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Dominic R. Di Gregorio v. Michael J. Astrue

August 12, 2011


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Cooper, District Judge



The plaintiff, Dominic R. Di Gregorio, seeks judicial review of the final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration ("Commissioner") denying his claims for Disability Insurance Benefits ("DIB"). (Dkt. entry no. 1, Compl.) The Court has jurisdiction pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § ("Section") 405(g). The Court, for the reasons stated herein, will affirm the Commissioner's decision.


The plaintiff filed a claim for DIB on November 22, 2006, alleging disability since June 20, 2006. (Dkt. entry no. 9, Administrative R. ("A.R.") at 142.) The Commissioner denied the claim initially on February 6, 2007. (Id. at 88-92.) The plaintiff sought reconsideration of the denial of DIB, which the Commissioner denied on August 8, 2007. (Id. at 95-97.) The plaintiff filed a request on September 18, 2007 for a hearing before an administrate law judge ("ALJ"). (Id. at 98-99.) The ALJ conducted a hearing on January 14, 2009, and a supplemental hearing on May 8, 2009. (Id. at 58-85, 46-57.)

The ALJ issued a decision on June 3, 2009, finding, inter alia, that the plaintiff (1) "meets the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act through December 31, 2010," (2) "has not engaged in substantial gainful activity" since the alleged onset date of June 20, 2006, (3) "has the following severe impairment: diabetes mellitus," (4) "does not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals one of the listed impairments in 20 CFR Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1," (5) "has the residual functional capacity to perform sedentary work . . . that affords alternate sitting and standing at his election, requires only simple and repetitive tasks, does not involve undue stress and does not involve lifting overhead," (6) is "unable to perform any past relevant work," and (7) can still perform "jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy." (Id. at 36-42.)

The ALJ concluded that the plaintiff is not entitled to DIB. (Id. at 44.) The plaintiff requested review of the ALJ's decision by the Social Security Administration Appeals Council ("Appeals Council") on June 12, 2009. (Id. at 45.) The Appeals Council denied the request for review on May 20, 2010. (Id. at 5-7.) The plaintiff then sought review here. (Dkt. entry no. 1, Compl.)


I. Standard of Review

The Court may review a "final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security" in a disability proceeding. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). The Court may affirm, modify, or reverse the Commissioner's decision with or without remanding the case for rehearing. Id. This judicial review, however, is limited. The Court must affirm the Commissioner's decision regarding disability benefits if an examination of the record reveals that the findings of fact are supported by substantial evidence. Id.; Reefer v. Barnhart, 326 F.3d 376, 379 (3d Cir. 2003). "Substantial evidence" in the context of a Social Security matter is defined as less than a preponderance of the evidence but "more than a mere scintilla," i.e., such evidence "as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971) (quotations and citations omitted). This standard "is deferential and includes deference to inferences drawn from the facts if they, in turn, are supported by substantial evidence." Schaudeck v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec. Admin., 181 F.3d 429, 431 (3d Cir. 1999).

Despite the deference given to administrative decisions under this standard, the Court "retain[s] a responsibility to scrutinize the entire record and to reverse or remand if the . . decision is not supported by substantial evidence." Smith v. Califano, 637 F.2d 968, 970 (3d Cir. 1981). Furthermore, [a] single piece of evidence will not satisfy the substantiality test if the [Commissioner] ignores, or fails to resolve, a conflict created by countervailing evidence. Nor is evidence substantial if it is overwhelmed by other evidence - particularly certain types of evidence (e.g., that offered by treating physicians) - or if it really constitutes not evidence but mere conclusion.

Kent v. Schweiker, 710 F.2d 110, 114 (3d Cir. 1983). "That the record contains evidence which could have supported a different conclusion does not undermine" the Commissioner's decision, provided that the record contains substantial evidence supporting that decision. Rivera v. Shalala, No. 94-2740, 1995 WL 495944, at *3 (D.N.J. July 26, 1995). The Commissioner is required, however, to address and reconcile medical evidence that would support a contrary conclusion. Schaudeck, 181 F.3d at 435.

II. Determining Eligibility for Disability Insurance Benefits

The term "disability" is defined as the "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. § 423(d)(1)(A). An individual is determined to be disabled if the individual's "physical or mental impairment or impairments are of such severity that [the individual] is not only unable to do his [or her] previous work but cannot, considering his [or her] age, education, and work experience, engage in any other kind of substantial gainful work which exists in the national economy." Id. § 423(d)(2)(A).

The ALJ employs a five-step process in determining whether a person is "disabled." In the first step, the ALJ determines whether the claimant is currently engaged in "substantial gainful activity." 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4)(i). If the claimant is so engaged, the ALJ will find that the claimant is not disabled and deny the application for disability benefits. Id. § 404.1520(b). If the claimant is not employed, the ALJ will consider the medical severity and duration of the claimant's impairment or combination of impairments in the second step. Id. § 404.1520(a)(4)(ii). A "severe impairment" is one that significantly limits the claimant's physical or mental ability to do basic work activities, including, inter alia, (1) sitting, lifting, and speaking, (2) responding appropriately to supervision and co-workers, and (3) understanding, carrying out, and remembering instructions. Id. §§ 404.1521(a)-(b), 416.921(a)-(b). A claimant not meeting this requirement is not disabled. Id. § 404.1520(c). Thus, the second step requires a threshold-level demonstration of severe impairment without consideration of the claimant's age, education, and work experience. Brown v. Yuckert, 482 U.S. 137, 153 (1987).

If the claimant shows a severe impairment, the ALJ then moves to the third step to determine whether the impairment is listed in section 20, part 404, subpart P, appendix 1 of the CFR. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4)(iii). If the impairment meets or equals a listed impairment, then the claimant is presumed to be disabled, and the evaluation ends at this stage. Id. § 404.1520(d). If the impairment ...

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