The opinion of the court was delivered by: CHARLES WEINER, Senior District Judge
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
Plaintiff Thomas Smith ("Smith") seeks judicial review under
42 U.S.C. § 1383(c)(3) of the decision of the Commissioner of
Social Security, who found that plaintiff was not entitled to
Social Security Income ("SSI") under title XVI of the Social
Security Act ("Act"), 42 U.S.C. § 1381-1383f. Presently
before the court are the parties' cross-motions for summary
judgment. For the reasons which follow, the motion of the
defendant will be denied, the motion of the plaintiff will be
granted and the case will be remanded for further proceedings.
When reviewing a denial of a claimant's application for SSI, a
reviewing court applies the "substantial evidence" standard.
See 42 U.S.C. § 405 (g); Burns v. Barnhart, 312 F.3d 113 (3d Cir. 2002).
"Substantial evidence is `more than a mere scintilla. It means
such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as
adequate'." Ventura v. Shala, 55 F.3d 900, 901 (3d Cir. 1995)
(quoting Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971). This
court is not "empowered to weigh the evidence or substitute its
conclusions for those of the fact-finder." Williams v.
Sullivan, 970 F.2d 1178, 1182 (3d Cir. 1992).
Smith protectively filed an application for SSI on October 17,
2000, alleging disability since December 10, 1992 due to a
work-related injury which, he argues, resulted in a permanently
disabling back injury. R-12. After his application was initially
denied, Smith requested and was granted a hearing before an
Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") on February 27, 2003. Id.
After reviewing the evidence and hearing testimony from Smith and
a vocational expert, the ALJ determined that Smith was not
eligible for SSI. Specifically, the ALJ found that the plaintiff
suffers from severe impairments of his lower back and left hip
but that he did not have an impairment listed in, or medically
equal to one listed in, Appendix P, Subpart P, regulations No. 4.
R. 19. The ALJ also found that although plaintiff could not
perform his past work as a laborer, Smith retained the residual
functional capacity to perform "light" work activity with the following
additional restrictions: "he should not use his left foot for
repetitive movements such as operation foot controls or pushing
and pulling; he can perform no more than occasional climbing,
balancing, bending, kneeling, crouching, or crawling; he can
perform simple grasping with his dominant left hand no more than
occasionally, but can use both hands for fine manipulation; he
should avoid concentrated (frequent) exposure to temperature
extremes, wetness, humidity, vibration, and hazards such as
moving machinery and unprotected heights; and he is limited to
simple, routine tasks." R-20.
At his hearing before the ALJ, Smith testified that he "can
stand for about 10 minutes" before it gets "really, really,
really bad." R-65. Smith also testified that he could sit for
"[m]aybe 10 minute[s] at the most and three minute[s]
sometime[s]." Id. The ALJ noted for the record that Smith
alternated between sitting and standing during the course of the
Smith also testified that Dr. L. Wolf, a doctor with Jacobson
Tabby Associates,*fn1 was his treating physician. On
February 23, 2000, Dr. Wolf completed a Department of Public Welfare ("DPW") form on which he checked a
box, indicating that Smith was permanently disabled. His primary
diagnosis was that Smith suffered from left side arthritis, disc
disease, left hip disease. His secondary diagnosis noted
On October 4, 2000, Dr. Wolf completed a second DPW form, again
indicating that Smith was permanently disabled. His primary
diagnosis indicated that Smith suffered from left side
degenerative joint disease and severe lower back pain. Secondary
diagnosis presented radicular pain as well as an altered unstable
On July 31, 2001, Smith underwent an x-ray which presented,
among other things, marked degenerative disc disease at L4-5.
In his motion for summary judgment, Smith argues, inter alia,
that the ALJ erred by not affording substantial weight to his
treating physician's opinion that Smith was permanently disabled.
Smith also argues that the ALJ mistook or misinterpreted the
x-ray from July 31, 2001 that showed marked degenerative disc
disease at L4-5, R-270, which corroborated the treating
physician's opinion that Smith was permanently disabled. DISCUSSION
A treating physician's opinion will be given controlling weight
when it is "well-supported by medically acceptable clinical and
laboratory diagnostic techniques and is not inconsistent with the
other substantial evidence in [the] case record."
20 C.F.R. § 416.927(d)(2). An ALJ may reject a treating physician's opinion
outright only on the basis of contradictory medical evidence, but
may afford a treating physician's opinion more or less weight
depending upon the extent to which supporting explanations are
provided." Plummer v. Apfel, 186 F.3d 422, 429 (3d Cir. 1999).
"Form reports in which a physicians's obligation is only to check
a box or fill in a blank are weak evidence at best . . . where
these so-called reports [residual functional capacity reports]
are unaccompanied by thorough written reports, their reliability
is suspect." Mason v. Shalala, 994 F.2d 1058, 1065 (3rd Cir.
1993) (quoting Brewster v. Heckler, 786 F.2d 581, 585 (3rd Cir.
1986)) (internal quotations omitted).
Dr. Wolf was plaintiff's treating physician. Accordingly, upon
a showing that his opinions were "well-supported by medically
acceptable clinical and laboratory diagnostic techniques and is
not inconsistent with the other substantial evidence in [the]
case record," Dr. Wolf's assessment that plaintiff was
permanently disabled due to his left degenerative disc disease should have
been given controlling weight.
However, the ALJ assigned little weight to Dr. Wolf's
conclusions because "they are not explained and are not supported
by the medical evidence." R. 18. The ALJ gave no further
explanation as to why he ...