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Tooley v. Colvin

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

June 23, 2015

MARY TOOLEY, Plaintiff
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, Defendant

SAPORITO, M.J.

MEMORANDUM

MALACHY E. MANNION UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

Pending before the court is the report and recommendation of Judge Saporito, (Doc. 17), recommending that plaintiff's appeal from the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security be denied and decision of the Commissioner be affirmed. Judge Saporito reviewed the record in this case pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §405(g) to determine whether there is substantial evidence to support the Commissioner's decision denying the plaintiff's claim for Supplemental Security Income ("SSI") under Title XVI of the Social Security Act, ("Act"). 42 U.S.C. §§401-433, 1381-1383f. The court has jurisdiction over this appeal under 42 U.S.C. §1383(c)(3). Plaintiff filed objections to the report.[1] (Doc. 18). Defendant did not object to the report but responded to plaintiff’s objections. (Doc. 19). For the following reasons, the report and recommendation is ADOPTED and, the plaintiff’s appeal is DENIED. The decision of the defendant Commissioner will be AFFIRMED and the case will be CLOSED.

I. STANDARD OF REVIEW

When objections are timely filed to the report and recommendation of a magistrate judge, the district court must review de novo those portions of the report to which objections are made. 28 U.S.C. §636(b)(1); Brown v. Astrue, 649 F.3d 193, 195 (3d Cir. 2011). Although the standard is de novo, the extent of review is committed to the sound discretion of the district judge, and the court may rely on the recommendations of the magistrate judge to the extent it deems proper. Rieder v. Apfel, 115 F.Supp.2d 496, 499 (M.D.Pa. 2000) (citing United States v. Raddatz, 447 U.S. 667, 676 (1980)).

For those sections of the report and recommendation to which no objection is made, the court should, as a matter of good practice, "satisfy itself that there is no clear error on the face of the record in order to accept the recommendation." Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(b), advisory committee notes; see also Univac Dental Co. v. Dentsply Intern., Inc., 702 F.Supp.2d 465, 469 (M.D.Pa. 2010) (citing Henderson v. Carlson, 812 F.2d 874, 878 (3d Cir. 1987) (explaining judges should give some review to every report and recommendation)). Nevertheless, whether timely objections are made or not, the district court may accept, not accept, or modify, in whole or in part, the findings or recommendations made by the magistrate judge. 28 U.S.C. §636(b)(1); Local Rule 72.31.

When reviewing the denial of disability benefits, the court must determine whether the denial is supported by substantial evidence. Brown v. Bowen, 845 F.2d 1211, 1213 (3d Cir. 1988); Johnson v. Commissioner of Social Sec., 529 F.3d 198, 200 (3d Cir. 2008). Substantial evidence “does not mean a large or considerable amount of evidence, but rather such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.” Pierce v. Underwood, 487 U.S. 552 (1988); Hartranft v. Apfel, 181 F.3d 358, 360. (3d Cir. 1999), Johnson, 529 F.3d at 200. It is less than a preponderance of the evidence but more than a mere scintilla. Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971). If the ALJ's decision is supported by substantial evidence, the court is “bound by those findings.” Fargnoli v. Massanari, 247 F.3d 34, 38 (3d Cir. 2001) (citation omitted). Furthermore, in determining if the ALJ's decision is supported by substantial evidence the court may not parse the record but rather must scrutinize the record as a whole. Smith v. Califano, 637 F.2d 968, 970 (3d Cir. 1981).

To receive disability benefits, the plaintiff must demonstrate an “inability to engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any 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 not less than 12 months.” 42 U.S.C. §432(d)(1)(A). Furthermore,

[a]n individual shall be determined to be under a disability only if [her] physical or mental impairment or impairments are of such severity that [she] is not only unable to do [her] previous work but cannot, considering [her] age, education, and work experience, engage in any other kind of substantial gainful work which exists in the national economy, regardless of whether such work exists in the immediate area in which [she] lives, or whether a specific job vacancy exists for [her], or whether [she] would be hired if [she] applied for work. For purposes of the preceding sentence (with respect to any individual), ‘work which exists in the national economy’ means work which exists in significant numbers either in the region where such individual lives or in several regions of the country.

II. RELEVANT MEDICAL EVIDENCE

Judge Saporito’s report and recommendation (“R&R”) contains a thorough review of the plaintiff’s medical history. (Doc. 17, at 2-7). The plaintiff did not file any objection to Judge Saporito’s factual determinations regarding her medical history, and defendant relies upon them in her response, so they will be adopted. See Butterfield v. Astrue, 2010 WL 4027768, *3 (E.D.Pa. Oct. 14, 2010) (“To obtain de novo determination of a magistrate[ ] [Judge's] findings by a district court, 28 U.S.C. §636(b)(1) requires both timely and specific objections to the report.”) (quoting Goney v. Clark, 749 F.2d 5, 6 (3d Cir. 1984)). The court will restrict its discussion below to the relevant medical background as it pertains to the plaintiff’s objections.

Judge Saporito's report also details the five-step process that is required to determine if an applicant is disabled under the Act. The Commissioner must sequentially determine: (1) whether the applicant is engaged in substantial gainful activity; (2) whether the applicant has a severe impairment; (3) whether the applicant's impairment meets or equals a listed impairment; (4) whether the applicant's impairment prevents the applicant from doing past relevant work, and; (5) whether the applicant's impairment prevents the applicant from doing any other work. 20 C.F.R. §§404.1520, 416.920. Since the five-step legal framework for addressing a disability claim was properly stated in the R&R, (Doc. 17, at 9-10), as well as the findings of the ALJ at each step, (Doc. 17, at 11-13), these portions of the R&R are incorporated by reference.

III. DISCUSSION

As set forth more fully in Judge Saporito’s report, plaintiff Mary Tooley applied for SSI on August 31, 2011, alleging she was unable to work due to depression, bipolar disorder and anxiety. A hearing was held before an administrative law judge (“ALJ”) on October 25, 2012. Plaintiff and a vocational expert (‘VE”) testified at the hearing. On January 15, 2013, the ALJ determined that plaintiff was not disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act. The ALJ found that while plaintiff’s bipolar disorder and substance abuse were severe impairments which prevented her from doing her previous work as a phlebotomist, she maintains the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to do the following work: ...


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