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Harr v. Colvin

United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania

September 3, 2014

SHARON LOUISE HARR, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.

OPINION & ORDER OF COURT

DONETTA W. AMBROSE, Senior District Judge.

SYNOPSIS

Pending before the Court are Cross-Motions for Summary Judgment. (Docket Nos. 10 and 12). Both parties have filed Briefs in Support of their Motions. (Docket Nos. 11 and 13). After careful consideration of the submissions of the parties, and based on my Opinion set forth below, I am granting the Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment and denying the Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment.

I. BACKGROUND

Sharon Louise Harr ("Harr") appeals under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) of a final administrative decision of the Commissioner of Social Security denying her Disability Insurance Benefits ("DIB") under Titles II and XVI of the Social Security Act. Harr claims to suffer from both physical and mental disabilities, including rheumatoid arthritis, COPD, tremors, fibromyalgia, depression and anxiety. She was born on August 5, 1956 and was 53 years of age on her alleged onset date (September 30, 2010). (R. 22) She is insured for DIB through December 31, 2014 and has a work history as a director of operations for senior centers. (R. 32-33) Harr has not engaged in substantial gainful employment since her onset date.

She filed an application for a period of disability and for disability insurance benefits on December 15, 2010. That claim was denied and Harr requested a hearing. Harr appeared and testified at a hearing on March 13, 2012 before Administrative Law Judge Lawrence ("ALJ") Neary. Irene H. Montgomery, a vocational expert, also appeared and testified. The ALJ issued a decision dated May 1, 2012 denying Harr's claim for benefits. Harr then filed an appeal with the Appeals Council. That appeal was denied and she timely filed an appeal with this Court.

The parties have filed Cross-Motions for Summary Judgment (Docket Nos. 10 and 12). The issues are now ripe for review.

II. LEGAL ANALYSIS

The standard of review in social security cases is whether substantial evidence exists in the record to support the Commissioner's decision. Allen v. Bowen, 881 F.2d 37, 39 (3d Cir. 1989). Substantial evidence has been defined as "more than a mere scintilla. It means such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate." Ventura v. Shalala, 55 F.3d 900, 901 (3d Cir. 1995), quoting Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971). Additionally, the Commissioner's findings of fact, if supported by substantial evidence, are conclusive. 42 U.S.C. §405(g); Dobrowolsky v. Califano, 606 F.2d 403, 406 (3d Cir. 1979). A district court cannot conduct a de novo review of the Commissioner's decision or re-weigh the evidence of record. Palmer v. Apfel, 995 F.Supp. 549, 552 (E.D. Pa. 1998). Where the ALJ's findings of fact are supported by substantial evidence, a court is bound by those findings, even if the court would have decided the factual inquiry differently. Hartranft v. Apfel, 181 F.3d 358, 360 (3d Cir. 1999). To determine whether a finding is supported by substantial evidence, however, the district court must review the record as a whole. See, 5 U.S.C. §706.

To be eligible for social security benefits, the plaintiff must demonstrate that he cannot engage in substantial gainful activity because of a medically determinable physical or mental impairment which can be expected to result in death or which has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of at least 12 months. 42 U.S.C. §423(d)(1)(A); Brewster v. Heckler, 786 F.2d 581, 583 (3d Cir. 1986).

The Commissioner has provided the ALJ with a five-step sequential analysis to use when evaluating the disabled status of each claimant. 20 C.F.R. §404.1520(a). The ALJ must determine: (1) whether the claimant is currently engaged in substantial gainful activity; (2) if not, whether the claimant has a severe impairment; (3) if the claimant has a severe impairment, whether it meets or equals the criteria listed in 20 C.F.R., pt. 404, subpt. P., appx. 1; (4) if the impairment does not satisfy one of the impairment listings, whether the claimant's impairments prevent him from performing his past relevant work; and (5) if the claimant is incapable of performing his past relevant work, whether he can perform any other work which exists in the national economy, in light of his age, education, work experience and residual functional capacity. 20 C.F.R. §404.1520. The claimant carries the initial burden of demonstrating by medical evidence that he is unable to return to his previous employment (steps 1-4). Dobrowolsky, 606 F.2d at 406. Once the claimant meets this burden, the burden of proof shifts to the Commissioner to show that the claimant can engage in alternative substantial gainful activity (step 5). Id.

A district court, after reviewing the entire record may affirm, modify, or reverse the decision with or without remand to the Commissioner for rehearing. Podedworny v. Harris, 745 F.2d 210, 221 (3d Cir. 1984).

A. Discussion

Harr argues that: (1) the ALJ erred in finding that she did not meet the requirement of Listing 14.09 for Rheumatoid Arthritis; (2) the ALJ committed reversible error in failing to find that Harr was fully credible in her subjective complaints of pain and other disabling symptoms; and (3) the ALJ failed to create an accurate ...


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