United States District Court, D. New Jersey, Camden Vicinage
MELANIE J. BAUER, Plaintiff,
COMMISSIONER, SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION, Defendant.
MEMORANDUM OPINION & ORDER
RENÉE MARIE BUMB, U.S.D.J.
matter comes before the Court upon an appeal by Plaintiff
Melanie Bauer from a denial of social security disability
reasons set forth below, the Court vacates the decision of
the Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) and remands
for proceedings consistent with this Memorandum Opinion and
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). The analysis proceeds as
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 ...