United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania
Donetta W. Ambrose United States Senior District Judge.
before the Court are Cross Motions for Summary Judgment. (ECF
Nos. 12 and 16). Both parties have filed Briefs in Support of
their Motions. (ECF Nos. 13 and 17). 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. 12) and granting
Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment. (ECF No. 16).
has brought this action for review of the final decision of
the Commissioner of Social Security
(''Commissioner'') denying an application for
supplemental security income (“SSI”) pursuant to
the Social Security Act (''Act''). Plaintiff
filed the application on behalf of C.S.S., alleging that
C.S.S became disabled on January 1, 2009. (ECF No. 8-6, p.
4). Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”), Leslie
Perry-Dowdell, held a hearing on February 18, 2014. (ECF No.
8-2, pp. 31-52). On March 14, 2014, the ALJ found that C.S.S.
was not disabled under the Act. (ECF No. 8-2, pp. 16-30).
After exhausting all administrative remedies, Plaintiff filed
parties have filed Cross-Motions for Summary Judgment.
(Docket Nos. 12 and 16). The issues are now ripe for review.
Standard of Review
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. Â§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. Monsour Medical Center v.
Heckler, 806 F.2d 1185, 1190-91 (3d Cir. 1986);
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. Â§706.
Social Security Act provides that a child under 18 is
“disabled” for purposes of SSI eligibility if he
or she “has a medically determinable physical or mental
impairment, which results in marked and severe functional
limitations, and which can be expected to result in death or
which has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous
period of not less than 12 months.” 42 U.S.C. §
1382c(a)(3)(C)(i). The Commissioner follows a three-step
sequential process in determining childhood disability: (1)
whether the child is doing substantial gainful activity; (2)
if not, whether he or she has a medically determinable severe
impairment; (3) if so, whether the child's severe
impairment meets, medically equals, or functionally equals
the severity of a set of criteria for an impairment listed in
20 C.F.R. § 416.924. An impairment functionally equals a
listed impairment if the child has “marked”
limitations in two domains of functioning or an
“extreme” limitation in one domain. 20 C.F.R.
§ 416.926(a). The six domains are: acquiring and using
information; attending and completing tasks; interacting and
relating with others; moving about and manipulating objects;
caring for yourself; and health and physical well-being. 20
C.F.R. § 416.926a(b)(1)(i)-(iv). When evaluating the
ability to function in each domain, the ALJ considers
information that will help answer the following questions
“about whether your impairment(s) affect your
functioning and whether your activities are typical of other
children your age who do not have impairments”: What
activities are you able to perform; What activities are you
not able to perform; Which of your activities are limited or
restricted compared to other children your age who do not
have impairments; Where do you have difficulty with your
activities - at home, in childcare, at school, or in the
community; Do you have difficulty independently initiating,
sustaining, or completing activities; and What kind of help
do you need to do your activities, how much help do you need,
and how often do you need it. 20 C.F.R. §
case, the ALJ found that although C.C.S. has severe
impairments,  he does not have an impairment or
combination of impairments that meets, medically equals, or
functionally equals the severity of a set of criteria for an
impairment listed in 20 C.F.R. §§416.924, 416.925,
and 416.926. (ECF No. 8-2, pp. 19-30). As a result, the ALJ
found that he was not disabled under the Act.
The Administrative Record
only argument is that the ALJ relied upon an incomplete
record such that remand is warranted. (ECF No. 13, pp.
14-16). Specifically, Plaintiff asserts that the ALJ gave
great weight to the opinion of Dr. Brentzel, the state agency
psychological consultant, but “Dr. Brentzel relied on a
state agency consultative examination [of Dr. Kennedy] that
was not included in the administrative record. As such, the
ALJ could not have been able to determine whether Dr.
Brenztel's opinion was based on substantial
evidence.” (ECF No. 13, p. 14). Therefore, Plaintiff
suggests that I cannot adequately provide a meaningful and
proper judicial review. Id. at pp. 14-16). Thus,
Plaintiff concludes that remand is warranted. Id.
careful review of the evidence in this case, I disagree that
remand is warranted. To begin with, the ALJ is required to
weigh the medical opinion evidence of record and is permitted
to give controlling weight to a non-examining consulting
doctor over that of treating physicians when it is supported
by substantial evidence. Becker v. Comm'r of Social
Sec. Admin., No. 10-2517, 2010 WL 5078238, at *5 (3d
Cir. Dec. 14, 2010), quoting Morales v. Apfel, 225
F.3d 310, 317 (3d Cir. 2000) (“'where . . . the
opinion of a treating physician conflicts with that of a
non-treating, non-examining physician, the ALJ may choose
whom to credit” and may reject the treating
physician's assessment if such rejection is based on
contradictory medical evidence.'”). The ALJ did
just that in this case. See, ECF No. 8-2, pp. 16-30.
gave the state agency doctor's opinion great weight
because it was “consistent with and well supported by
the record as a whole.” (ECF No. 8-2, p. 22). This is a
valid and acceptable consideration when evaluating opinion
evidence. See, 20 C.F.R. §416.927 (Evaluating
Opinion Evidence). After a review of the record, I find the
reasons given by the ALJ in weighing the conflicting opinions
to be sufficiently explained and ...