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Malloy v. Commissioner of Social Security

May 22, 2008


The opinion of the court was delivered by: William J. Martini Judge


Dear Counsel:

Plaintiff Aurella B. Malloy ("Malloy") brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and 1383(c)(3) of the Social Security Act, seeking review of a final determination by the Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner") denying Malloy's application for Social Security Disability Insurance Benefits ("DIB") and Supplemental Security Income ("SSI"). There was no oral argument. Fed. R. Civ. P. 78. For the following reasons, the Commissioner's decision is AFFIRMED.

Background and Procedural History

On December 1, 2004, Malloy filed concurrent applications for DIB and SSI, alleging disability due to cardiomegaly (enlarged heart) and hypertension as of April 15, 2004. (R. at 83-84.) The claims were denied initially on March 4, 2005, and upon reconsideration on June 30, 2005. (R. at 22, 29.) Upon Malloy's request, a hearing was held before Administrative Law Judge Dennis O'Leary ("ALJ") on September 14, 2006. (R. at 12.) Malloy appeared at the hearing with counsel. (R. at 227.)

In a decision dated November 8, 2006, the ALJ denied Malloy's application for benefits. (R. at 9-18.) Applying the Commissioner's five-step analysis for determining eligibility for DIB and SSI, the ALJ first found that Malloy was not engaged in substantial gainful activity from the time of the alleged onset of her impairments. (R. at 15.) At step two, the ALJ determined that Malloy suffered from two severe impairments hypertension and obesity. (R. at 15.) At step three, however, the ALJ found that these impairments, either alone or in combination, did not equal or meet any of the impairments listed in 20 C.F.R. § 404, Subpart P, App.1. (R. at 15.) Therefore, the ALJ continued to step four of the analysis and determined that Malloy could perform her past relevant work as a day care center worker. (R. at 17.) On January 4, 2007, Malloy filed a request for review of the ALJ's decision. (R. at 7.) The Appeals Council denied review on April 13, 2007, and therefore, Malloy has exhausted all administrative remedies. (R. at 4.)

Malloy appeals the Commissioner's ruling and argues that the ALJ's decision was not supported by substantial evidence. Specifically, she contends that the ALJ erred in his finding that: (1) her impairments of cardiomegaly and cardiomyopathy were not severe; and (2) Malloy retained the Residual Function Capacity ("RFC") to perform light work. This appeal is now before the Court.

Standard of Review

This Court exercises plenary review over the Commissioner's legal conclusions and is bound by the Commissioner's factual findings if they are supported by substantial evidence. See Sykes v. Apfel, 228 F.3d 259, 262 (3d Cir. 2000). Substantial evidence "does not mean a large or considerable amount of evidence, but rather such relevant evidence which, considering the record as a whole, a reasonable person might accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Pierce v. Underwood, 487 U.S. 552, 565 (1988) (citation omitted); see also Woody v. Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., 859 F.2d 1156, 1159 (3d Cir. 1988) (stating that substantial evidence is "more than a mere scintilla but may be less than a preponderance.") Thus, this Court's inquiry is whether the record, read in its entirety, yields such evidence as would allow a reasonable mind to accept the conclusions reached by the Commissioner. "Overall, the substantial evidence standard is a deferential standard of review." Jones v. Barnhart, 364 F.3d 501, 503 (3d Cir. 2004).

This Court must affirm the ALJ's decision if it is supported by substantial evidence. See Cotter v. Harris, 642 F.2d 700, 704 (3d Cir.1981). It does not matter whether this Court, if acting de novo, would have reached a different conclusion. See Monsour Medical Center v. Heckler, 806 F.2d 1185, 1190-91 (3d Cir. 1986).


I. Substantial Evidence Supports the ALJ's Finding that Hypertension and Obesity were Malloy's only "Severe" Impairments

Malloy unsuccessfully argues that her cardiomyopathy and cardiomegaly were not properly considered because the ALJ failed to find these conditions severe at step two of the five-step sequential evaluation process. (Pl.'s Br. 20-24.) The Court finds that the ALJ's determination at step two regarding the severity of her impairments is supported by substantial evidence.

In step two, the Commissioner must determine whether the claimant is suffering from a severe impairment. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(c). An impairment is "severe" if it significantly limits a claimant's ability to do basic work activities. Id. The impairment must last or be expected to last for a continuous twelve-month period. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1509. If the Commissioner determines that the claimant is suffering from a severe impairment, the inquiry at step three is whether the claimant's impairment(s) meets or equals a listing set forth in 20 C.F.R. § 404 Subpart P, App. 1. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(d). A claimant whose impairment meets or equals a listing is presumed disabled. Id. The analysis, ...

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