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Burrows v. Commissioner of Social Security

United States District Court, D. New Jersey

June 27, 2014

HOLLY ANN BURROWS, Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.

ALAN H. POLONSKY, POLONSKY AND POLONSKY, AUDUBON, NJ, Attorney for plaintiff.

KAREN T. CALLAHAN, SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION OFFICE OF THE GENERAL COUNSEL, NEW YORK, NY, Attorney for defendant.

OPINION

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 the application of plaintiff for Disability Insurance Benefits ("Social Security benefits") under Title II 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 although the plaintiff could not return to any past relevant work, she could perform alternative work based on the framework of the vocations guidelines. For the reasons stated below, this Court will affirm the ALJ's decision.

I. BACKGROUND AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

On June 13, 2010, the Plaintiff filed an application for a Period of Disability and Disability Insurance Benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act. The application was denied on initial consideration and reconsideration, and the Plaintiff filed a request for a hearing on January 31, 2011, which hearing was held on February 8, 2012. The ALJ concluded that Plaintiff suffered from limitations in her ability to perform basic work related activities due to the effects of opiate dependence, anxiety, and depression, and that she was incapable of returning to her past relevant work as a waitress. However, the ALJ found that Plaintiff could perform alternative jobs and determined that Plaintiff was not disabled and not entitled to benefits based on disability on March 8, 2012. Plaintiff appealed the ALJ's decision to the Appeals Council on April 12, 2012 which issued an Order on April 29, 2013, denying review. Plaintiff now seeks this Court's review.

II. DISCUSSION

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 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 ...

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