United States District Court, Middle District of Pennsylvania
Carlson Magistrate Judge
Social security appeals often entail an evaluation of an Administrative Law Judge’s assessment of competing opinions by medical sources. So it is in this case, where the ALJ afforded little weight to an opinion set forth in the claimant’s treating source physician statement after correctly concluding that the statement, on its face, appeared to have been written in large measure by someone other than the treating physician since the report used the pronoun “I” when describing the claimant and misspelled basic medical terms.
Plaintiff, Danielle George, appeals from an adverse decision of the Commissioner of Social Security denying her application for Disability Insurance Benefits (DIB) under Title II of the Social Security Act. The jurisdiction of this Court is invoked pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §405(g). This matter has been referred to the undersigned United States Magistrate Judge on consent of the parties for resolution pursuant to the provisions of 28 U.S.C. §636(c) and Rule 73 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. (Docs. 24, 25). For the reasons expressed herein, we will AFFIRM the decision of the Commissioner.
II. BACKGROUND AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
Plaintiff, a mother of two, lives with her family in a home which they maintain. Plaintiff filed an application for DIB on January 5, 2011, when she was 30 years old, contending that her neck and back pain, arm and hand problems, severe headaches, memory loss, and learning disability prevented her from engaging in full time employment as after she was injured in a car accident on May 28, 2010. (Tr. 33, 160).
Plaintiff’s application was denied initially on February 25, 2011. Thereafter, Plaintiff requested an administrative hearing to appeal the initial denial of her claims. Her request was granted, and on June 29, 2012, Plaintiff, represented by counsel, appeared and testified before Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) Patrick Cutter in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. Impartial Vocational Expert (VE) Andrew Caporale also appeared and testified during the proceedings. On July 9, 2012, the ALJ issued a written decision denying Plaintiff’s application. Plaintiff requested review of the ALJ’s decision by the Appeals Council. As part of her request for review, Plaintiff submitted additional evidence to the Appeals Council that was not before the ALJ when he rendered his decision. (Tr. 5, 484-91). On October 21, 2013, the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff’s request for review, but subsequently set aside its earlier action to consider additional information. On December 20, 2013, however, the Appeals Council denied review for a second time making the ALJ’s decision denying Plaintiff’s claims the final decision of the Commissioner subject to judicial review by this Court. 20 C.F.R. §§404.981.
On November 15, 2013, Plaintiff initiated this action by filing a Complaint in which she requested that we reverse the Commissioner’s final decision denying her application and enter an order awarding benefits, or in the alternative, that this matter be remanded to the Social Security Administration for a new administrative hearing. (Doc. 1). After being granted an extension of time, the Commissioner filed her Answer to Plaintiff’s Complaint, in which she asserted that the final decision of the Commissioner denying Plaintiff’s application for benefits is supported by substantial evidence and should not be disturbed. (Doc. 13). Together with her Answer, the Commissioner filed a copy of the administrative record. (Doc. 14). This appeal, has been fully briefed by the parties and is now ripe for decision. (Docs. 21, 22).
Plaintiff contends that the Commissioner’s decision that she is able to perform “other work, ” is not supported by substantial evidence because the ALJ improperly accorded little weight to a 2012 medical source statement completed by treating orthopedist Raymond E. Dahl, D.O., and because the ALJ failed to consider or explain his evaluation of the factors set forth in 20 C.F.R. §404.1529 and SSR 96-7p when assessing Plaintiff’s credibility. As discussed below, there is substantial evidence which casts doubt upon the weight to be given this medical source opinion, which was plainly prepared in part by someone other than the treating physician, someone who used the pronoun “I” to describe the claimant’s condition. In response, the Commissioner asserts that the ALJ’s decision at step five is supported by substantial evidence.
A. Standards of Review–The Roles of the Administrative Law Judge and This Court
Resolution of the instant social security appeal involves an informed consideration of the respective roles of two adjudicators–the ALJ and this Court. At the outset, it is the responsibility of the ALJ in the first instance to determine whether a claimant has met the statutory prerequisites for entitlement to benefits. To receive disability benefits, a claimant must present evidence which demonstrates that the claimant has an 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 12 months.” 42U.S.C. §423(d)(1)(A).
[a]n individual shall be determined to be under a disability only if his [or her] physical or mental impairment or impairments are of such severity that he [or she] is not only unable to do his [or her] previous work but cannot, considering his [or her] 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 [or she] lives, or whether a specific job vacancy exists for his [or her], or whether he [or she] would be hired if he [or she] applied for work. For purposes of the preceding sentence (with respect to any individual), “work which exists in the national economy” means work which exists in significant numbers either in the region where such individual lives or in several regions of the country.
42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(2)(A). Further in order to qualify for benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act, a claimant must also show that he or she contributed to the insurance program and became disabled prior to the date on which he or she was ...