United States District Court, D. New Jersey, Camden Vicinage
RENÉE MARIE BUMB UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT JUDGE.
matter comes before the Court upon an appeal by Plaintiff
Lisa Marie Downs from a denial of social security disability
benefits, seeking judicial review of the final determination
of the Commissioner of Social Security denying
Plaintiff's application for social security disability.
For the reasons set forth below, the Court affirms the
decision of the Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”).
September 11, 2015, Plaintiff protectively filed an
application for disability insurance benefits under Title II
of the Social Security Act, alleging disability beginning
June 1, 2015. The claim was initially denied on November 10,
2015, and again upon reconsideration on February 5, 2016.
Plaintiff filed a written request for hearing on February 25,
2016 and testified at an administrative hearing held before
Administrative Law Judge Karen Shelton on July 18, 2017. At
the hearing, Plaintiff was represented by her attorney,
Lynette Siragusa. The ALJ also heard testimony from a
September 1, 2015, the ALJ issued a decision denying
Plaintiff's claim for benefits, based upon her finding
that Plaintiff maintained, through the relevant time period,
“the residual functional capacity to perform light work
as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b) and 416.967(b) except she
requires the opportunity to stand for 5 minutes after half an
hour of sitting or sit for 5 minutes after half an hour of
standing/walking while remaining on task . . . and can
frequently handle and finger. [Record of Proceedings,
“R.P.”, p. 19]. On January 3, 2018, the Appeals
Council denied Plaintiff's request for review, rendering
the ALJ's decision final. Plaintiff now seeks Judicial
Review by this Court pursuant 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 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. Plaintiff was born
in 1967 and was 48 years old at the alleged onset date [R.P.,
p. 95]. The Plaintiff meets the insured status requirement of
the Social Security Act through December 31, 2019. [R.P., p.
has past relevant work experience as a homecare attendant and
a warehouse laborer. [R.P., p. 56-63]. However, Plaintiff
claims that she is disabled and unable to work due ...