United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania
MARK R. HORNAK, District Judge.
Plaintiff, Darleen Cheplic, brings 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.
Plaintiff was born on August 21, 1961. (Tr. 39). She graduated from high school, did not attend college, and her past relevant work includes employment as a bookkeeper and an accounting clerk. Id. Plaintiff alleges disability as of February 1, 2009, id. at 103, due to post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, lack of concentration, arthritis, and neck and back pain, id. at 135. The record reflects that Plaintiff has not engaged in substantial gainful work activity since February 1, 2009.
B. Procedural History
Plaintiff protectively filed an application for DIB on April 14, 2010, claiming total disability since February 1, 2009. Id. at 11. An administrative hearing was held on November 30, 2011, before Administrative Law Judge James Bukes ("ALJ"). Id. at 35. Plaintiff was represented by counsel and testified at the hearing. Id. Tania Shullo, an impartial vocational expert, also testified at the hearing. Id.
On December 12, 2011, the ALJ rendered a decision unfavorable to Plaintiff in which he found that Plaintiff retained the ability to perform jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy and therefore, Plaintiff was not "disabled" within the meaning of the Act. Id. at 30. The ALJ's decision became the final decision of the Commissioner on May 3, 2013, when the Appeals Council denied Plaintiffs request to review the ALJ's decision. Id. at 1.
On May 20, 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. 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 Consol. 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).
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, 416.920. 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 42 U.S.C. § 404.1520; Newell v. ...