's past work and similar jobs which exist in large numbers (R.49-50). If that same individual was limited to sedentary work, the witness testified that there were still a large number of jobs she could perform, and that such positions could accommodate two extra short work breaks a day (R.50-51). However, where the individual had to make frequent unscheduled trips to the bathroom, the witness testified that the number of jobs available would be greatly reduced (R.54). And, if the breaks became more extended acceptability would be dependent ...

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