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Devault v. Astrue

United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania

July 18, 2014

MYSTIE DAWN DEVAULT, Plaintiff,
v.
MICHAEL J. ASTRUE, [1] COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

MARK R. HORNAK, District Judge.

I. INTRODUCTION

Plaintiff, Mystie Dawn Devault, brought this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), for judicial review of the final determination of the Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner") denying her application for disability insurance benefits ("DIB") under Title II of the Social Security Act ("Act"), 42 U.S.C. §§ 401-403.

II. BACKGROUND

A. Facts

Plaintiff was born on August 20, 1979. (Tr. 102). Ms. Devault completed one year of college, id. at 116, and her past relevant work experience includes employment as a store cashier, a medical technician at an assisted living facility, and as a senior caregiver at an assisted living facility, id. at 111. Plaintiff alleges disability as of August 4, 2008, id. at 17, 111, due to Bipolar II and Generalized Anxiety Disorder, id. at 111. The record reflects that Plaintiff has not engaged in substantial gainful work activity since her alleged date of disability.

B. Procedural History

Plaintiff filed her application for disability insurance benefits on September 18, 2009, in which she claimed total disability as of August 4, 2008. Id. at 102. An administrative hearing was held on March 1, 2011, before Administrative Law Judge Leslie Perry-Dowdell. Id. at 43. Plaintiff chose to participate without legal representation, and testified. Id. at 45. Sheila Devault, Plaintiff's mother, as well as Alina Kurtanich, an impartial vocational expert ("VE"), also testified at the hearing. Id. at 44. On July 20, 2011, the ALJ rendered a decision unfavorable to Plaintiff, in which she found that, based on Plaintiff's age, education, work experience, and residual functional capacity, Plaintiff was capable of making a successful adjustment to other work that exists in significant numbers in the national economy and therefore, Plaintiff was not "disabled" within the meaning of the Act. Id. at 26. The ALJ's decision became the final decision of the Commissioner on January 11, 2013, when the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request to review the ALJ's decision. Id. at 1.

On January 30, 2013, Plaintiff filed her Complaint in this Court, seeking judicial review of the ALJ's decision. The parties have filed cross-motions for summary judgment, and for the reasons that follow, the Court will grant the Motion for Summary Judgment filed by the Commissioner and deny the Motion for Summary Judgment filed by Plaintiff.

III. LEGAL ANALYSIS

A. Standard of Review

The Act limits judicial review of disability claims to the Commissioner's final decision. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). If the Commissioner's finding is supported by substantial evidence, it is conclusive and must be affirmed by the Court. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g); Rutherford v. Barnhart, 399 F.3d 546, 552 (3d Cir. 2005). The United States Supreme Court has defined "substantial evidence" as "such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971) (quoting Cansol. Edison Co. v. NLRB, 305 U.S. 197, 229 (1938)). It consists of more than a scintilla of evidence, but less than a preponderance. Thomas v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 625 F.3d 798, 800 (3d Cir. 2010).[2]

When resolving the issue of whether an adult claimant is or is not disabled, the Commissioner utilizes a five-step sequential evaluation. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520. This process requires the Commissioner to consider, in sequence, whether a claimant (1) is working; (2) has a severe impairment; (3) has an impairment that meets or equals the requirements of a listed impairment; (4) can return to his or her past relevant work; and (5) if not, whether he or she can perform other work. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520; Newell v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 347 F.3d 541, 545-46 (3d Cir. 2003) (quoting Burnett v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 220 F.3d 112, 118-19 (3d Cir. 2000)).

To qualify for disability benefits under the Act, a claimant must demonstrate that there is some "medically determinable basis for an impairment that prevents him or her from engaging in any substantial gainful activity for a statutory twelve-month period." Fargnoli v. Massanari, 247 F.3d 34, 38-39 (3d Cir. 2001) ...


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