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Renfer v. Colvin

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

May 14, 2015

ADRIANNA C. RENFER, Plaintiff
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Social Security Commissioner, Defendant

MEMORANDUM

JAMES M. MUNLEY JUDGE

Before the court for disposition is Plaintiff Adrianna C. Renfer’s appeal from a final administrative decision of the Social Security Commissioner denying her claim for Title II social security disability and supplemental security income benefits.[1] The parties have briefed their respective positions and the matter is ripe for disposition.

Background

Plaintiff protectively filed a Title II application for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits on October 28, 2010.[2] (R. at 12).[3]Plaintiff claimed disability beginning on January 30, 2010 due to bipolar disorder. (R. at 12, 14). She had worked for approximately thirty (30) years as a registered nurse before the alleged onset of her disability.

The Bureau of Disability Determination of the local Social Security office initially denied plaintiff’s claim for benefits on April 6, 2011. (R. at 59). Plaintiff then requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (hereinafter “ALJ”). (R. at 65-66). ALJ Michele Wolfe held a hearing on June 28, 2012 in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. (R. at 26-56, Transcript of hearing). An impartial vocational expert, Michelle C. Giorgio appeared at the hearing, as did the plaintiff. (Id.)

On August 28, 2012, the ALJ issued a decision denying the application for disability and disability insurance benefits on the basis that plaintiff is not disabled under the Social Security Act. (R. at 12-20).

Plaintiff then filed for review before the Social Security Administration Office of Disability Adjudication and Review Appeals Council. (R. at 7). The Appeals Council denied the request for review on February 7, 2014. (R. at 1-6). Thus, the ALJ’s decision became the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security in plaintiff’s case. (R. at 1). Subsequently, plaintiff instituted the instant action to challenge the denial of benefits. (Doc. 1, Compl.). She argues that the ALJ’s decision is not supported by substantial evidence. The matter has been fully briefed and is ripe for disposition.

Jurisdiction

The court has federal question jurisdiction over this Social Security Administration appeal. See 42 U.S.C. § 1383(c)(3) (“The final determination of the Commissioner of Social Security after a hearing under paragraph (1) shall be subject to judicial review as provided in section 405(g) of this title to the same extent as the Commissioner’s final determinations under section 405 of this title.”); see also 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) (“Any individual, after any final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security made after a hearing to which he was a party, irrespective of the amount in controversy, may obtain a review of such decision by a civil action commenced within sixty days after the mailing to him of notice of such decision or within such further time as the Commissioner of Social Security may allow. Such action shall be brought in the district court of the United States for the judicial district in which the plaintiff resides, or has his principal place of business . . . .”).

Standard of Review

In reviewing a Social Security appeal, this court must determine whether “substantial evidence” supports the ALJ’s decision. See 42 U.S.C. § 405(g); Hagans v. Comm’r of Soc. Sec., 694 F.3d 287, 292 (3d Cir. 2012); Plummer v. Apfel, 186 F.3d 422, 427 (3d Cir. 1999). The United States Supreme Court has defined “substantial evidence” as “such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.” Consolo v. Fed. Mar. Comm’n, 383 U.S. 607, 620 (1966). The Third Circuit Court of Appeals has explained that “substantial evidence has been defined as ‘more than a mere scintilla;’ it means ‘such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate.’” Hagans, 694 F.3d at 292 (quoting Plummer, 186 F.3d at 427).

The court should not reverse the Commissioner’s findings merely because evidence may exist to support the opposite conclusion. See 42 U.S.C. § 405(g); Rutherford v. Barnhart, 399 F.3d 546, 552 (3d Cir. 2005) (stating that courts may not weigh the evidence or substitute its own conclusion for those of the fact-finder); Fargnoli v. Massanari, 247 F.3d 34, 38 (3d Cir. 2001)(indicating that when the ALJ’s findings of fact are supported by substantial evidence, courts are bound by those findings, even if they would have decided the factual inquiry differently). In an adequately developed factual record, substantial evidence may be “something less than the weight of the evidence, and the possibility of drawing two inconsistent conclusions from the evidence does not prevent an administrative agency’s finding from being supported by substantial evidence.” Consolo, 383 U.S. at 620.

Substantial evidence exists only “in relationship to all the other evidence in the record, ” Cotter v. Harris, 642 F.2d 700, 706 (3d Cir. 1981) and “must take into account whatever in the record fairly detracts from its weight.” Universal Camera Corp. v. N.L.R.B., 340 U.S. 474, 488 (1971). “When a conflict in the evidence exists, the ALJ may choose whom to credit but ‘cannot reject evidence for no reason or for the wrong reason.” Plummer, 186 F.3d at 429 (quoting Mason v. Shalala, 994 F.2d 1058, 1066 (3d Cir. 1993). The Commissioner must indicate which evidence was accepted, which evidence was rejected, and the reasons for rejecting certain evidence. Johnson v. Comm’r of Soc. Sec., ...


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