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Gregory S. Warren v. Michael J. Astrue

December 13, 2011

GREGORY S. WARREN, PLAINTIFF,
v.
MICHAEL J. ASTRUE, COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Chief Judge Gary L. Lancaster

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER OF COURT

Gary L. Lancaster Chief Judge

I. Introduction

Plaintiff Gregory S. Warren ("Warren") brings 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 ("Commissioner") denying his applications for disability insurance benefits ("DIB") and supplemental security income ("SSI") benefits under Titles II and XVI of the Social Security Act ("Act") [42 U.S.C. §§ 401-433, 1381-1383f]. For the reasons that follow, the Commissioner‟s decision will be vacated, and the case will be remanded to him for further administrative proceedings.*fn1

II. Procedural History

Warren protectively applied for DIB and SSI benefits on

September 21, 2006, alleging that he had become disabled on January 8, 2006. (R. at 103, 108, 118). The applications were administratively denied on February 16, 2007. (R. at 77, 82). Warren responded on March 22, 2007, by filing a timely request for an administrative hearing. (R. at 88). On September 26, 2008, a hearing was held in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, before Administrative Law Judge Anne W. Chain (the "ALJ"). (R. at 23). Warren, who was represented by counsel, appeared and testified at the hearing. (R. at 31-49). Testimony was also taken from Barbara Beer ("Beer"), Warren‟s former girlfriend, and Frances Kinley ("Kinley"), an impartial vocational expert. (R. at 49-58). In a decision dated October 29, 2008, the ALJ determined that Warren was not "disabled" within the meaning of the Act. (R. at 7-22).

On October 30, 2008, Warren sought administrative review of the ALJ‟s decision by filing a timely request for review with the Appeals Council. (R. at 4-6). The Appeals Council denied Warren‟s request for review on July 29, 2010, thereby making the ALJ‟s decision the final decision of the Commissioner in this case. (R. at 1). Warren commenced this action on September 7, 2010, seeking judicial review of the Commissioner‟s decision. (ECF Nos. 1-3). Warren and the Commissioner filed motions for summary judgment on February 4, 2011, and March 7, 2011, respectively. (ECF Nos. 8 & 10). The cross-motions for summary judgment filed by the parties are the subject of this memorandum opinion.

III. Standard of Review

This Court‟s review is plenary with respect to all questions of law. Schaudeck v. Commissioner of Social Security Administration, 181 F.3d 429, 431 (3d Cir. 1999). With respect to factual issues, judicial review is limited to determining whether the Commissioner‟s decision is "supported by substantial evidence." 42 U.S.C. § 405(g); Adorno v. Shalala, 40 F.3d 43, 46 (3d Cir. 1994). The Court may not undertake a de novo review of the Commissioner‟s decision or re-weigh the evidence of record. Monsour Medical Center v. Heckler, 806 F.2d 1185, 1190-1191 (3d Cir. 1986). Congress has clearly expressed its intention that "[t]he 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). Substantial evidence "does not mean a large or considerable amount of evidence, but rather such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Pierce v. Underwood, 487 U.S. 552, 565, 108 S.Ct. 2541, 101 L.Ed.2d 490 (1988)(internal quotation marks omitted). As long as the Commissioner‟s decision is supported by substantial evidence, it cannot be set aside even if this Court "would have decided the factual inquiry differently." Hartranft v. Apfel, 181 F.3d 358, 360 (3d Cir. 1999). "Overall, the substantial evidence standard is a deferential standard of review." Jones v. Barnhart, 364 F.3d 501, 503 (3d Cir. 2004).

In order to establish a disability under the Act, a claimant must demonstrate a "medically determinable basis for an impairment that prevents him [or her] from engaging in any "substantial gainful activity‟ for a statutory twelve-month period." Stunkard v. Secretary of Health & Human Services, 841 F.2d 57, 59 (3d Cir. 1988); Kangas v. Bowen, 823 F.2d 775, 777 (3d Cir. 1987); 42 U.S.C. §§ 423(d)(1)(A), 1382c(a)(3)(A). A claimant is considered to be unable to engage in substantial gainful activity "only if his [or her] physical or mental impairment or impairments are of such severity that he [or she] is not only unable to do his [or her] previous work but cannot, considering his [or her] age, education, and work experience, engage in any other kind of substantial gainful work which exists in the national economy." 42 U.S.C. §§ 423(d)(2)(A), 1382c(a)(3)(B).

To support his or her ultimate findings, an administrative law judge must do more than simply state factual conclusions.

He or she must make specific findings of fact. Stewart v. Secretary of Health, Education & Welfare, 714 F.2d 287, 290 (3d Cir. 1983). The administrative law judge must consider all medical evidence contained in the record and provide adequate explanations for disregarding or rejecting evidence. Weir on Behalf of Weir v. Heckler, 734 F.2d 955, 961 (3d Cir. 1984); Cotter v. Harris, 642 F.2d 700, 705 (3d Cir. 1981).

The Social Security Administration ("SSA"), acting pursuant to its legislatively-delegated rulemaking authority, has promulgated a five-step sequential evaluation process for the purpose of determining whether a claimant is "disabled" within the meaning of the Act. The ...


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