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Burkhart v. Colvin

United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania

March 31, 2015

AUTUMN C. BURKHART, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, ACTING COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.

Kenneth R. Hiller, Esq. Law Offices of Kenneth Hiller PLLC Amherst, NY.

John J. Valkovci, Jr. Assistant U.S. Attorney Johnstown, PA.

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER OF COURT

GUSTAVE DIAMOND, District Judge.

AND NOW, this 31th day of March, 2015, upon due consideration of the parties' cross-motions for summary judgment relating to plaintiff's request for review of the decision of the Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner") denying plaintiffs application for supplemental security income under Title XVI, of the Social Security Act ("Act"), IT IS ORDERED that the Commissioner's motion for summary judgment (Document No. 14) be, and the same hereby is, granted and plaintiff's motion for summary judgment (Document No. 11) be, and the same hereby is, denied.

As the factfinder, an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") has an obligation to weigh all of the facts and evidence of record and may reject or discount any evidence if the ALJ explains the reasons for doing so. Plummer v. Apfel, 186 F.3d 422, 429 (3d Cir. 1999). Where the ALJ's findings of fact are supported by substantial evidence, a reviewing court is bound by those findings, even if it would have decided the factual inquiry differently. Fargnoli v. Massanari, 247 F.3d 34, 38 (3d Cir. 2001). These well-established principles preclude a reversal or remand of the ALJ's decision here because the record contains substantial evidence to support the ALJ's findings and conclusions.

Plaintiff protectively filed her pending application for supplemental security income on July 12, 2010, alleging a disability onset date of March 1, 2010, due to, inter alia, migraine headaches, back pain and mental impairments, including borderline intellectual functioning, depression and anxiety. Plainitiff's application was denied initially. At plaintiff's request an ALJ held a hearing on July 2, 2012, at which plaintiff, represented by counsel, appeared and testified. On August 9, 2012, the ALJ issued a decision finding that plaintiff is not disabled. On August 21, 2013, the Appeals Council denied review making the ALl's decision the final decision of the Commissioner.

Plaintiff was 27 years old at the time of the ALJ's decision and is classified as a younger person under the regulations. 20 C.F.R. §416.963(c). She has a limited education. 20 C.F.R. §416.964(b)(3). She also has no past relevant work experience and has not engaged in any substantial gainful activity since her alleged onset date.

After reviewing plaintiffs medical records and hearing testimony from plaintiff and a vocational expert, the ALJ concluded that plaintiff is not disabled within the meaning of the Act. The ALJ found that although the medical evidence establishes that plaintiff suffers from the severe impairments of cervical spondylosis, L5 bilateral pars defect spondylolithesis, migraine headaches, seizure disorder, pelvic inflammatory disease, borderline intellectual functioning, depression, generalized anxiety disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder and personality disorder, those impairments, alone or in combination, do not meet or equal the criteria of any of the impairments listed at Appendix 1 of 20 C.F.R., Part 404, Subpart P.

The ALJ also found that plaintiff retains the residual functional capacity to engage in work at the light exertional level but with numerous restrictions necessary to accommodate her physical and mental impairments. (R. 18).[1] Taking into account these restrictions, a vocational expert identified numerous categories of jobs which plaintiff can perform based upon her age, education, work experience and residual functional capacity, including entry level solderer, jewelry stringer and small electric equipment inspector. Relying on the vocational expert's testimony, the ALJ found that plaintiff is capable of making an adjustment to numerous jobs existing in significant numbers in the national economy. Accordingly, the ALJ concluded that plaintiff is not disabled under the Act

The Act defines "disability" as the inability to engage in substantial gainful activity by reason of a physical or mental impairment which can be expected to last for a continuous period of at least twelve months. 42 U.S.C. §13.82c(a)(3)(A). The impairment or impairments must be so severe that the claimant "is not only unable to do his previous work but cannot, considering his age, education and work experience, engage in any other kind of substantial gainful work which exists in the national economy.... 42 U.S.c. §1382c(a)(3)(B).

The Commissioner has promulgated regulations incorporating a five-step sequential evaluation process for determining whether a claimant is under a disability[2] 20 C.F.R. §416.920. If the claimant is found disabled or not disabled at any step, the claim need not be reviewed further. Id .; see Barnhart v. Thomas, 124 S.Ct. 376 (2003).

Here, plaintiff essentially raises two challenges to the ALJ's determination that plaintiff is not disabled: (1) the ALJ failed to address adequately the impact of plaintiffs migraine headaches on her ability to work; (2) the ALJ failed to address adequately plaintiff's cognitive deficits and her worsening symptoms of depression and anxiety. Upon review, the court is satisfied that the ALJ properly evaluated the evidence and that all of his findings are supported by substantial evidence.

Plaintiff first takes issue with the ALJ's evaluation of the evidence relating to her migraine headaches. Plaintiff contends that the ALJ failed to assess the impact of plaintiff's headaches in assessing her residual functional capacity. She also argues that the ALJ failed to resolve a conflict between the opinion of the state agency reviewing physician and the opinion of her treating physician's assistant as to limitations arising from her migraines. Finally, she argues that the ALJ failed to consider the worsening of her migraines following an automobile accident on August 19, 2011. Upon review, the court finds no error in the ALJ's evaluation of plaintiffs migraines or their impact on her ability to work.

Initially, contrary to plaintiffs assertion that the ALJ's decision contains "no description of plaintiffs history of treatment for migraines or the extent to which her symptoms from her migraines impact her ability to work, " it is clear from the ALJ's decision that he in fact did expressly consider plaintiffs migraine headaches and that he adequately accounted for any limitations arising from them in his residual functional capacity assessment. He began by acknowledging that plaintiff was alleging disability, inter alia, due to her back problems and migraine headaches and that she was contending that those impairments caused her limitations in lifting, postural maneuvering, completing tasks, concentration and getting along with others to such an extent as to render her incapable of working. (R. 19). The ALJ then explained his determination that although plaintiffs back problems and migraines were severe ...


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