United States District Court, D. New Jersey, Camden Vicinage
MEMORANDUM OPINION & ORDER
RENÉE MARIE BUMB UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
matter comes before the Court upon an appeal by Plaintiff
Ophelia Hazelton (“Plaintiff”), seeking judicial
review of the final determination of the Commissioner of
Social Security (the “Commissioner”) denying
Plaintiff's application for social security disability
benefits. For the reasons set forth below, the decision of
the Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) is AFFIRMED.
January 15, 2014, Plaintiff protectively filed an application
for disability insurance benefits under Title II of the
Social Security Act, alleging disability beginning June 18.
2013. The claim was initially denied on January 20, 2015, and
again upon reconsideration on April 22, 2015. On April 20,
2017, Plaintiff testified at an administrative hearing held
before Administrative Law Judge Nicholas Cerulli. At the
hearing, Plaintiff was represented by her attorney, Danielle
Webb. The ALJ also heard testimony from a vocational expert.
6, 2017, the ALJ issued a decision denying Plaintiff's
claim for benefits, based upon his finding that Plaintiff
“is capable of performing past relevant work as an
administrative clerk and an admissions clerk.” R.P. at
89. On October 4, 2017, the Appeals Council denied
Plaintiff's request for review, rendering the ALJ's
decision as final. Plaintiff now seeks this Court's
review pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).
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 ...