United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania
ALEASE V. HOLDEN, Plaintiff,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Defendant.
MITCHELL S. GOLDBERG, J.
NOW, this 28th day of December, 2016, upon consideration of
Plaintiff's request for review, Defendant's response,
and after careful review of the Report and Recommendation of
United States Magistrate Henry S. Perkin and the objections
thereto, I find as follows:
Plaintiff brings this action under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g)
seeking review of the decision of the Commissioner of Social
Security (“Commissioner”) denying her claim for
disability insurance benefits and supplemental security
income provided under Titles II and XVI of the Social
Security Act. The Administrative Law Judge
(“ALJ”) determined that Plaintiff retained
sufficient residual functional capacity to perform past work
and, thus, was not disabled.
review of the Commissioner's decision to deny disability
benefits is deferential. The Commissioner's decision must
be affirmed if it is “supported by substantial evidence
in the record.” Plummer v. Apfel, 186 F.3d
422, 427 (3d Cir. 1999); see also 42 U.S.C. §
405(g). “Substantial evidence has been defined as
‘more than a mere scintilla. It means such relevant
evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as
adequate.'” Plummer, 186 F.3d at 427
(quoting Ventura v. Shalala, 55 F.3d 900, 901 (3d
Cir. 1995)). The ALJ's “decision should be
accompanied by a clear and satisfactory explication of the
basis on which it rests.” Cotter v. Harris,
642 F.2d 700, 704 (3d Cir. 1981).
her request for review, Plaintiff argues that: (1) when
assessing her residual functional capacity, the ALJ applied
improperly discounted opinions of her consultative examiner,
David Chomsky, M.D., and her treating chiropractor Donald
Griffin, D.C.; (2) the ALJ applied an improper legal standard
when assessing her residual functional capacity; (3) the ALJ
failed to consider evidence of impairment including a
November 16, 2011 letter from her primary care physician, Dr.
Joseph Gold, D.O.; and (4) the ALJ erred by considering
Plaintiff's failure to comply with treatment as a reason
for finding Plaintiff not disabled.
his Report and Recommendation, Magistrate Judge Perkin
rejected these arguments and determined that the decision of
the Commissioner of Social Security should be affirmed. In
her objections to the Report and Recommendation, Plaintiff
urges that Magistrate Judge Perkin incorrectly resolved these
issues. After an independent review of the record and
Plaintiff's arguments, I agree with Magistrate Judge
Perkin that these arguments lack merit.
Regarding the first argument, Magistrate Judge Perkin
concluded that the ALJ properly afforded great weight to Dr.
Chomsky's clinical findings but no weight to his opinion
regarding Plaintiff's work related limitations because
that opinion was (1) premised on Plaintiff's subjective
complaints, and (2) also inconsistent with the other medical
evidence in the record, including his own clinical findings.
Magistrate Judge Perkin also concluded that the ALJ's
decision not to afford any significant weight to Dr.
Griffin's opinions was appropriate as his opinions were
unsupported by clinical findings and also inconsistent with
other substantial evidence in the record. Based on my review
of the record, I agree with Magistrate Judge Perkin's
recommendation. The ALJ adequately explained the basis of her
reasoning and afforded appropriate weight to Dr.
Chomsky's and Dr. Griffin's findings and opinions.
Regarding the second argument, Plaintiff contends that the
ALJ applied an incorrect legal standard when assessing her
residual functional capacity. In particular, Plaintiff
objects to the ALJ's statement that “the record
contains no information from any treating or examining
acceptable medical source indicating that the claimant is so
disabled as to be unable to perform all work related
activities.” (Pl.'s Objs. p. 1.)
agree with Plaintiff that the ALJ's statement was
incorrect. At step four, a plaintiff must demonstrate that
she lacks sufficient residual functional capacity to perform
her past relevant work not that she is unable to perform
all work related activities. See 20 C.F.R.
However, notwithstanding the erroneous statement of law, the
ALJ properly considered and weighed the evidence pertaining
to Plaintiff's disability allegations and correctly
applied the five-step analysis. I make this conclusion for
the same reasons stated in Magistrate Judge Perkin's
Report and Recommendation. As such, I conclude that
Plaintiff's argument is unavailing. See Vega v.
Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 358 F.Appx. 372, 376 (3d Cir.
2009) (rejecting a request for remand based on a similar
misstatement of the applicable standard where the ALJ
nonetheless followed the proper five-step procedure in his
Regarding Plaintiff's third argument that the ALJ failed
to consider certain pieces of evidence, Magistrate Judge
Perkin concluded that the ALJ considered all relevant
evidence in the record and sufficiently articulated her
reasons for concluding that Plaintiff was able to perform
past work. Magistrate Judge Perkin also concluded that the
ALJ's failure to explicitly mention discrete pieces of
evidence did not compel a contrary conclusion.
agree with Magistrate Judge Perkin's analysis. There is
no requirement that an ALJ make reference to or discuss every
piece of evidence in the record. See Fargnoli v.
Massanari, 247 F.3d 34, 42 (3d Cir. 2001). Rather, the
ALJ must ensure that there is a “sufficient development
of the record and [offer an] explanation of [the] findings to
permit meaningful review.” Jones v. Barnhart,
364 F.3d 501, 505 (3d Cir. 2004). Based on my review of the
record and the ALJ's report, I conclude that the ALJ
provided an accurate and adequate picture of the evidence and
a sufficient explanation for her conclusion that Plaintiff is
Lastly, Plaintiff argues that the ALJ improperly relied on
her non-compliance with treatment when finding her not
disabled and objects to the ALJ's statement that
“[i]f claimants do not follow the prescribed treatment
without a good reason, we will find them not disabled (20 CFR
404.1530 and 416.930).” (ALJ Report p. 16.) In
reviewing Plaintiff's argument, Magistrate Judge Perkin
concluded that the ALJ premised her finding that Plaintiff is
not disabled on her residual functional capacity and only
considered her non-compliance as evidence of Plaintiff's
an initial matter, the ALJ's statement that
non-compliance will result in a finding that a plaintiff is
not disabled is not an entirely accurate statement of the
applicable law. The regulations cited by the ALJ, 20 C.F.R.
404.1530 and 416.930, make clear that a denial of benefits
may be based on refusal to comply with treatment. However,
these regulations only apply where there has first been a
finding of disability. See Titles II & XVI:
Failure to Follow Prescribed Treatment, SSR 82-59 (S.S.A.
1982); Vega, 358 F.Appx. at 375 (“a denial of
benefits for failure to follow a prescribed treatment plan
may only be issued after the ALJ finds a disabling impairment
that precludes engaging in any substantial activity, SSR
82-59, a finding that the ALJ did not make here”). As
such, Plaintiff is correct insofar as the regulations cited
by the ALJ do not apply because she was found not to be
disabled. See Lozado v. Barnhart, 331 F.Supp.2d 325,