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Gerald Miles v. Michael J. Astrue

April 26, 2012

GERALD MILES,
CLAIMANT,
v.
MICHAEL J. ASTRUE, COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, DEFENDANT.



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

MEMORANDUM ON REQUEST FOR REVIEW

Claimant Gerald Miles seeks judicial review of a decision by the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration ("the Commissioner") denying his application for Supplemental Security Income ("SSI") under Title XVI of the Social Security Act ("the Act"), 42 U.S.C. §§ 401-33, 1381-83(f). After careful consideration of all the relevant facts and circumstances, and for the reasons explained below, Miles's request for review of the March 9, 2010 decision of the Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") is DENIED.

I. Background and Procedural History

On September 6, 2006, Miles filed an application for SSI, alleging disability beginning on May 1, 2006 due to schizophrenia, anxiety and post traumatic stress disorder. (Tr. 30, 106-13.) On July 20, 2007, Miles filed another application for SSI, alleging disability beginning on May 20, 2007 due to bipolar disorder. (Tr. 114-16.) The Commissioner denied both applications. (Tr. 64-72.) Miles did not seek review of the Commissioner's decisions. (Tr. 31.)

Subsequently, on March 27, 2009, Miles filed a new application for SSI, alleging disability beginning on February 1, 2009 due to scoliosis, arthritis, and degenerative disc disease. (Tr. 117-23.) The Commissioner also denied this application. (Tr. 73-77.) On July 2, 2009, Miles filed a written request for an administrative hearing regarding his application. A hearing was held on January 13, 2010 before ALJ Gerald J. Spitz. At the hearing, Miles was represented by a non-attorney representative and testified on his own behalf. (Tr. 12.)

On March 9, 2010, the ALJ issued an unfavorable decision regarding Miles's application, making numerous findings of fact and conclusions of law. (Tr. 12-19.) The ALJ determined that Miles suffers from the severe impairments of scoliosis, arthritis, and degenerative disc disease in the lumbar spin, and has also received medical treatment for depression. (Tr. 14.) However, the ALJ determined that Miles does not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals one of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. (Id.) The ALJ also determined that Miles has the residual functional capacity (the "RFC") to perform "light work," as that term is defined in 20 C.F.R. § 416.967(b), except that he may not be capable of lifting or carrying twenty pounds or more. (Tr. 15.) Finally, the ALJ concluded that Miles is capable of performing past relevant work as a dealer in a casino -- a position that Miles held from 1989 to 1997, albeit not continuously -- which does not require the performance of work-related activities precluded by Miles's RFC. (Tr. 19.)

Miles sought review of the ALJ's decision before the Appeals Council. On March 2, 2011, the Appeals Council denied his appeal. (Tr. 1-6.) On May 4, 2011, Miles filed a Complaint in this Court, requesting review of the Commissioner's decision. (ECF No. 3.) On September 20, 2011, Miles filed a brief in support of his request for review. (ECF No. 14.) On October 24, 2011, the Commissioner filed a brief in response. (ECF No. 15.)

II. Legal Standards

A. Jurisdiction

The Social Security Act provides for judicial review by this Court of any "final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security" in a disability proceeding. 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g), 1383(c)(3). A district court may enter a judgment "affirming, modifying, or reversing the decision of the Commissioner of Social Security, with or without remanding the cause for a rehearing." Id.

B. Standard of Review

On judicial review of the Commissioner's decision, the Commissioner's findings of fact, "if supported by substantial evidence," are conclusive. Id. Substantial evidence is "such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Smith v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 631 F.3d 632, 633 (3d Cir. 2010) (internal quotation marks omitted). It is a standard requiring "less than a preponderance of the evidence but more than a mere scintilla." Jones v. Barnhart, 364 F.3d 501, 503 (3d Cir. 2004).

In reviewing the record for substantial evidence, however, the Court must "not weigh the evidence or substitute [its own] conclusions for those of the fact finder." Rutherford v. Barnhart, 399 F.3d 546, 552 (3d Cir. 2005) (internal quotation marks omitted).

The Court's review of the legal standards applied by the ALJ is plenary. See Allen v. Barnhart, 417 ...


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