United States District Court, D. New Jersey
MCNULTY, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
Jenny Rivera brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C.
§§ 405(g) and 1333(c)(3) to review a final decision
of the Commissioner of Social Security
("Commissioner") denying her claims to Disability
Insurance Benefits ("DIB") under Title II of the
Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. § 401-34 and Supplemental
Security Income ("SSI"), 42 U.S.C. § 1381. For
the reasons set forth below, the decision of the
Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") is AFFIRMED.
Rivera seeks to reverse a finding that she did not meet the
Social Security Act's definition of disability from
January 29, 2011 to February 27, 2014-the date of her
fiftieth birthday. (R. 32).
applied for DIB on September 15, 2011 and SSI on July 19,
2013. (R. 204-11). Rivera stated that she had been unable to
work since January 29, 2011 because of multiple impairments.
(R. 225, 228). The specific symptoms include pain resulting
from a 2007 motor vehicle accident, anxiety, and depression.
(R. 228). Rivera's application was denied by New Jersey
Disability Determination Services on June 26, 2012, and on
reconsideration on April 11, 2013. (R. 106-35).
August 15, 2014, Rivera appeared with counsel, Agnes Wladyka,
at a hearing before Administrative Law Judge
("ALJ") Richard West. (R. 43-87). Mary Anderson, a
vocational expert, testified. (R. 82-87). On March 4, 2015,
the ALJ issued a decision finding that Jenny Rivera was not
disabled from January 29, 2011 to February 27, 2014, when she
attained the age of 50. (R. 25-32). However, the ALJ
determined, by application of Medical-Vocational Guidelines
("GRIDS"), that Rivera has been disabled since
February 28, 2014. (R. 32). The GRIDS are tables that set
forth presumptions of whether significant numbers of jobs
exist in the national economy for a claimant. 20 C.F.R. pt.
404, subpt. P, app.2. These presumptions vary based on a
claimant's age, education, work experience, and work
capability. Id. When Rivera turned fifty on February
28, 2014, her age classification changed, and the GRIDS
labeled her presumptively unable to perform work found in
significant numbers in the national economy. (R. 32).
11, 2015, the Appeals Council denied Rivera's request for
review (R. 1-5), rendering the ALJ's decision the final
decision of the Commissioner. Rivera then appealed to this
Court, challenging the ALJ's determination that she was
not disabled from January 29, 2011 to February 27, 2014.
qualify for DIB or SSI, a claimant must meet income and
resource limitations and show that she is unable to engage in
substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically
determinable physical or mental impairment that can be
expected to result in death or that has lasted (or can be
expected to last) for a continuous period of not less than
twelve months. 42 U.S.C. §§ 423(d)(1)(A), 1382,
1382c(a)(3)(A), (B); 20 C.F.R. § 416.905(a); see
Illig v. Comm'r Soc. Sec, 570 Fed.Appx. 262, 264 (3d
Cir. 2014); Diaz u. Comm'r of Soc. Sec, 577 F.3d
500, 503 (3d Cir. 2009).
The Five-Step Process and This Court's Standard of
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. This Court's
review necessarily incorporates a determination of whether
the ALJ properly followed the five-step process prescribed by
regulation. The steps may be briefly summarized as follows:
Step One: Determine whether the claimant has
engaged in substantial gainful activity since the onset date
of the alleged disability. 20 C.F.R. §§
404.1520(b), 416.920(b). If not, move to step two.
Step Two: 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, move to
Step Three: Determine whether the impairment
meets or equals the criteria of any impairment found in the
Listing of Impairments. 20 C.F.R. Pt. 404, subpt. P, app. 1,
Pt. A. (Those Part A criteria are purposely set at a high
level to identify clear cases of disability without further
analysis.) If so, the claimant is automatically eligible to
receive benefits; if not, move to step four. Id.
§§ 404.1520(d), 416.920(d).
Step Four: Determine whether, despite any
severe impairment, the claimant retains the Residual
Functional Capacity ("RFC") to perform past
relevant work. Id. §§ 404.1520(e)-(f)>
416.920(e)-(f)- If not, move to step five.
Step Five: At this point, the burden shifts
to the Commissioner to demonstrate that the claimant,
considering her age, education, work experience, and RFC, is
capable of performing jobs that exist in significant numbers
in the national economy. 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). If so, benefits will be
denied; if not, they will be awarded.
all legal issues, this Court conducts a plenary review.
See Schaudeck v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec,
181 F.3d 429, 431 (3d Cir. 1999). As to factual findings,
this Court adheres to the ALJ's findings, as long as they
are supported by substantial evidence. Jones v.
Barnhart, 364 F.3d 501, 503 (3d Cir. 2004) (citing 42
U.S.C. § 405(g)). Where facts are disputed, this Court
will "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 such relevant evidence as a
reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a
conclusion." Zimsak v. Colvin, 777 F.3d 607,
610 (3d Cir. 2014) (internal quotation marks and citation
omitted). Substantial evidence "is more than a mere
scintilla but may be somewhat less than a preponderance of
the evidence." Id. (internal quotation marks
and citation omitted).
[I]n evaluating whether substantial evidence supports the
ALJ's findings ... leniency should be shown in
establishing the claimant's disability, and ... the
Secretary's responsibility to rebut it should be strictly
construed. Due regard for the beneficent purposes of the
legislation requires that a more tolerant standard be used in
this administrative proceeding than is applicable in a
typical suit in a court of record where the adversary system
Reefer v. Barnhart, 326 F.3d 376, 379 (3d Cir. 2003}
(internal quotation marks and citations omitted). When there
is substantial evidence to support the ALJ's factual
findings, however, this Court must abide by them. See
Jones, 364 F.3d at 503 (citing 42 U.S.C. § 405(g));
Zimsak, 777 F.3d at 610-11 ("[W]e are mindful
that we must not substitute our own judgment for that of the
Court may, under 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g), affirm,
modify, or reverse the Commissioner's decision, or it may
remand the matter to the Commissioner for a rehearing.
Podedworny v. Harris, 745 F.2d 210, 221 (3d Cir.
1984); Bordes v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec, 235
Fed.Appx. 853, 865-66 (3d Cir. 2007).
is proper if the record is incomplete, or if there is a lack
of substantial evidence to support a definitive finding on
one or more steps of the five-step inquiry. See
Podedwomy, 745 F.2d at 221-22. Remand is also proper if
the ALJ's decision lacks adequate reasoning or support
for its conclusions, or if it contains illogical or
contradictory findings. See Burnett v. Comm'r of Soc.
Sec,220 F.3d 112, 119-20 (3d Cir. 2000). It is also
proper to remand where the ALJ's findings are not the
product of a complete review which "explicitiy weigh[s]