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Pearson v. Commissioner of Social Security

July 10, 2008

FELICIA PEARSON, PLAINTIFF,
v.
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: William J. Martini, U.S.D.J.

OPINION

Plaintiff Felicia Pearson seeks review of a final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration denying her application for Disability Insurance Benefits and Supplemental Security Income payments. Pearson asserts that the ALJ erred at step two of the five-step Social Security analysis in determining that Pearson's collective impairments were not severe and that Pearson was thus not disabled. The Court, however, holds that these findings are supported by substantial evidence. Accordingly, the Commissioner's decision is AFFIRMED.

I. FACTS AND PROCEEDINGS

Pearson alleges disability due to vision impairment, asthma, and depression. Pearson claims that she lacks the physical and mental capacities necessary for her to remain gainfully employed.

Pearson filed concurrent applications for both Disability Insurance Benefits and Supplemental Security Income. The ALJ found at step two of the five-step social security analysis that Pearson's combined impairments were not severe. (R. 20--22.) In doing so, the ALJ made, inter alia, the following three findings: (1) that Pearson did not suffer from a severe vision impairment lasting at least twelve months, (2) that Pearson's asthma and depression were not jointly severe, and (3) that Pearson's subjective complaints to the contrary were not supported by adequate medical evidence. (R. 20--22.)

Pearson now requests review of the ALJ's decision. Specifically, Pearson challenges the ALJ's three determinations listed above.

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

This Court must affirm all factual findings of the Commissioner's decision that are supported by substantial evidence. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Substantial evidence is such evidence that a "reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion."

Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971) (quoting Consol. Edison Co. v. NLRB, 305 U.S. 197, 229 (1938)). This Court is not, however, empowered to "weigh the evidence or substitute its conclusions for those of the fact-finder." Williams v. Sullivan, 970 F.2d 1178, 1182 (3d Cir. 1992).

III. DISCUSSION

The Social Security Administration has promulgated a five-step evaluation process to determine whether a claimant is disabled. Jones v. Barnhart, 364 F.3d 501, 503 (3d Cir. 2004); see 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520. If a claimant is found not disabled at any step of the process, the evaluation does not proceed to the following steps. § 416.920(a)(4).

The five-step evaluation process is as follows. First, if the claimant is currently engaged in substantial gainful activity, she is not disabled. § 404.1520(a)(4)(i). Second, if a claimant does not suffer from a "severe" impairment or combination of impairments, she is not disabled. § 404.1520(a)(4)(ii). A severe impairment or combination of impairments are impairments that limit the claimant's physical or mental capacity to engage in basic work activities. 20 C.F.R. § 416.020(5)(c). Third, if the claimant suffers from an impairment listed in appendix 1 of 20 C.F.R. part 404, subpart P, she is disabled. § 404.1520(a)(4)(iii). Fourth, if the claimant retains the "residual functional capacity" ("RFC") to perform her past relevant work, she is not disabled. § 404.1520(a)(4)(iv). Fifth, and finally, if the claimant retains the RFC to perform other work available in the national economy, she is not disabled. § 404.1520(a)(4)(v).

The ALJ found at step two that Pearson did not suffer from a severe combination of impairments. Specifically, the ALJ found that Pearson's vision, asthma, and mental impairments did not have more than a minimal effect on Pearson's ability to work. Accordingly, the ALJ concluded that Pearson was not disabled. (R. 20--22.)

Pearson argues that the ALJ erred in three ways: (1) by determining that Pearson's vision impairment did not last for twelve months and thus could not be considered in determining whether she had a severe combination of impairments, (2) by determining that Pearson's asthma and depression did not constitute a severe combination of ...


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