The opinion of the court was delivered by: WILLIAM G. BASSLER
The plaintiff, MARIA FLECHA, brings this action pursuant to sections 205(g) and 1631(c)(3) of the Social Security Act, as amended, 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and 1383(c)(3). Plaintiff seeks review of the final decision of the Secretary of Health and Human Services ("Secretary") denying her disability insurance benefits and supplemental security income ("SSI"). For the following reasons the Secretary's decision is affirmed.
On February 13, 1991, plaintiff filed an application for a period of disability, disability insurance benefits and SSI, alleging the inability to perform any substantial gainful activity since June 3, 1987, due to chronic lower back pain secondary to osteoarthritis and bronchial asthma. R.14.
Plaintiff's application was denied initially and upon reconsideration, based upon the finding that she could perform her past relevant work as a machine operator. R.14. On September 15, 1992, plaintiff filed a timely request for an administrative hearing to be held before an administrative law judge ("ALJ"). R.14. An administrative hearing was held before ALJ Frederick Harap on February 3, 1993. R.14. The ALJ rendered his decision on February 22, 1993, finding that plaintiff: is a forty-two year old "younger individual," has severe bronchial asthma and degenerative arthritis of her thoracolumbar spine, is unable to perform her past relevant work as a machine operator, and is illiterate in English. The ALJ found however, that claimant is not under a "disability" as defined in the Social Security Act, and, thus, is ineligible for benefits under either program. The Appeals Council denied plaintiff's request for review, and claimant commenced an action in this court on September 16, 1993.
In reviewing the final decision of the Secretary's denial of SSI and disability benefits, a court may examine the Secretary's factual findings only to determine if they are supported by substantial evidence. 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and 1383(c)(3); see also Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 28 L. Ed. 2d 842, 91 S. Ct. 1420 (1971); Mason v. Shalala, 994 F.2d 1058, 1064 (3rd Cir. 1993). Substantial evidence is defined as being "more than a mere scintilla" and such that "a reasonable mind might accept [it] as adequate to support a conclusion." Richardson, 402 U.S. at 401 (quoting Consol. Edison Co. v. NLRB, 305 U.S. 197, 229, 83 L. Ed. 126, 59 S. Ct. 206 (1938)).
In determining disability claims, the Secretary has promulgated a five step sequence. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520 and 416.920. The first two steps involve threshold determinations that the claimant is not presently working, and has an impairment which significantly limits her physical or mental ability to carry out basic work activities. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a) through (c) and 416.920(a) through (c). The third step awards disability benefits if the claimant's impairment is listed in Appendix 1, Subpart P, of Regulations Number 4. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(d). If the claimant's impairment is not included in Appendix 1, the fourth step is to determine whether the claimant, despite her severe impairment, has the residual functional capacity to perform her past relevant work. If the claimant is unable to perform her past work, the fifth step is to consider the claimant's residual functional capacity, and her age, education, and past work experience, to determine if she can perform other work in the national economy. 20 C.F.R. § 1520(f). For the first four steps, the claimant bears the burden of proving her disability. However, for the fifth step, the Secretary bears the burden of proof. Rossi v. Califano, 602 F.2d 55, 57 (3rd Cir. 1979); Ferguson v. Schweiker, 765 F.2d 31, 36 (3rd Cir. 1985).
In this action, the plaintiff challenges the Secretary's final decision on three grounds. First, plaintiff contests the ALJ's determination in the second step that she does not have any impairments which significantly limit her ability to perform basic work activities. Second, plaintiff argues that the Secretary failed to fulfill her burden in the fifth step by not showing a reasonable availability of jobs that the claimant is capable of performing to support the denial of benefits. Third, plaintiff contends that the Secretary failed to develop a complete administrative record to facilitate review of the determination of not disabled.
A. The ALJ's determination of not disabled.
Plaintiff argues that the ALJ's decision is contrary to the medical evidence presented in the record. Plaintiff points to several medical reports, claiming that they constitute ample evidence to prove claimant's inability to work.
Plaintiff's current treating physician, Dr. Jose L. Rodriguez, reported on February 8, 1991 that plaintiff was disabled and unable to work due to chronic low back pain with osteoarthritis. R.16. Exhibit 21. Furthermore, in a report dated on June 2, 1992, Dr. Rodriguez asserted that plaintiff was unable to work because of lower back pain with radiculitis, osteoarthritis of the lumbosacral spine and both knees, chronic bronchial asthma, and obesity. R.16; Exhibit 25.
A treating physician's opinion cannot be rejected unless the ALJ points to other medical evidence of record. Allen v. Bowen, 881 F.2d 37, 41 (3rd Cir. 1989). The ALJ's decision, however, is not undermined by evidence that would support a different conclusion, so long as there is substantial support in the record for the ALJ's decision. Blalock v. Richardson, 483 F.2d 773, 775 (4th Cir. 1972). An ALJ's conclusions regarding a claimant's residual functional capacity must be corroborated by medical evidence. Doak v. Heckler, 790 F.2d 26, 29 (3rd Cir. 1986).
The ALJ found that the plaintiff has severe chronic bronchial asthma and degenerative arthritis of her thoracolumbar spine, but that she does not have an impairment or combination of impairments listed in, or medically equivalent to one listed in, Appendix 1, Subpart P, Regulations Number 4. R.18. The ALJ thus held that claimant has the residual functional capacity to perform the physical exertion and nonexertional requirements of work, except for ...