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Murray v. Colvin

United States District Court, Third Circuit

August 1, 2013

JOHN E. MURRAY Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM

WILLIAM H. YOHN, Jr., District Judge.

Plaintiff, John E. Murray brings this action under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), seeking judicial review of the decision of the Commissioner of Social Security (the "Commissioner") denying his claim for disability insurance benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act (the "Act"). I referred the matter to a magistrate judge, who submitted a report and recommendation recommending that I deny summary judgement to plaintiff, but remand for the taking of testimony from a vocational expert. Defendant objected to the magistrate judge's report and recommendation of remand. For the following reasons I will overrule defendant's objection and remand this case to the Commissioner to consider evidence of nonexertional limitations.

I. BACKGROUND

On April 24, 2010, Murray applied for disability insurance benefits, alleging that he had been disabled since June 13, 2007, because of limitations in his right ankle. (R. 115). Murray's application for benefits was denied on August 27, 2010. (R. 49.) Subsequently, Murray requested a hearing de novo before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"). (R. 54.) The ALJ conducted the hearing on June 22, 2011, at which he received testimony from Murray who was represented by counsel. (R. 24.) On July 28, 2011, the ALJ issued a written decision denying benefits. (R. 13.) Murray filed a timely request for review, but the Appeals Council denied Murray's request and permitted the ALJ's decision to stand as the final decision of the Commissioner. (R. 1.)

After the Commissioner's denial, Murray filed a complaint with this court for review of the final decision denying benefits. In his motion for summary judgement or remand, Murray contends that the ALJ assigned to his case erred in three respects: (1) the ALJ should have found Murray to meet or medically equal Listing 1.02, see 20 C.F.R. Pt. 404, Subpt P, App. 1 § 1.02, which would have required a finding of "disabled", and also should have scheduled a medical expert to testify regarding this issue; (2) the ALJ improperly relied on the Medical-Vocational Guidelines ("Grids"); and (3) the ALJ improperly found that Murray's subjective complaints were not entirely credible. (Pl.'s Mot. for Summ. J. or Remand (Pl.'s Mot.) at 10, 15, 19.)

The magistrate judge concluded that the ALJ did not err in finding that Murray did not meet or equal listing 1.02 and medical expert testimony was not required for that issue; however, he determined that the ALJ improperly relied on the Grids to determine if plaintiff is disabled. (Report & Recommendation at 5, 8.) Accordingly, the magistrate judge recommended remand for taking of testimony from a vocational expert. ( Id. ) The magistrate judge did not explicitly discuss plaintiff's argument that the ALJ did not give appropriate weight to Murray's subjective complaints.

Plaintiff made no objections to the magistrate judge's report and recommendations. Defendant objected to the magistrate judge's recommendation that the ALJ's reliance solely on the Grids was in error and that the case should be remanded for testimony from a vocational expert. (Objections to the Report & Recommendation of the Magistrate ("Def.'s Objections") at 2.)

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

When evaluating a claim for disability, the Commissioner conducts a five-step sequential analysis as codified in the regulations. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520; see also Poulos v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 474 F.3d 88, 91 (3d Cir. 2007). The Commissioner determines (1) whether the claimant engaged in "substantial gainful activity" during the alleged period of disability; (2) whether the claimant has a severe physical or mental impairment that significantly limits his or her ability to perform basic work activities; (3) whether the impairment meets or is medically equivalent to one of the "listed impairments" in appendix 1 of the regulations; (4) whether the claimant has the "residual functional capacity" to perform "past relevant work"; and (5) whether, given the claimant's residual functional capacity, age, education, and work experience, the claimant can perform "other work" in the national economy. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4); see also Poulos, 474 F.3d at 91-92.

A district court's review of the Commissioner's decision is deferential. A district court may review the Commissioner's "factual findings only to determine whether the administrative record contains substantial evidence supporting the findings." Allen v. Barnhart, 417 F.3d 396, 398 (3d Cir. 2005). As the Supreme Court has explained, "[s]ubstantial 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.'" Hartranft v. Apfel, 181 F.3d 358, 360 (3d Cir. 1999) (quoting Pierce v. Underwood, 487 U.S. 552, 565 (1988)). "Despite the deference to administrative decisions implied by this standard, [] courts retain a responsibility to scrutinize the entire record and to reverse or remand if the [Commisioner's] decision is not supported by substantial evidence." Smith v. Califano, 637 F.2d 968, 970 (3d Cir. 1981).

I review de novo the parts of the magistrate judge's report and recommendation to which a party objects. 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(C). I may "accept, reject, or modify, in whole or in part, the findings or recommendations made by the magistrate." Id.

III. DISCUSSION

As no party has objected to the magistrate judge's recommendation that the ALJ did not err in finding that the plaintiff did not meet or equal listing 1.02, I will affirm the Commissioner's ruling that plaintiff did not meet or equal listing 1.02. Accordingly, plaintiff's request for summary judgment or remand on this issue will be denied.

Because plaintiff made no objections to the Report and Recommendation, it is unclear if plaintiff still contends that the ALJ improperly found that Murray's subjective complaints were not entirely credible. However, because the magistrate judge did not explicitly discuss this argument, I will briefly explain why plaintiff's argument fails. "Credibility determinations as to a claimant's testimony regarding pain and other subjective complaints are for the ALJ to make." Malloy v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 306 F.Appx. 761, 763 (3d Cir. 2009) (internal citations omitted). "However, the A.L.J. must explain the reasons for his or her credibility determinations." Ayers v. Astrue, 724 F.Supp.2d 471, 479 (D. Del. 2010) (citing Schonewolf v. Callahan, 972 F.Supp. 277, 286 (D. N.J. 1997)). "Inconsistencies in a claimant's testimony or daily activities permit ...


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