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Joanne Gasaway v. Michael Astrue

May 17, 2011

JOANNE GASAWAY,
PLAINTIFF,
v.
MICHAEL ASTRUE, COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY.



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

OPINION

I. INTRODUCTION

On June 22, 2010, Plaintiff Joanne Gasaway filed a pro se Complaint against Defendant Michael J. Astrue, Commissioner of the Social Security Administration. In the Complaint, Plaintiff seeks judicial review, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), of Defendant's final decision denying her claim for disability insurance benefits ("DIB") and supplemental security income ("SSI") under Titles II and VXI of the Social Security Act ("Act"). On April 8, 2011, United States Magistrate Judge Carol Wells filed a Report (Doc. No. 20) recommending that the Court deny Plaintiff's Request for Review and enter judgment in favor of Defendant and against Plaintiff.

Before the Court are Plaintiff's Objections to the Report and Recommendation (Doc. No. 21). Pursuant to Title 28, United States Code, Section 636, the Court will now review the portions of the Report and Recommendation to which objection has been made. After an independent review of the record and for reasons that follow, the Court finds that the Objections lack merit, and adopts and approves in their entirety the findings in the Report and Recommendation.

II. PROCEDURAL HISTORY

On March 21, 2007, Plaintiff filed an application for Supplemental Security Income ("SSI") and Disability Insurance Benefits ("DIB") with the Social Security Administration ("SSA"). (Administrative Record ("Admin. R.") at 9.) She claimed a disability onset of April 16, 1999, attributing the disability to a cervical spine disorder and hypertension. (Id. at 9, 12.) This application was Plaintiff's fourth application for benefits filed with the SSA based on her spine disorder originating in April 1999.*fn1 (Id. at 9.)

Plaintiff's application was denied on October 1, 2007. (Id.) On October 10, 2007, Plaintiff filed a written request for a hearing pursuant to 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.929, 416.1429. (Id.) The request was granted and on December 8, 2008, Plaintiff, who was represented by counsel, appeared before Sherman Poland, Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"). (Id.) Plaintiff and Sherry L. Kristal-Turetzky, "an impartial vocational expert," testified at the hearing. (Id.)

On February 20, 2009, Judge Poland, pursuant to the sequential evaluation process for disability,*fn2 issued a decision denying Plaintiff's claim. (Admin. R. at 9-16.) On April 15, 2010, the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review, making Judge Poland's decision the final decision of the Commissioner. (Id. at 1-3.)

On June 22, 2010, Plaintiff filed her Complaint against the Commissioner. (Doc. No. 3.) After both parties submitted documents and briefs in accordance with this Court's Procedural Order of June 28, 2010 (Doc. No. 5), the Court referred the matter to United States Magistrate Judge Carol Wells for a Report and Recommendation. (Doc. No. 18.) On April 8, 2011, Judge Wells filed a Report and Recommendation. (Doc. No. 20.) On April 19, 2011, Plaintiff filed Objections.*fn3 (Doc. No. 21.) The Court must now "make a de novo determination of those portions of the report or specified proposed findings or recommendations to which objection is made. [The Court] may accept, reject, or modify, in whole or in part, the findings or recommendations made by the magistrate judge." 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1).

III. LEGAL STANDARD

When a district reviews a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security, the court must determine whether the record shows substantial evidence to support the Commissioner's decision.*fn4 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g), 1383(c)(3). In making this decision, the Court reviews whether there is substantial evidence to support the Commissioner's decision that Plaintiff is not disabled. Substantial evidence is defined as "more than a mere scintilla . . . [and includes] such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Cherry v. Barnhart, 29 Fed. App'x 898, 901 (3d Cir. 2002) (quoting Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 407 (1971)). "The 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).

An ALJ, rendering a decision on behalf of the Commissioner, must set out a specific factual basis for each finding. Baerga v. Richardson, 500 F.2d 309, 312 (3d Cir. 1974), cert. denied, 420 U.S. 931 (1975). The ALJ "must consider all the evidence and give some reason for discounting the evidence [the ALJ] rejects." Ray v. Astrue, 649 F. Supp. 2d 391, 402 (E.D. Pa. 2009) (quoting Adorno v. Shalala, 40 F.3d 43, 48 (3d Cir. 1994)). Although the ALJ does not have to make reference to every relevant medical note in a voluminous medical record, the court "expect[s] the ALJ, as the fact finder, to consider and evaluate the medical evidence in the record consistent with his responsibilities under the regulations and case law." Reefer v. Barnhart, 326 F.3d 376, 381-82 (3d Cir. 2003). Simply referring to the "record as a whole" is insufficient. Abshire v. Bowen, 662 F. Supp. 8 (E.D. Pa. 1986). See Carter v. Apfel, 220 F. Supp. 2d 393, 397 (M.D. Pa. 2000).

A claimant proves he has a "disability" when he demonstrates a medically determinable basis for an impairment that prevents him from engaging in any substantial gainful activity ("SGA") for a statutory 12-month period. 42 U.S.C. § 412(d)(1). In order to determine if a claimant possesses an impairment that prevents him from engaging in any substantial gainful activity, an ALJ uses a five-step process:

(i) At the first step, we consider your work activity, if any. If you are doing substantial gainful activity, we will find that you are not disabled.

(ii) At the second step, we consider the medical severity of your impairment(s). If you do not have a severe medically determinable physical or mental impairment that meets the duration requirement in §404.1509, or a combination of impairments that is severe and meets the duration requirement, we will find that you are not disabled.

(iii) At the third step, we also consider the medical severity of your impairment(s). If you have an impairment(s) that meets or equals one of our listings in appendix 1 of this subpart and meets the duration requirement, we will find that you are disabled.

(iv) At the fourth step, we consider our assessment of your residual functional capacity and your past relevant work. If you can still do your past relevant work, we will find that you are not disabled.

(v) At the fifth and last step, we consider our assessment of your residual functional capacity and your age, education, and work experience to see if you can make an adjustment to other work. If you can make an adjustment to other work, we will find that you are not disabled. If you cannot make an adjustment to other work, we will find that you are disabled.

20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4)(i)-(v).

IV. FACTUAL BACKGROUND

A. Plaintiff's History and ...


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