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Peou Hong v. Michael J. Astrue

March 21, 2012

PEOU HONG,
PLAINTIFF,
v.
MICHAEL J. ASTRUE, COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, DEFENDANT.



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

OPINION

I. INTRODUCTION

On November 2, 2010, Plaintiff Peou Hong ("Plaintiff") filed a pro se Complaint against Defendant Michael J. Astrue, Commissioner of the Social Security Administration ("Commissioner"). (Doc. No. 3.) In the Complaint, Plaintiff seeks judicial review, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), of Defendant's final decision denying her claim for supplemental security income ("SSI") under Title XVI of the Social Security Act ("Act").*fn1 On September 30, 2011, United States Magistrate Judge Linda K. Caracappa filed a Report (Doc. No. 14) 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. 15) and Defendant's Response (Doc. No. 16). Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1), the Court will make a de novo determination of 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 its entirety the Report and Recommendation.

II. PROCEDURAL HISTORY

On May 5, 2008, Plaintiff filed an application for disability insurance benefits ("DIB") with the Social Security Administration ("SSA"). (Administrative Record ("Admin. R.") at 13.) On May 5, 2008, Plaintiff also filed an application for Supplemental Security Income ("SSI"). (Id.) In both applications, Plaintiff alleged a disability beginning on April 1, 2006. (Id.)

On September 26, 2008, these claims were denied. (Admin. R. at 13.) On October 20, 2008, Plaintiff filed a written request for a hearing pursuant to 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.929 and 416.1429. (Id.) The request was granted and on March 5, 2009, Plaintiff, who was represented by counsel, appeared before Christine McCafferty, Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"). (Id. at 13, 19.) Plaintiff and James H. Earhart, "an impartial vocational expert," testified at the hearing. (Id. at 13.)

On March 19, 2009, Judge McCafferty, pursuant to the sequential evaluation process applicable to a claim of disability,*fn2 issued a decision denying Plaintiff's claim.*fn3 (Admin. R. at 13-19.) On October 22, 2010, the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review, making Judge McCafferty's decision the final decision of the Commissioner. (Id. at 1-3.)

On November 2, 2010, Plaintiff filed her Complaint in this Court against the Commissioner. (Doc. No. 3.) After both parties submitted briefs and documents in accordance with this Court's Procedural Order of November 5, 2010 (Doc. No. 5), the Court referred the matter to United States Magistrate Judge Linda K. Caracappa for a Report and Recommendation. (Doc. No. 13.) On September 30, 2011, Judge Caracappa filed the Report and Recommendation. (Doc. No. 14.) On October 12, 2011, Plaintiff filed Objections.*fn4 (Doc. No. 15.) On October 26, 2011, Defendant filed a Response to Plaintiff's Objections.*fn5 (Doc. No. 16.) As stated previously, 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 court 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.*fn6 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 the 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 F. 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 expects 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. See 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, 9 (E.D. Pa. 1986). See Carter v. Apfel, 220 F. Supp. 2d 393, 397 (M.D. Pa. 2000).

A claimant proves she has a "disability" when she demonstrates a medically determinable basis for an impairment that prevents her 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 her 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 ...


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