United States District Court, D. New Jersey, Camden Vicinage
POLONSKY & POLONSKY By: Alan Polonsky, Esq. Counsel for
Plaintiff Frances Jean Smith-Seright
SECURITY ADMINISTRATION, OFFICE OF THE GENERAL COUNSEL By:
Rachel Licausi, Special Assistant U.S. Attorney Counsel for
Commissioner of Social Security
RENÉE MARIE BUMB, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
matter comes before the Court upon an appeal by Plaintiff
Frances Jean Smith-Seright (the “Plaintiff”) 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 Court will
VACATE the decision of the Administrative
Law Judge (the “ALJ”) and REMAND
for proceedings consistent with this Opinion.
December 30, 2013, Plaintiff filed a Title II application for
disability insurance benefits and a Title XVI application for
supplemental security income. In her application, Plaintiff
alleges disability, beginning January 1, 2010, based on her
severe obesity, asthma, depression, and bipolar disorder.
Plaintiff also allegedly suffers from posttraumatic stress
disorder (“PTSD”), learning disabilities, and has
a history of substance abuse. Plaintiff's claim was
initially denied on May 15, 2014, and again denied upon
reconsideration on August 21, 2014. [Record of Proceedings
(“R.P.”) at 92-138]. On March 30, 2017, Plaintiff
testified at a formal hearing before Administrative Law Judge
Arthur Patane. At the hearing, Plaintiff was represented by
August 8, 2017, the ALJ issued a decision denying
Plaintiff's claim for benefits, based on the ALJ's
determination that “there are jobs that exist in
significant numbers in the national economy that the claimant
can perform.” [R.P. at 23]. The Appeals Council denied
Plaintiff's request for review on February 6, 2018,
rendering the ALJ's decision as final. [R.P. at 1-3].
Plaintiff now seeks this Court's review.
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 ...