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Acevedo v. Commissioner of Social Security

United States District Court, D. New Jersey

November 30, 2018



          WILLIAM J. MARTINI, U.S.D.J.

         Claimant Maritza Acevedo (“Claimant”) brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and 1383(c)(3), seeking review of a final determination by the Commissioner of Social Security (“Commissioner”) denying her application for Disability Insurance Benefits. For the reasons set forth below, the Commissioner's decision is AFFIRMED.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Claimant is a sixty-five-year-old woman who worked as a research monitor for Labcorp until April 30, 2013. Admin. Rec. at 39-40, 63, ECF No. 10 (hereinafter, “AR”). On July 9, 2013, Claimant filed her initial claim for disability benefits due to back and knee pain, osteoporosis, dizziness, asthma, hypertension, and a heart condition. AR at 63-64. The initial application and request for reconsideration were denied. AR 63-84. Claimant requested a hearing, which took place on June 17, 2015 (“Hearing”). AR 29-62. After the Hearing, Administrative Law Judge Sharon Allard (“ALJ”) issued an unfavorable decision, finding Claimant was not disabled because she could perform past relevant work. AR 11-28. The Appeals Counsel denied Claimant's appeal, making the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner. AR 1-6. Claimant appealed to this Court.


         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. Id. 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 (“RFC”) 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. Id. §§ 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).


         Claimant challenges the ALJ's determination that she was “not disabled” from April 30, 2013, to October 15, 2015. AR 24. Claimant argues the ALJ (1) improperly evaluated the medical evidence; (2) failed to comply with Social Security Ruling (“SSR”) 96-8p in assessing Claimant's RFC; and (3) failed to give an accurate portrait of Claimant's impairments to the vocational expert (“VE”). Pl. Br. at 12-19, ECF No. 12.

         A. Standard of Review

         For 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)).

         B. The ALJ's Conclusions Regarding Medical Evidence

         Claimant argues the ALJ erred in steps two through four by incorrectly evaluating Claimant's (1) complaints concerning various medical conditions; (2) “crush injury” to her left ankle; and (3) obesity. Pl. Br. at 12-16. The Commissioner counters that the ALJ's conclusions were supported by substantial evidence. Def. Br. at 2-8, ECF No. 18.

         1. Claimant's Subjective Complaints

         Claimant argues the ALJ erred in finding her incredible and able to perform daily activities. Pl. Br. at 14-16. Specifically, Claimant argues the ALJ should have credited her testimony regarding the intensity, persistence, and functionally limiting effects of her symptoms. Id. The Commissioner ...

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