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Glass v. Commissioner of Social Security

United States District Court, D. New Jersey, Camden Vicinage

October 31, 2019

SHARON GLASS, Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.

          BROSS & FRANKEL, P.A. Richard L. Frankel, Esq.; Kathryne H. Pope, Esq. Cherry Hill, Counsel for Plaintiff Sharon Glass.

          SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION, OFFICE OF THE GENERAL COUNSEL By: Anne von Scheven, Special Assistant U.S. Attorney Counsel for the Commissioner of Social Security.

          OPINION

          RENÉE MARIE BUMB, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         This matter comes before the Court upon an appeal by Plaintiff Sharon Glass (“Plaintiff”), seeking judicial review of the final determination of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (the “Commissioner”), which denied Plaintiff's application for social security disability benefits. For the reasons set forth below, the Commissioner's determination will be AFFIRMED.

         I. PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         On December 9, 2013, Plaintiff protectively filed applications for disability insurance benefits under Title II and supplemental security income under Title XVI of the Social Security Act, alleging a severe disability, due to injuries to her right thumb, described as a partial collateral ligament disruption and post-trigger thumb release, with an Alleged Onset Date (“AOD”) of June 23, 2013.

         Plaintiff's claim was initially denied on July 29, 2014, and again upon reconsideration on November 19, 2014. On February 7, 2017, Plaintiff testified at an administrative hearing held before Administrative Law Judge Kenneth Bossong (the “ALJ”). At the hearing, Plaintiff was represented by her attorneys, David S. Bross, Esq. and Richard L. Frankel, Esq. The ALJ also heard testimony from a vocational expert, Gary A. Young.

         On July 6, 2017, the ALJ issued a decision denying Plaintiff's claim for benefits, based upon his finding that Plaintiff was not disabled and could perform work in representative occupations, such as locker room attendant, security guard, or an office clerical worker/helper. [R.P. at 18]. On August 21, 2018, 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).

         II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         When reviewing an ALJ's final decision regarding disability benefits, a court must uphold the ALJ's factual decisions if they are supported by “substantial evidence.” Hess v. Comm'r Soc. Sec., 931 F.3d 198, n. 10 (3d Cir. 2019); 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)); Albert Einstein Med. Ctr. v. Sebelius, 566 F.3d 368, 372 (3d Cir. 2009).

         In 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. Hess, 931 F.3d at n. 10 (citing Chandler v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 667 F.3d 356, 359 (3d Cir. 2011)).

         The 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).

         The 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). The claimant bears the burden of proof at steps one through four, and the Commissioner of Social Security at step five. Hess, 931 F.3d at 201 (citing Smith v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 631 F.3d 632, 634 (3d Cir. 2010). Recently in Hess, 931 F.3d at 201-02, the Third Circuit described the ALJ's role in the Commissioner's inquiry at each step of this analysis:

At step one, the ALJ determines whether the claimant is performing “substantial gainful activity.” 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(i), 416.920(a)(4)(i). If he is, he is not disabled. Id. Otherwise, the ALJ moves on to step two.
At step two, the ALJ considers whether the claimant has any “severe medically determinable physical or mental impairment” that meets certain regulatory requirements. Id. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(ii), 416.920(a)(4)(ii). A “severe impairment” is one that “significantly limits [the claimant's] physical or mental ability to do basic work activities.” Id. §§ 404.1520(c), 416.920(c). If the claimant lacks such an impairment, he is not disabled. Id. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(ii), 416.920(a)(4)(ii). If he has such an impairment, the ALJ moves on to step three.
At step three, the ALJ decides “whether the claimant's impairments meet or equal the requirements of an impairment listed in the regulations[.]” Smith, 631 F.3d at 634. If the claimant's impairments do, he is disabled. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(iii), 416.920(a)(4)(iii). If they do not, the ALJ moves on to step four.
At step four, the ALJ assesses the claimant's “residual functional capacity” (“RFC”) and whether he can perform his “past relevant work.” Id. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(iv), 416.920(a)(4)(iv). A claimant's “[RFC] is the most [he] can still do despite [his] limitations.” Id. §§ 404.1545(a)(1), 416.945(a)(1). If the claimant can perform his past relevant work despite his limitations, he is not disabled. Id. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(iv), 416.920(a)(4)(iv). If he cannot, the ALJ moves on to step five.
At step five, the ALJ examines whether the claimant “can make an adjustment to other work[, ]” considering his “[RFC, ] . . . age, education, and work experience [.]” Id. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(v), 416.920(a)(4)(v). That examination typically involves “one or more hypothetical questions posed by the ALJ to [a] vocational expert.” Podeworny v. Harris, 745 F.2d 210, 218 (3d Cir. 1984). If the claimant can make an adjustment to other work, he is not disabled. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(v), 416.920(a)(4)(v). If he cannot, he is disabled.

         III. FACTUAL BACKGROUND

         The Court recites only the facts that are necessary to its determination on appeal, which is narrow. Plaintiff, who was born on May 11, 1970, was 43 years old on the AOD and 46 years old at the time of her administrative hearing. See Plaintiff's Brief Pursuant to Local Rule 9.1 (“Pl.'s Br.”)[Dkt. No. 9], at 2. Plaintiff meets the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act through ...


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