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BRANDO v. CHATER

May 23, 1997

ANTONIO BRANDO, Plaintiff,
v.
SHIRLEY S. CHATER, COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: WOLIN

 Plaintiff Antonio Brando ("Brando") brought this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) (1996) for review of the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security (the "Commissioner") denying Brando's application for disability insurance benefits. Brando alleges that Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") Frederick Harap's ("Harap") decision was not supported by substantial evidence. At issue are the date of the expiration of coverage and the date of the onset of the disability. ALJ Harap concluded that Brando's insured status expired on December 31, 1990 and that the onset of Brando's disability was July 8, 1992. In support of his appeal, Brando claims that the ALJ erred in finding that Brando was not disabled prior to December 31, 1990 or, alternatively, that Brando was not insured for disability through 1993 or 1994. After a review of the record, this Court finds that there is substantial evidence to support the ALJ's decision. Therefore, for the reasons discussed below, the Court will affirm the Commissioner's decision denying benefits to Brando.

 BACKGROUND

 Brando applied for Social Security Disability benefits on September 23, 1992, claiming an onset date of disability of April 7, 1989. He alleged that he had been disabled due to chronic ischemic heart disease with angina. The Commissioner denied the application initially and upon reconsideration. Brando requested a hearing before an ALJ, and ALJ Harap held a hearing on October 15, 1993. Because the plaintiff had submitted amended income tax returns to the Internal Revenue Service ("IRS") in an effort to secure additional quarters of disability coverage from the Social Security Administration ("SSA") and because the ALJ's decision depended on the disposition of these submissions by the Commissioner, ALJ Harap did not issue his decision until October 5, 1994.

 In his decision, ALJ Harap found that (1) Brando met the disability insured status requirements of the Social Security Act ("the Act") on April 7, 1989, the alleged onset date of the disability, through December 31, 1990; (2) while Brando's medical evidence established severe unstable angina, he did not have an impairment or combination of impairments medically equivalent to one listed in Appendix 1 of the regulations promulgated under the Act, see 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(d) (1996); (3) Brando's allegations of pain and other symptoms were not entirely credible or supported by the medical evidence; (4) Brando had the residual functional capacity *fn1" to perform work related activities except for work involving lifting and carrying more than 20 to 25 pounds; and (5) Brando's past work as a barber did not require the performance of work related activities precluded by the above limitations and, thus, his impairments did not prevent him from performing his past relevant work. Therefore, ALJ Harap concluded that Brando was not disabled within the meaning of the Act and denied him disability benefits.

 Brando then filed for review with the Office of Hearings and Appeals (the "Appeals Council"). On March 31, 1995, the Appeals Council reviewed the ALJ's decision and confirmed the Commissioner's final decision; the Appeals Council, however, granted Brando's request to submit additional evidence. On May 30, 1995, after reviewing the additional evidence, the Appeals Council again confirmed the Commissioner's final decision. On July 17, 1995, Brando petitioned this Court to review the Commissioner's final decision.

 DISCUSSION

 I. Standard of Review for Disability Benefits

 An administrative decision to deny disability benefits will be upheld on review if supported by "substantial evidence." 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) (1996); see also Stunkard v. Secretary of Health and Human Serv., 841 F.2d 57, 59 (3d Cir. 1988). "Substantial evidence" is less than a preponderance of the evidence, but has been defined as "more than a mere scintilla. It means such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401, 28 L. Ed. 2d 842, 91 S. Ct. 1420 (1971) (quoting Consolidated Edison Co. v. NLRB, 305 U.S. 197, 229, 83 L. Ed. 126, 59 S. Ct. 206 (1938)); see also Lewis v. Califano, 616 F.2d 73, 76 (3d Cir. 1980). Furthermore, while administrative findings are afforded deference, this Court nevertheless retains a responsibility to scrutinize the entire record and to reverse the ALJ's decision if it is not supported by substantial evidence. See Smith v. Califano, 637 F.2d 968, 970 (3d Cir. 1981) (citation omitted). That the record supports an inconsistent conclusion does not undermine the ALJ's decision so long as there is substantial evidence to support it. See Simmonds v. Heckler, 807 F.2d 54, 58 (3d Cir. 1986) (determining that the inquiry of the district court was not whether the ALJ could have reasonably made a different finding based on the record but rather whether the ALJ's actual findings are supported by substantial evidence); Blalock v. Richardson, 483 F.2d 773, 775 (4th Cir. 1972); Woodworth v. Bowen, 679 F. Supp. 1194, 1198 (D.N.J. 1987), aff'd without op., 845 F.2d 1019 (3d Cir. 1988); see also Consolo v. Federal Maritime Comm., 383 U.S. 607, 620, 16 L. Ed. 2d 131, 86 S. Ct. 1018 (1966) (inconsistent conclusions from the evidence do not prevent an administrative agency's finding from being supported by substantial evidence).

 II. Expiration Date of Insured Status

 A claimant who is found disabled may not be paid disability insurance benefits unless the claimant meets the insured status requirements of 42 U.S.C. § 423(c) (1996). Brando alleges that he was insured for disability through 1993 or 1994. See Compl. P 7. The ALJ, however, found that Brando's insured status expired on December 31, 1990. See Tr. at 32. *fn2" An individual is insured for the purposes of entitlement to a period of disability insurance benefits if he has the requisite quarters of coverage. See 42 U.S.C. §§ 413, 423(c)(1) (1996); 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.101, 404.130 (1996). The number of quarters needed varies depending on the individual's age, but an individual needs at least six (6), but not more than forty (40) quarters to be fully insured. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.110(b)(1) (1996).

 The Commissioner is required to maintain records of a claimant's earnings as evidence of the amount of wages and self-employment income derived by a claimant and the periods in which such income was derived. See 42 U.S.C. § 405(c)(3) (1996). Conversely, the absence of an entry in such records is evidence that no wages were paid or that no self-employment income was derived during that period. See id. Based on Brando's Earnings Record and the attendant quarters of coverage as established by the SSA, ALJ Harap determined that Brando's disability insurance expired on December 31, 1990. See Tr. at 19.

 Brando, however, sought to secure additional quarters of coverage from the SSA by filing amended tax returns with the IRS. ALJ Harap, therefore, agreed to postpone a final decision on Brando's case pending the disposition of the amended tax returns. Thus, in September, 1993, Brando filed amended self-employment tax returns for the years 1985, 1986, 1987, and 1988. See Tr. at 237-326.

 The Commissioner's records may be corrected to eliminate any errors, whether inclusion or omission, for a period of three years, three months, and fifteen days following the end of any calendar year. See 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(c)(1), (4)(c), and (c)(5) (1996); 20 C.F.R. § 404.802 (1996). Following this time limitation period, the Commissioner's records are entitled to a statutory presumption of correctness. See U.S.C. § 405(c)(4) (1996); 20 C.F.R. § 404.803 (1996). While there are ten exceptions to these limitations, see 42 U.S.C. § 405(c)(5)(A)-(J) (1996), none applies in the instant case. The stringent provisions on correction of earnings records for self-employed individuals were drafted intentionally by Congress to avoid claims based on earnings in periods many years past for which there could be no effective rebuttal. See ...


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