United States District Court, D. New Jersey
LILLIAN B. LINNEN, Plaintiff,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, ACTING COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.
LILLIAN B. LINNEN, 125 CHATHAM ROAD, MOUNT LAUREL, NJ, Pro Se Plaintiff.
PETER WILLIAM JEWETT, SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION, OFFICE OF GENERAL COUNSEL, NEW YORK, NY, Attorney for defendant.
NOEL L. HILLMAN, District Judge.
This matter comes before the Court pursuant to Section 205(g) of the Social Security Act, as amended, 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), to review the final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, denying Plaintiff's application for Disability Insurance Benefits and Supplemental Security Income ("Social Security benefits") under Title II and Title XVI of the Social Security Act. 42 U.S.C. § 401, et seq. The issue before the Court is whether the Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") erred in finding that there was substantial evidence that Plaintiff did not have a disability following her alleged onset date of disability, December 17, 2007. For the reasons stated below, this Court will affirm that decision.
I. BACKGROUND AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
On August 8, 2008, Plaintiff filed an application for disability insurance benefits and for supplemental security income. Plaintiff filed additional applications for supplemental security income on September 17, 2008 and October 9, 2008. Plaintiff claims that following an accident that occurred on December 17, 2007, in which she fell out of a school van, she became disabled due to exacerbation of her pre-existing degenerative joint disease (osteoarthritis), cubital tunnel syndrome at her left elbow, left carpal tunnel syndrome, and aggravation of her pre-existing cervical and lumbar strain/sprain. At the time of the accident, Plaintiff was a full-time student at Rutgers University and was entering a school van when the driver started to go before plaintiff was seated. She fell out of the van onto her knees and felt an "electric shock" in her body.
Plaintiff's claims for benefits were denied initially on October 24, 2008, and upon reconsideration on February 24, 2009. Following a hearing on March 10, 2010, and ALJ determined in a written Opinion dated May 3, 2010 that Plaintiff was not disabled. Plaintiff appealed the decision. The Appeals Council reviewed the ALJ's decision and upheld it on August 3, 2012, thus rendering it as final. Plaintiff now seeks this Court's review.
A. Standard of Review
Under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), Congress provided for judicial review of the Commissioner's decision to deny a complainant's application for Disability Insurance Benefits. Ventura v. Shalala , 55 F.3d 900, 901 (3d Cir. 1995). A reviewing court must uphold the Commissioner's factual decisions where they are supported by "substantial evidence." 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g), 1383(c)(3); Fargnoli v. Massanari , 247 F.3d 34, 38 (3d Cir. 2001); Sykes v. Apfel , 228 F.3d 259, 262 (3d Cir. 2000); Williams v. Sullivan , 970 F.2d 1178, 1182 (3d Cir. 1992). Substantial evidence means more than "a mere scintilla." Richardson v. Perales , 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971)(quoting Consolidated Edison Co. V. NLRB , 305 U.S. 197, 229 (1938)). It means "such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Id . The inquiry is not whether the reviewing court would have made the same determination, but whether the Commissioner's conclusion was reasonable. See Brown v. Bowen , 845 F.2d 1211, 1213 (3d Cir. 1988).
A reviewing court has a duty to review the evidence in its totality. See Daring v. Heckler , 727 F.2d 64, 70 (3d Cir. 1984). "[A] court must take into account whatever in the record fairly detracts from its weight.'" Schonewolf v. Callahan , 972 F.Supp. 277, 284 (D.N.J. 1997) (quoting Willbanks v. Secretary of Health & Human Servs. , 847 F.2d 301, 303 (6th Cir. 1988) (quoting Universal Camera Corp. V. NLRB , 340 U.S. 474, 488 (1951)).
The Commissioner "must adequately explain in the record his reasons for rejecting or discrediting competent evidence." Ogden v. Bowen , 677 F.Supp. 273, 278 (M.D. Pa. 1987) (citing Brewster v. Heckler , 786 F.2d 581 (3d Cir. 1986)). The Third Circuit has held that an "ALJ must review all pertinent medical evidence and explain his conciliations and rejections." Burnett v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec. Admin. , 220 F.3d 112, 122 (3d Cir. 2000). Similarly, an ALJ must also consider and weigh all of the nonmedical evidence before him. Id . (citing Van Horn v. Schweiker , 717 F.2d 871, 873 (3d Cir. 1983)); Cotter v. Harris , 642 F.2d 700, 707 (3d Cir. 1981).
The Third Circuit has held that access to the Commissioner's reasoning is indeed essential to a meaningful court review:
Unless the [Commissioner] has analyzed all evidence and has sufficiently explained the weight he has given to obviously probative exhibits, to say that his decision is supported by substantial evidence approaches an abdication of the court's duty to scrutinize the record ...