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Szallar v. Colvin

United States District Court, Western District of Pennsylvania

February 24, 2015

BRYAN KEITH SZALLAR, Plaintiff
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.

DONETTA W. AMBROSE UNITED STATES SENIOR DISTRICT JUDGE

OPINION

Pending before the Court are Cross-Motions for Summary Judgment. (ECF Nos. 4 and 6). Both parties have filed Briefs in Support of their Motions. (ECF Nos. 5 and 7). After careful consideration of the submissions of the parties, and based on my Opinion set forth below, I am denying Plaintiff’s Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 4) and granting Defendant’s Motion for Summary Judgment. (ECF No. 6).

I. BACKGROUND

Plaintiff brought this action for review of the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security (“Commissioner") denying his application for disability insurance benefits (“DIB”) pursuant to the Social Security Act (“Act”). Plaintiff filed his application alleging he had been disabled since April 6, 2010. (ECF No. 3-5, p. 2). Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”), Lamar W. Davis, held a hearing on October 17, 2012. (ECF No. 3-2, pp. 35-57). On November 5, 2012, the ALJ found that Plaintiff was not disabled under the Act. (ECF No. 3-2, pp. 24-31).

After exhausting all administrative remedies, Plaintiff filed the instant action with this court. The parties have filed Cross-Motions for Summary Judgment. (Docket Nos. 4 and 6). The issues are now ripe for review.

II. LEGAL ANALYSIS

A. Standard of Review

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 Amore 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 (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). 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 factual inquiry differently. Hartranft v. Apfel, 181 F.3d 358, 360 (3d Cir. 1999). To determine whether a finding is supported by substantial evidence, however, the district court must review the record as a whole. See, 5 U.S.C. '706.

To be eligible for social security benefits, the plaintiff must demonstrate that he cannot engage in substantial gainful activity because of a 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 at least 12 months. 42 U.S.C. '423(d)(1)(A); Brewster v. Heckler, 786 F.2d 581, 583 (3d Cir. 1986).

The Commissioner has provided the ALJ with a five-step sequential analysis to use when evaluating the disabled status of each claimant. 20 C.F.R. '404.1520(a). The ALJ must determine: (1) whether the claimant is currently engaged in substantial gainful activity; (2) if not, whether the claimant has a severe impairment; (3) if the claimant has a severe impairment, whether it meets or equals the criteria listed in 20 C.F.R., pt. 404, subpt. P., appx. 1; (4) if the impairment does not satisfy one of the impairment listings, 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, in light of his age, education, work experience and residual functional capacity. 20 C.F.R. '404.1520. The claimant carries the initial burden of demonstrating by medical evidence that he is unable to return to his previous employment (steps 1-4). Dobrowolsky, 606 F.2d at 406. Once the claimant meets this burden, the burden of proof shifts to the Commissioner to show that the claimant can engage in alternative substantial gainful activity (step 5). Id.

A district court, after reviewing the entire record may affirm, modify, or reverse the decision with or without remand to the Commissioner for rehearing. Podedworny v. Harris, 745 F.2d 210, 221 (3d Cir. 1984).

B. Residual Functional Capacity (“RFC”)[1]

Plaintiff asserts the ALJ erred “by dramatically overstating Mr. Szallar’s residual functional capacity.”[2] (ECF No. 5, pp. 8-12). To that end, Plaintiff first suggests that the ALJ incorrectly concluded that his testimony is not credible. (ECF No. 5, p. 9). I disagree.

In evaluating whether a plaintiff’s statements concerning the intensity and persistence of his/her symptoms are credible, the ALJ will consider evidence from treating, examining and consulting physicians, observations from agency employees, and other factors such as the claimant's daily activities, descriptions of the pain, precipitating and aggravating factors, type, dosage, effectiveness, and side effects of medications, treatment other than medication, and other measures used to relieve the pain. 20 C.F.R. '404.1529(c); SSR 96-7p. The ALJ will also look at inconsistencies between the claimant's statements and the evidence presented. 20 C.F.R. '404.1529(c)(4). I must defer to the ALJ's credibility determinations, unless ...


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