United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania
RUSSELL J. VICTOR, JR., Plaintiff,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.
OPINION AND ORDER
Donetta W. Ambrose, United States Senior District Judge.
Russell J. Victor, Jr. (“Victor”) filed an application for Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”) on August 19, 2011, alleging a disability beginning on July 28, 2011 due to coronary artery disease, hypolipidemia and hypothyroidism. (R. 157, 161) The claims were denied initially on February 7, 2012. (R. 15, 85-88) Pursuant to his request, a hearing was held on March 29, 2013. (R. 35-60) A vocational expert appeared and testified. (R. 20) The ALJ denied the claim by written decision dated May 13, 2013 (R. 12-34) Victor requested review by the Appeals Council, which was denied. He then brought this action seeking judicial review pursuant 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).
Before the Court are Cross-Motions for Summary Judgment. (Docket Nos.  and ). Both parties have filed Briefs in Support of their Motions. (Docket Nos.  and ). After careful consideration of the submissions of the parties, and based on my Opinion set forth below, the ALJ’s decision is affirmed.
Victor was born on December 31, 1964 and was 46 years old at his alleged disability onset date. (R. 157) Victor completed the twelfth grade and has previous work experience as a cook, laborer, machine operator, technician and carpet installer. (R. 185) He is divorced and does not have any children living with him. (R. 41) At the time of the hearing he received food stamps and had a medical card. (R. 41) He has a past history of substance abuse but has been clean for 14 years. (R. 43) Victor has a driver’s license and drives unless he is taking medication which advises against it. (R. 43) Victor also does grocery shopping, although he leans on the cart in order to alleviate back pain. (R. 47) In terms of household chores, he will help with dishes, but again uses the sink as a prop to help with his back pain. (R. 49) In September of 2011, Victor reported that he exercises by walking up and down the stairs a few times a day. (R. 171) He also noted that he is able to spend a few hours cleaning his home and do his laundry. (R. 172) Victor attends flea markets and auctions approximately once a month. (R. 174) Victor uses a cane to help get around, but that cane has not been prescribed by a physician. (R. 48, 23)
As stated above, the ALJ concluded that Victor has not been under a disability within the meaning of the Social Security Act since August 19, 2011, the date the application was filed. (R. 29) Specifically, the ALJ determined that Victor had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since the application date and that Victor’s degenerative disc disease, coronary artery disease, GERD with hiatal hernia, hypothyroidism, fibromyalgia, obesity and a history of polysubstance abuse, now in remission, constituted severe impairments, but that those impairments did not meet or medically equal an impairment listed in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. (R. 18-19) The ALJ further concluded that Victor had the residual functional capacity to perform sedentary work with certain limitations. (R. 22-27) Further, although he was unable to perform his past relevant work, the ALJ concluded that, considering Victor’s age, education, work experience and RFC, there were jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy that Victor could perform. (R. 28-29) Consequently, the ALJ found that Victor was not disabled and he denied the claim. (R. 29)
Victor takes issue with the ALJ’s decision in two respects. First, he contends that the ALJ failed to give appropriate weight to his treating physician’s opinion. Second, he urges that the ALJ evidenced bias. I reject both contentions.
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 “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 ...