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Hindman v. Colvin

United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania

March 23, 2015

AMY HINDMAN, Plaintiff,


DONETTA W. AMBROSE, Senior District Judge.

Pending before the court are Cross-Motions for Summary Judgment. (ECF Nos. 10 and 12). Both parties have filed Briefs in Support of their Motions. (ECF Nos. 11, 13 and 14). 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. 10) and granting Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment. (ECF No. 12).


Plaintiff brought this action for review of the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner") denying her application for disability insurance benefits (DIB") pursuant to the Social Security Act ("Act"). Plaintiff filed her applications alleging she had been disabled since January 1, 2010. (ECF No. 6-5, p. 2). Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"), Douglas Cohen, held a hearing on January 31, 2013. (ECF No. 6-2, pp. 31-59). On February 11, 2013, the ALJ found that Plaintiff was not disabled under the Act. (ECF No. 6-2, pp. 21-27).

After exhausting all administrative remedies, Plaintiff filed the instant action with this court. The parties have filed Cross-Motions for Summary Judgment. (ECF Nos. 10 and 12). The issues are now ripe for review.


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 "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 (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. Opinion of Treating Physicians

Plaintiff begins by arguing that the ALJ erred by failing to provide good cause for his rejection of the opinions of her treating doctors, Dr. Diego Cordoba and Dr. John Marty. (ECF No. 11, pp. 8-10). The ALJ ascribed minimal weight to both doctors' opinions because Plaintiff "had these same impairments when she was performing her past relevant work [at substantial gainful activity levels] and her testimony was that she would still be performing it but for the fact that she was not reappointed." (ECF No. 6-2, p. 26). Plaintiff suggests that this was improper because it was not one of the factors set forth for determining the appropriate weight to accord a treating physician's opinion. (ECF No. 11, p. 9). In weighing medical opinions, the ALJ should consider the examining relationship, treatment relationship (including the length of treatment and the frequency of examination and the nature and extent of the treatment relationship), [1] supportability, consistency with the record as a whole, specialization and other factors. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1527(c). Plaintiff argues that the ALJ did not articulate any of these factors. (ECF No. 11, p. 9). After a review of the record, I disagree.

It is clear from the record that the ALJ recognized Dr. Cordoba as Plaintiff's primary care physician and Dr. Marty as Plaintiff's treating podiatrist. (ECF No. 6-2, pp. 25-26). It is also evident that the ALJ weighed their opinions against the record as a whole. Id. In that regard, the ALJ specifically stated that their opinions, that Plaintiff had disabling limitations, were inconsistent with the testimony of Plaintiff, who indicated that she worked at her job while she had these conditions and would have continued to work in the position if she would have been reappointed. (ECF No. 6-2, pp. 33-46). Thus, contrary to Plaintiff's position, the ALJ did ...

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