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Davis v. Colvin

United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania

August 7, 2014



MARK R. HORNAK, District Judge.


Plaintiff Andrea Davis ("Ms. Davis") brought this action pursuant to 42 U.s.C. §§ 405(g) and 1383(c), for judicial review of the final determination of the Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner"), who denied her applications for supplemental security income ("SSI") and disability insurance benefits ("DIB") under Titles II and XVI of the Social Security Act ("Act"), 42 U.S.C. §§ 401-403; 1381-1383(f).


A. Facts

Ms. Davis was born on December 18, 1988. ECF No. 7-2 at 19. She holds an associate's degree in networking and telecommunication technologies from the Hiram G. Andrews Center. Id. at 36-37. She has no past relevant work experience. Id. at 26. She alleges disability as of July 30, 2010 due to a number of mental impairments, including Asperger's syndrome ("Asperger's"), attention deficit hyperactivity disorder ("ADHD"), oppositional defiant disorder ("ODD"), and bipolar disorder, as well as physical impairments related to asthma and vision problems. Id. at 17, 19. The record reflects that she has not engaged in substantial gainful work activity since alleging disability in July 2010.

B. Procedural History

Ms. Davis initially filed an application for SSI[1] and child's insurance benefits[2] on August 23, 2010, in which she claimed total disability since July 30, 2010. ECF No. 7-5 at 2-9, 14-15. On September 21, 2010, the state agency denied her claims. ECF No. 7-3 at 20-22. An administrative hearing was held on November 8, 2011 before Administrative Law Judge William Bezego ("ALJ"). ECF No. 7-2 at 17. Ms. Davis was represented by counsel, and she and her mother testified at the hearing. Id. George Starosta, an impartial vocational expert ("VE"), also testified at the hearing. Id.

On November 21, 2011, the ALJ rendered a decision unfavorable to Ms. Davis in which he found that she retained the ability to perform light work, with a number of limitations related to her physical and mental impairments, and therefore was not "disabled" within the meaning of the Act. Id. at 21-27. The ALJ's decision became the final decision of the Commissioner on April 26, 2013, when the Appeals Council denied Ms. Davis' request to review the decision of the ALJ Id. at 2-4.

On June 25, 2013, Ms. Davis filed her Complaint in this Court, seeking judicial review of the decision of the ALJ. ECF No. 3. The parties have filed cross-Motions for Summary Judgment, ECF Nos. 9 and 13, and briefs in support. ECF Nos. 10 and 14. Ms. Davis argues that the ALJ erred by failing to include all of her medically established limitations in his determination of her Residual Functional Capacity ("RFC") and in the hypothetical questions he posed to the VE. The Commissioner contends that the decision of the ALJ should be affirmed as it is supported by substantial evidence. The Court agrees with the Commissioner and will therefore grant the Motion for Summary Judgment filed by the Commissioner and deny the motion for summary judgment filed by Ms. Davis.


A. Standard of Review

The Act limits judicial review of disability claims to the Commissioner's final decision. 42 U.S.C. § 1383(c)(3). 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). 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).

In situations where a claimant files concurrent applications for SSI and DIB, courts have consistently addressed the issue of a claimant's disability in terms of meeting a single disability standard under the Act. See Burns v. Barnhart, 312 F.3d 113, 119 n.1 (3d. Cir. 2002) ("This test [whether a person is disabled for purposes of qualifying for SSI] is the same as that for determining whether a person is disabled for purposes of receiving social security disability benefits [DIB]. Compare 20 C.F.R. § 416.920 with § 404.1520."); Sullivan v. Zebley, 493 U.S. 521, 525 n.3 (1990) (holding that regulations implementing the Title II [DBI] standard, and those implementing the Title XVI [SSI] standard ...

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