United States District Court, D. New Jersey
MCNULTY, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
Duva brings this action pursuant to 45 U.S.C. 405(g) and
§ 1383(c)(3) to review a Final decision of the
Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner")
denying her claims to Disability Insurance Benefits
("DIB") under Title II of the Social Security Act,
42 U.S.C. §§ 401-34, and Supplemental Security
Income ("SSI"), 42 U.S.C. § 1381. For the
reasons set forth below, the decision of the Administrative
Law Judge ("ALJ") is affirmed.
Duva seeks to reverse a finding that she did not meet the
Social Security Act's definition of disability from June
23, 2014 to October 11, 2016. (Pl. Br. 2). Ms. Duva applied
for DIB and SSI on June 23, 2014. (R. 11). She alleges
disabilities relating to migraines and visual impairment. (R.
13); (Pl. Br. 2). These claims were denied initially on
October 3, 2014, and upon reconsideration on March 23, 2015.
March 31, 2015, Ms. Duva requested a hearing before an ALJ.
(R. 86). Ms. Duva appeared and testified at a hearing on
October 11, 2016 in Newark, New Jersey. (R. 8, 24). The
attendees at the hearing were ALJ Douglass Alvarado; a
vocational expert ("VE") witness, Rocco J. Meola;
and claimant's attorneys, Kristin Mancuso and Michael J.
Parker. (R. 8, 24; Pl. Br. 2).
December 19, 2016, the ALJ issued a decision finding that Ms.
Duva was not disabled as defined by the Social Security Act.
November 18, 2017, the Appeals Council denied Ms. Duva's
request for review (R. 1-5), rendering the ALJ's decision
the final decision of the Commissioner. Ms. Duva then
appealed to this Court, challenging the ALJ's
determination that she was not disabled from June 23, 2014 to
October 11, 2016. (Pl. Br. 4).
qualify for DIB or SSI, a claimant must meet income and
resource limitations and show that she is unable to engage in
substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically
determinable physical or mental impairment that can be
expected to result in death or that has lasted (or can be
expected to last) for a continuous period of not less than
twelve months. 42 U.S.C. §§ 423(d)(1)(A), 1382,
l382c(a)(3)(A), (B); 20 C.F.R. § 416.905(a); see
Rlig v. Comm'r Soc. Sec, 570 Fed.Appx. 262, 264 (3d
Cir. 2014); Diaz v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec, 577 F.3d
500, 503 (3d Cir. 2009).
The Five-Step Process and This Court's Standard of
the authority of the Social Security Act, the Social Security
Administration has established a five-step evaluation process
for determining whether a claimant is entitled to benefits.
20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 416.920. This Court's
review necessarily incorporates a determination of whether
the ALJ properly followed the five-step process prescribed by
regulation. The steps may be briefly summarized as follows:
whether the claimant has engaged in substantial gainful
activity since the onset date of the alleged disability. 20
C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(b), 416.920(b). If not, move to
if the claimant's alleged impairment, or combination of
impairments, is "severe." Id. §§
404.1520(c), 416.920(c). If the claimant has a severe
impairment, move to step three.
whether the impairment meets or equals the criteria of any
impairment found in the Listing of Impairments. 20 C.F.R. Pt.
404, subpt. P, app. 1, Pt. A. (Those Part A criteria are
purposely set at a high level to identify clear cases of
disability without further analysis.) If so, the claimant is
automatically eligible to receive benefits; if not, move to
step four. Id. §§ 404.1520(d), 416.920(d).
whether, despite any severe impairment, the claimant retains
the Residual Functional Capacity ("RFC") to perform
past relevant work. Id. §§
404.1520(e)-(f), 416.920(e)-(f). If not, move to step five.
point, the burden shifts to the Commissioner to demonstrate
that the claimant, considering her age, education, work
experience, and RFC, is capable of performing jobs that exist
in significant numbers in the national economy. 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.1520(g), 416.920(g); see Poulos v.
Comm'r of Soc. Sec, 474 F.3d 88, 91-92 (3d Cir.
2007). If so, benefits will be denied; if not, they will be
all legal issues, this Court conducts a plenary review.
See Schaudeck v. Comm'r of Soc. Sea, 181 F.3d
429, 431 (3d Cir. 1999). As to factual findings, this Court
adheres to the ALJ's findings, as long as they are
supported by substantial evidence. Jones v.
Barnhart, 364 F.3d 501, 503 (3d Cir. 2004) (citing 42
U.S.C. § 405(g)). Where facts are disputed, this Court
will "determine whether the administrative record
contains substantial evidence supporting the findings."
Sykes v. Apfel, 228 F.3d 259, 262 (3d Cir. 2000).
"Substantial evidence is such relevant evidence as a
reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a
conclusion." Zimsak v. Colvin, 777 F.3d 607,
610 (3d Cir. 2014) (internal quotation marks and citation
omitted). Substantial evidence "is more than a mere
scintilla but may be somewhat less than a preponderance of
the evidence." Id. (internal quotation marks
and citation omitted).
[I]n evaluating whether substantial evidence supports the
ALJ's findings ... leniency should be shown in
establishing the claimant's disability, and ... the
Secretary's responsibility to rebut it should be strictly
construed. Due regard for the beneficent purposes of the
legislation requires that a more tolerant standard be used in
this administrative proceeding than is applicable in a
typical suit in a court of record where the adversary system
Reefer v. Barnhart, 326 F.3d 376, 379 (3d Cir. 2003)
(internal quotation marks and citations omitted). When there
is substantial evidence to support the ALJ's factual
findings, however, this Court must abide by them. See
Jones, 364 F.3d at 503 (citing 42 U.S.C. § 405(g));
Zirnsak, 777 F.3d at 610-11 ("[W]e are mindful
that we must not substitute our own judgment for that of the
Court may, under 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g), affirm,
modify, or reverse the Commissioner's decision, or it may
remand the matter to the Commissioner for a rehearing.
Podedworny v. Harris, 745 F.2d 210, 221 (3d Cir.
1984); Bordes v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec, 235
Fed.Appx. 853, 865-66 (3d Cir. 2007).
is proper if the record is incomplete, or if there is a lack
of substantial evidence to support a definitive finding on
one or more steps of the five-step inquiry. See
Podedworny, 745 F.2d at 221-22. Remand is also proper if
the ALJ's decision lacks adequate reasoning or support
for its conclusions, or if it contains illogical or
contradictory findings. See Burnett v. Comm'r of Soc.
Sec, 220 F.3d 112, 119-20 (3d Cir. 2000). It is also
proper to remand where the ALJ's findings are not the
product of a complete review which "explicitly weigh[s]
all relevant, probative and available evidence" in the
record. Adomo v. Shalala, 40 F.3d 43, 48 (3d Cir.
1994) (internal quotation marks omitted).
The ALJ's Decision
Douglass Alvarado followed the five-step process in
determining that Ms. Duva was not disabled from June 23, 2014
(the alleged onset date) to October 11, 2016 (the date of her
hearing). His findings may be summarized as follows:
one, the ALJ determined that Ms. Duva had not engaged in
substantial gainful activity since June 23, 2014, the
application date. (R. 13).