United States District Court, D. New Jersey, Camden Vicinage
RENÉE MARIE BUMB, U.S.D.J.
matter comes before the Court upon an appeal by Plaintiff
Debra Capanna from a denial of social security disability
benefits on November 15, 2013. The denial of benefits was
upheld by the Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) on
September 21, 2016. [Record of Proceedings,
“R.P.”, p. 15]. Because the Appeals Council
denied Plaintiff's request for review, the ALJ's
decision is the final decision of the Commissioner.
[Id.]. Plaintiff commenced this civil action seeking
review of the Commissioner's final decision pursuant to
42 U.S.C. § 405(g).
reasons set forth below, the Court affirms the decision of
STANDARD OF REVIEW
reviewing a final decision of an ALJ with regard to
disability benefits, a court must uphold the ALJ's
factual decisions if they are supported by “substantial
evidence.” Knepp v. Apfel, 204 F.3d 78, 83 (3d
Cir. 2000); 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g), 1383(c)(3).
“Substantial evidence” means “‘more
than a mere scintilla. It means such relevant evidence as a
reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a
conclusion.'” Richardson v. Perales, 402
U.S. 389, 401 (1971) (quoting Cons. Edison Co. v.
NLRB, 305 U.S. 197, 229 (1938)); Plummer v.
Apfel, 186 F.3d 422, 427 (3d Cir. 1999).
addition to the “substantial evidence” inquiry,
the court must also determine whether the ALJ applied the
correct legal standards. See Friedberg v. Schweiker,
721 F.2d 445, 447 (3d Cir. 1983); Sykes v. Apfel,
228 F.3d 259, 262 (3d Cir. 2000). The Court's review of
legal issues is plenary. Sykes, 228 F.3d at 262
(citing Schaudeck v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 181
F.3d 429, 431 (3d Cir. 1999)).
Social Security Act defines “disability” as the
inability “to engage in any substantial gainful
activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or
mental impairment which can be expected to result in death or
which has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous
period of not less than twelve months.” 42 U.S.C.
§ 1382c(a)(3)(A). The Act further states,
[A]n individual shall be determined to be under a disability
only if his physical or mental impairment or impairments are
of such severity that he is not only unable to do his
previous work but cannot, considering his age, education, and
work experience, engage in any other kind of substantial
gainful work which exists in the national economy, regardless
of whether such work exists in the immediate area in which he
lives, or whether a specific job vacancy exists for him, or
whether he would be hired if he applied for work.
42 U.S.C. § 1382c(a)(3)(B).
Commissioner has promulgated a five-step, sequential analysis
for evaluating a claimant's disability, as outlined in 20
C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4)(i-v). In Plummer, 186
F.3d at 428, the Third Circuit described the
Commissioner's inquiry at each step of this analysis:
In step one, the Commissioner must determine whether the
claimant is currently engaging in substantial gainful
activity. 20 C.F.R. § 1520(a). If a claimant is found to
be engaged in substantial activity, the disability claim will
be denied. Bowen v. Yuckert, 482 U.S. 137, 140
In step two, the Commissioner must determine whether the
claimant is suffering from a severe impairment. 20 C.F.R.
§ 404.1520(c). If the claimant fails to show that [his]
impairments are “severe, ” she is ineligible for
In step three, the Commissioner compares the medical evidence
of the claimant's impairment to a list of impairments
presumed severe enough to preclude any gainful work. 20
C.F.R. § 404.1520(d). If a claimant does not suffer from
a listed impairment or its equivalent, the analysis proceeds
to steps four and five.
Step four requires the ALJ to consider whether the claimant
retains the residual functional capacity to perform her past
relevant work. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(d). The claimant
bears the burden of demonstrating an inability to return to
her past relevant work. Adorno v. Shalala, 40 F.3d
43, 46 (3d Cir. 1994). If the claimant is unable to resume
her former occupation, the evaluation moves to the final
At this [fifth] stage, the burden of production shifts to the
Commissioner, who must demonstrate the claimant is capable of
performing other available work in order to deny a claim of
disability. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(f). The ALJ must show
there are other jobs existing in significant numbers in the
national economy which the claimant can perform, consistent
with her medical impairments, age, education, past work
experience, and residual functional capacity. The ALJ must
analyze the cumulative effect of all the claimant's
impairments in determining whether she is capable of
performing work and is not disabled. See 20 C.F.R.
§ 404.1523. The ALJ will often seek the assistance of a
vocational expert at this fifth step. See Podedworny v.
Harris, 745 F.2d 210, 218 (3d Cir. 1984).
Court recites only the facts that are necessary to its
determination on appeal, which is narrow.
was born on December 21, 1965, and was 39 years old at the
alleged onset date. [R.P., p. 30]. She applied for Social
Security Disability Benefits on July 27, 2013, alleging an
onset of disability of beginning November 1, 2005. [R.P., p.
15]. Plaintiff last met the insured status requirements of
the Social Security Act on December 31, 2009. [Id.].
Plaintiff alleged disability due to physical impairments
including rheumatoid arthritis and degenerative disc disease,
and mental conditions including schizoaffective disorder,
generalized anxiety disorder, and depression.
[Plaintiff's Brief, “Pl.'s Br.”, p. 2].
disability hearing was held on August 16, 2016. The ALJ heard
testimony from the Plaintiff. A Vocational Expert was also
present, but did not testify. The ALJ found Plaintiff was not
disabled under sections 216(i) and 223(d) of the Social
Security Act through the last date insured: December 31,
2009. [R.P., p. 21].
Plaintiff's Relevant Medical History
August 2006, Plaintiff was treated at Kennedy Hospital for
depression/anxiety and suicidal thoughts. At that time,
Plaintiff did not seek voluntary hospitalization and was
released from the hospital the same day. [Defendant's
Opposition Brief “Def.'s Opp'n Br.”, p.
3]. Plaintiff began treatment with Dr. Deerfield during that
month and treatment consisted of medication and monthly
office visits. Dr. Deerfield's notes indicated lapses in
treatment spanning three to four months, to more than a year
and a half. [Id.]. Plaintiff was diagnosed with
Bipolar I and ...