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Arrington v. Colvin

United States District Court, Third Circuit

January 10, 2014





In this action, Plaintiff filed an application for Supplemental Social Security Income, on October 7, 2009. The claim was denied initially, and on rehearing. The Appeals counsel denied a request for review. Presently before the Court are the parties' Motions for Summary Judgment. For the following reasons, Plaintiff's will be granted, and Defendant's denied.


Judicial review of the Commissioner's final decisions on disability claims is governed by statute, and is plenary as to all legal issues. 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) 4, 1383(c)(3)5; Schaudeck v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec. , 181 F.3d 429, 431 (3d Cir. 1999).

The standard of review in social security cases is whether substantial evidence exists in the record to support the Commissioner's decision. Allen v. Bowen , 881 F.2d 37, 39 (3d Cir. 1989). Substantial evidence has been defined as "more than a mere scintilla. It means such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate." Ventura v. Shalala , 55 F.3d 900, 901 (3d Cir. 1995) (quoting Richardson v. Perales , 402 U.S. 389, 401, 91 S.Ct. 1420, 28 L.Ed.2d 842 (1971)). Additionally, the Commissioner's findings of fact, if supported by substantial evidence, are conclusive. 42 U.S.C. §405(g); Dobrowolsky v. Califano , 606 F.2d 403, 406 (3d Cir. 1979).

A district court cannot conduct a de novo review of the Commissioner's decision or re-weigh the evidence of record. Palmer v. Apfel , 995 F.Supp. 549, 552 (E.D. Pa. 1998). Instead, where the ALJ's findings of fact are supported by substantial evidence, a court is bound by those findings, even if the court would have decided the matter differently. Hartranft v. Apfel , 181 F.3d 358, 360 (3d Cir. 1999). However, if the ALJ has not sufficiently explained the weight he has given to all probative evidence, it may be inappropriate for the court to find that substantial evidence supports the ALJ's decision. Dobrowlowsky, 606 F.2d at 407. To determine whether a finding is supported by substantial evidence, the district court must review the record as a whole. 5 U.S.C. §706. "Since it is apparent that the ALJ cannot reject evidence for no reason or the wrong reason, an explanation from the required so that the reviewing court can determine whether the reasons for rejection were improper." Cotter v. Harris , 642 F.2d 700, 706-07 (3d Cir. 1982).

When reviewing a claim, the ALJ utilizes a five-step sequential analysis to evaluate whether a claimant has met the requirements for disability. (1) whether the claimant is currently engaged in substantial gainful activity; (2) if not, whether the claimant has a severe impairment or a combination of impairments that is severe; (3) whether the medical evidence of the claimant's impairment or combination of impairments meets or equals the criteria listed in 20 C.F.R., Pt. 404, Subpt. P, App'x 1; (4) whether the claimant's impairments prevent him from performing his past relevant work; and (5) if the claimant is incapable of performing his past relevant work, whether he can perform any other work which exists in the national economy. 20 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 416.920. If it is determined that the claimant is unable to return to his previous employment, the burden shifts to the Commissioner to prove that claimant is able to engage in alternate substantial gainful activity. Dobrowlowsky, 606 F.2d at 406.

After reviewing the entire record, a district court may affirm, modify, or reverse the decision with or without remand to the Commissioner for rehearing. Rankin v. Colvin, No. 12-1275, 2013 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 104649 (W.D. Pa. July 26, 2013).


The issues presented center solely on Plaintiff's intellectual functioning, of which I will set forth a brief, pertinent history. Plaintiff, born on October 7, 1958, was fifty-two at the time of his February 22, 2011 social security hearing. The record contains evidence of several full-scale IQ scores: 76, when Plaintiff was eight years old; 72, when Plaintiff was eleven, at which time the school psychologist recommended special education classes; 64, when Plaintiff was fifteen, at which time it was recommended that he continue special education; and, most recently, a score of 69, in 2010. In 2009, a psychiatrist from Stairways Behavioral Health, where Plaintiff underwent treatment, completed a Statement of Ability to Do Work-Related Activities. The psychiatrist noted that Plaintiff had marked limitations in understanding, remembering, carrying out detailed instructions, social interactions, sustained concentration, and persistence, and was moderately limited with respect to simple instructions.

In 2010, Glenn Bailey, Ph.D., twice evaluated Plaintiff at the agency's request. He issued a diagnosis of mild mental retardation, and a full-scale IQ score of 69. In 2010, John Vigna, Psy.D., conducted a mental RFC assessment, and found that Plaintiff was markedly limited in the ability to carry out detailed instructions, but only moderately or not significantly limited in other respects. Dr. Vigna stated, "the medical evidence establishes medically determinable impairments of...Mild Mental Retardation." Dr, Vigna stated, "[B]ased on his functioning, he does not seem to meet the capsule definition of MR (got GED, has a driver's license)." Dr. Vigna also concluded that Plaintiff "is able to meet the basic mental demands of competitive work on a sustained basis despite the limitations resulting from his impairments."

In terms of his activities, Plaintiff had a work history as an assembly worker, landscaper, truck loader, and in retail maintenance and management. Plaintiff indicated that had no trouble with personal care, paying bills, handling a savings account, and using a checkbook. He obtained his GED and served in the army. He testified that he had a driver's license ...

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