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Blose v. Colvin

United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania

September 30, 2014

APRIL DAWN BLOSE, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Commissioner of Social Security Defendant.

OPINION AND ORDER

DONETTA W. AMBROSE, District Judge.

I. Synopsis

Plaintiff has brought this action for review of the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner") denying her application for supplemental security income ("SSI") pursuant to the Social Security Act ("Act"). Plaintiff protectively filed her application on April 12, 2011 alleging she was disabled beginning January 1, 2006. ECF No. 7-2, 24. After Plaintiff's application was denied initially, she filed a written, timely request to have her application reviewed by an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"). Id. On September 12, 2012, Plaintiff testified at a hearing before an ALJ in Erie, Pennsylvania. Id. On September 19, 2012, the ALJ found that Plaintiff is not disabled under the Act. Id. at 38. After exhausting all administrative remedies, Plaintiff filed this action.

Pending before the Court are cross-motions for summary judgment. ECF Nos. [10] (Plaintiff) and [12] (Defendant). Both parties filed briefs in support of their motions. ECF Nos. [11] (Plaintiff) and [13] (Defendant). The issues are now ripe for review. After careful consideration of the submissions of the parties, and based on my Opinion as set forth below, I deny Plaintiff's motion and grant Defendant's motion for summary judgment.

II. Legal Analysis

A. Standard of Review

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 "[m]ore 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 supplemental security income ("SSI"), a plaintiff must demonstrate that she 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. § 1382c(a)(3)(A).

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. § 416.920. 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, app. 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. § 416.920. A 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).

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).

B. Whether the ALJ Erred in Finding That Plaintiff's Impairments Do Not Equal Listing 12.05

Plaintiff argues that the ALJ erred in his assessment that Plaintiff's impairments do not medically equal listing 12.05 as set forth in Appendix 1, Subpart P of the Regulations, 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520, because (i) he failed to provide an adequate rationale for his ruling, and (ii) his evaluation of Plaintiff's work-related limitations is not supported by the intellectual testing and psychological evaluations of record. Pl.'s Br. 5-13. For the reasons set forth below, I disagree.

At step three of the five-step sequential analysis, a claimant seeking benefits may establish disability if he meets or medically equals a listed impairment. 20 C.F.R. 416.920(a)(4)(iii). Listing 12.05-Intellectual Disability addresses mental retardation manifested before the age of 22. 20 C.F.R. pt. 404, subpt. P, app. 1, § 12.05. A claimant must meet one of the following sets of criteria to establish the requisite level of severity for listing 12.05:

A. Mental incapacity evidence by dependence upon others for personal needs (e.g., toileting, eating, dressing, or bathing) and inability to follow directions, such that the use of standardized measures of intellectual functioning is precluded; or B. A valid verbal, performance, or full scale IQ of 59 or less; or C. A valid verbal, performance, or full scale IQ of 60 through 70 and a physical or other mental impairment imposing an additional and significant work-related limitation of function; or D. A valid verbal, performance, or full scale IQ of 60 through 70, resulting in a least two of the following: 1. Marked restriction of activities of daily living; or 2. Marked difficulties in ...

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