The opinion of the court was delivered by: William J. Martini, U.S.D.J.:
Plaintiff Ali Raja brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), seeking review of a final determination by the Commissioner of Social Security (the "Commissioner") denying his application for a period of disability and Disability Insurance Benefits ("DIB"). For the reasons that follow, the Commissioner's decision is AFFIRMED.
A.The Five-Step Sequential Analysis
Under the authority of the Social Security Act, the Social Security Administration has established a five-step evaluation process for determining whether a claimant is entitled to benefits. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 416.920. In the first step, the Commissioner determines whether the claimant has engaged in substantial gainful activity since the onset date of the alleged disability. Id. §§ 404.1520(b), 416.920(b). If not, the Commissioner moves to step two to determine if the claimant's alleged impairment, or combination of impairments, is "severe." Id. §§ 404.1520(c), 416.920(c). If the claimant has a severe impairment, the Commissioner inquires in step three as to whether the impairment meets or equals the criteria of any impairment found in the Listing of Impairments. 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1, Part A. If so, the claimant is automatically eligible to receive benefits (and the analysis ends); if not, the Commissioner moves on to step four. Id. §§ 404.1520(d), 416.920(d). In the fourth step, the Commissioner decides whether, despite any severe impairment, the claimant retains the Residual Functional Capacity to perform past relevant work. Id. §§ 404.1520(e)-(f), 416.920(e)-(f). The claimant bears the burden of proof at each of these first four steps.
At step five, the burden shifts to the Social Security Administration to demonstrate that the claimant is capable of performing other jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy in light of the claimant's age, education, work experience and RFC. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(g), 416.920(g); see Poulos v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 474 F.3d 88, 91-92 (3d Cir. 2007) (citations omitted).
For the purpose of this appeal, the court conducts a plenary review of the legal issues. See Schaudeck v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec. Admin., 181 F.3d 429, 431 (3d Cir. 1999). The factual findings of the ALJ are reviewed "only to determine whether the administrative record contains substantial evidence supporting the findings." Sykes v. Apfel, 228 F.3d 259, 262 (3d Cir. 2000). Substantial evidence is "less than a preponderance of the evidence but more than a mere scintilla." Jones v. Barnhart, 364 F.3d 501, 503 (3d Cir. 2004) (citation omitted). "It means such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Id. When substantial evidence exists to support the ALJ's factual findings, this Court must abide by the ALJ's determinations. See id. (citing 42 U.S.C. § 405(g)).
On April 23, 2007, Plaintiff filed an application for a period of disability and DIB. The filings alleged that Plaintiff had a disability with an onset date of February 5, 2007, due to conditions including cervical degenerative disc disease, lumbar anterolisthesis, and spinal stenosis. Plaintiff's claim was denied initially on July 27, 2007, and upon reconsideration on February 21, 2008. On July 7, 2009, Plaintiff testified at a hearing before Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") Richard West. The ALJ held a supplemental hearing on January 5, 2010 to allow a vocational expert to offer testimony. On January 20, 2010, the ALJ issued a decision finding that Plaintiff was not disabled. The ALJ recognized that Plaintiff had several severe impairments, but found that Plaintiff's impairments did not meet or equal the impairments found in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1, Part A. The ALJ also found that Plaintiff had the residual functional capacity ("RFC") to perform sedentary work with certain limitations, such as the ability to sit and stand at will.
Plaintiff filed a request for review of the ALJ's decision, which the Appeals Council denied on January 20, 2011. Plaintiff now brings the instant appeal, challenging the ALJ's determination that he was "not disabled" from February 5, 2007 through January 20, 2010.*fn1
Plaintiff argues that the ALJ committed two errors: (1) the ALJ failed to fully develop the record; and (2) the ALJ erred in discounting the opinion of Plaintiff's treating physician. Plaintiff also raises various issues ...