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Jaclyn Phillips v. Michael J. Astrue

February 10, 2012


The opinion of the court was delivered by: David Stewart Cercone United States District Judge

Electronic Filing



Jaclyn Phillips ("Plaintiff") brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), seeking review of the final determination of the Commissioner of Social Security ("Defendant" or "Commissioner") denying her application 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--433, 1381--1383f ("Act"). This matter comes before the court on cross motions for summary judgment. (ECF Nos. 10, 12). The record has been developed at the administrative level. For the following reasons, Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment is DENIED, and Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment is GRANTED.


Plaintiff filed for DIB and SSI with the Social Security Administration August 27, 2007, claiming an inability to work beginning August 6, 2006 due to limitations stemming from various mental impairments. (R. at 93 -- 98)*fn1 . Plaintiff was initially denied benefits on November 30, 2007. (R. at 75 -- 83). A hearing was scheduled for May 6, 2009, and Plaintiff appeared to testify represented by counsel. (R. at 29 -- 54). A vocational expert also testified.

(R. at 29 -- 54). The Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") issued his decision denying benefits to Plaintiff on July 2, 2009. (R. at 6 -- 28). Plaintiff filed a request for review of the ALJ's decision by the Appeals Council, which request was denied on August 31, 2010, thereby making the decision of the ALJ the final decision of the Commissioner. (R. at 1 -- 3).

Plaintiff filed her Complaint in this court on December 9, 2010. (ECF No. 3). Defendant filed his Answer on April 6, 2011. (ECF No. 5). Cross motions for summary judgment followed.


In his decision, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff suffered from severe medically determinable impairments in the way of borderline intellectual functioning, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder ("ADHD"), bipolar disorder, oppositional defiant disorder, obesity, sleep apnea, and crack cocaine substance abuse. (R. at 13). The ALJ found that Plaintiff was disabled from all work as a result of functional limitations stemming from her impairments. (R. at 15 -- 16). However, the ALJ further concluded that if Plaintiff refrained from further drug abuse, she would be capable of sedentary work involving no more than simple instructions, simple, repetitive tasks, fifth grade-level reading and mathematics skills, and simple decision making, and requiring no close contact or proximity with others, direct interaction with the public, intensive supervision, assembly line pace work, and changes in the work setting. (R. at 17 -- 18). Based upon the testimony of the vocational expert, the ALJ determined that despite the aforementioned limitations, Plaintiff would qualify for a significant number of jobs in existence in the national economy. (R. at 27 -- 28). Therefore, Plaintiff was not awarded benefits. (R. at 27 -- 28).


To be eligible for social security benefits under the Act, a claimant must demonstrate to the Commissioner that he or she cannot engage in substantial gainful activity because of a 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 at least twelve months.

42 U.S.C. §423(d)(1)(A); Brewster v. Heckler, 786 F.2d 581, 583 (3d Cir. 1986).

When reviewing a claim, the Commissioner must utilize a five-step sequential analysis to evaluate whether a claimant has met the requirements for disability. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 416.920. The Commissioner must determine: (1) whether the claimant is currently engaged in substantial gainful activity; (2) if not, whether the claimant has a severe impairment or a combination of impairments that is severe; (3) whether the medical evidence of the claimant's impairment or combination of impairments meets or equals the criteria listed in 20 C.F.R., Pt. 404, Subpt. P, App'x 1; (4) whether the claimant's impairments prevent him from performing his past relevant work; and (5) if the claimant is incapable of performing his past relevant work, whether he can perform any other work which exists in the national economy. 20 C.F.R. §404.1520(a)(4); see Barnhart v. Thomas, 540 U.S. 20, 24-25 (2003). If the claimant is determined to be unable to resume previous employment, the burden shifts to the Commissioner ...

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