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Adelaida Muniz v. Michael J. Astrue

December 19, 2012

ADELAIDA MUNIZ,
PLAINTIFF,
v.
MICHAEL J. ASTRUE, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Eduardo C. Robreno, J.

MEMORANDUM

I.INTRODUCTION

Plaintiff Adelaida Muniz filed this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) seeking judicial review of the final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration ("Commissioner") denying her application for Disability Insurance Benefits ("DIB") and Supplemental Security Income ("SSI") under Titles II and XVI of the Social Security Act. Upon consideration of the administrative record, submitted pleadings, Magistrate Judge Linda K. Caracappa's Report and Recommendation, ECF No. 13, and objections thereto, ECF No. 14, the Court adopts Judge Caracappa's Report and Recommendation ("R&R"). Plaintiff's request for review is denied and judgment is entered in favor of the Commissioner.

II.BACKGROUND

Plaintiff was born on September 23, 1962. R&R 1. She has a sixth-grade education and lives alone. Id. Plaintiff worked in the past as a machine feeder. Id.

Plaintiff was forty-five years old at the time of her alleged onset date and forty-seven at the time of her administrative hearing. Pl.'s Br. 1, ECF No. 9. Plaintiff filed applications for disability and Social Security Income benefits on November 5, 2008, alleging disability beginning on October 26, 2007. R&R 1-2. Plaintiff claimed she was disabled due to pinched nerves in her back, back problems, asthma, and depression. Id. 2. After her application was denied at the state level on March 20, 2009, Plaintiff requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"). Id.

On April 22, 2010, a hearing was held before ALJ Alexander Nunez. Id. Plaintiff was represented by counsel and testified. Id. A vocational expert also testified. Id. On June 22, 2010, ALJ Nunez denied Plaintiff's application for DIB and SSI benefits. R. App. 2 at 23.*fn1 After finding that Plaintiff suffered from degenerative disc disease, asthma, obesity, and a major depressive disorder, ALJ Nunez determined that Plaintiff had residual functional capacity to perform light work, limited to simple, repetitive, unskilled tasks. Id. at 21, 23.

Plaintiff requested review of the ALJ's decision by the Appeals Council, but his request was denied. On April 20, 2012, Plaintiff filed a complaint seeking review in this Court. Pl.'s Br. Plaintiff alleged two principal errors in ALJ Nunez's decision: (1) that the ALJ erred in failing to properly assess the effects of Plaintiff's obesity in combination with Plaintiff's other impairments at step five of the sequential evaluation; and (2) that the ALJ erred in failing to rule that bilateral peroneal neuropathy was a severe medical impairment and by failing to consider its impact on Plaintiff's residual functional capacity. Pl.'s Br. 4, 6. The Court, pursuant to Rule 72.1 of the Local Rules of Civil Procedure, and 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B), referred the matter to Magistrate Judge Linda K. Caracappa for a Report and Recommendation. See Order, May 17, 2012, ECF No. 11.

On July 25, 2012, Judge Caracappa issued her report, recommending that the Court deny Plaintiff's request for review. R&R, ECF No. 13. Briefly, Judge Caracappa held that ALJ Nunez adequately considered the cumulative effect of Plaintiff's obesity on her other impairments. Further, she found that Plaintiff had not asserted bilateral peroneal neuropathy as one of the conditions affecting her ability to work and that "the ALJ did not commit a nonharmless error. . . by failing to find neuropathy to be a severe impairment." R&R 20.

Plaintiff filed objections to Judge Caracappa's R&R. ECF No. 14. The Commissioner responded to Plaintiff's objections. Def.'s Resp., ECF No. 15. The matter is now ripe for disposition.

III.STANDARD OF REVIEW

The Court undertakes a de novo review of the portions of the Report and Recommendation to which Plaintiff has objected. See 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1) (2006); Cont'l Cas. Co. v. Dominick D'Andrea, Inc., 150 F.3d 245, 250 (3d Cir. 1998). 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).

In reviewing the Commissioner's final determination that a person is not disabled*fn2 and, therefore, not entitled to SSI benefits, the Court may not independently weigh the evidence or substitute its own conclusions for those reached by the ALJ. See Burns v. Barnhart, 312 F.3d 113, 118 (3d Cir. 2002). Instead, the Court must review the factual findings presented in order to determine whether they are supported by substantial evidence. See 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) (2006); Rutherford v. Barnhart, 399 F.3d 546, 552 (3d Cir. 2005).

Substantial evidence constitutes that which a "reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Rutherford, 399 F.3d at 552 (internal quotation marks omitted). "It is 'more than a mere scintilla but may be somewhat less than a preponderance of the evidence.'" Id. (quoting Ginsburg v. Richardson, 436 F.2d 1146, 1148 (3d Cir. 1971)). If the ALJ's decision is supported by substantial evidence, the Court may not set it aside even if the Court would have decided the factual inquiry differently. See Hartranft v. Apfel, 181 F.3d 358, 360 (3d Cir. 1999); see also Rutherford, 399 F.3d at 552 ("In the process of reviewing the record for substantial ...


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