United States District Court, D. New Jersey
WILLIAM J. MARTINI, U.S.D.J.
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
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 FIVE-STEP SEQUENTIAL ANALYSIS
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).
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.
Standard of Review
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)).
The ALJ's Conclusions Regarding Medical
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.
Claimant's Subjective Complaints
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