United States District Court, D. New Jersey
SIRAGUSA LAW FIRM LLC By: Lynette Siragusa, Esq. Counsel for
Plaintiff Nichelle Vonda May
SECURITY ADMINISTRATION, OFFICE OF GENERAL COUNSEL By: Katie
M. Gaughan, 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
Nichelle Vonda May (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.
19, 2015, Plaintiff filed an application for supplemental
security income pursuant to Title XVI of the Social Security
Act (the “Act”). In her application, Plaintiff
alleges disability, beginning November 9, 2014, based on
severe major depressive disorder with psychotic features.
Plaintiff also allegedly suffers from posttraumatic stress
disorder (“PTSD”), anxiety, and has a history of
substance abuse. Plaintiff's claim was initially denied
on September 10, 2015, and again denied upon reconsideration
on February 16, 2016. [Record of Proceedings
(“R.P.”) at 13]. On August 23, 2017, Plaintiff
testified at a formal hearing before Administrative Law Judge
Lisa Hibner. At the hearing, Plaintiff was represented by her
attorney, Lynette Siragusa.
October 26, 2017, the ALJ issued a decision denying
Plaintiff's claim for benefits, based on the ALJ's
determination that “there are a significant number of
jobs in the national economy which the claimant could
perform.” [R.P. at 31]. The Appeals Council denied
Plaintiff's request for review on February 16, 2018,
rendering the ALJ's decision as final. [R.P. at 2-4].
Plaintiff now appeals the Commissioner's final
determination for 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 ...