United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania
OPINION AND ORDER
Donetta W. Ambrose Senior Judge.
filed an application for disability benefits, disability
insurance benefits, and supplemental social security income
benefits, based on physical impairments. Plaintiff's
claim was denied initially and upon hearing before an
administrative law judge (“ALJ”). The Appeals
Council denied his request for review, and this appeal
followed. Before the Court are the parties' Cross-Motions
for Summary Judgment. For the following reasons,
Plaintiff's Motion will be denied, and Defendant's
STANDARD OF REVIEW
review of the Commissioner's final decisions on
disability claims is provided by statute. 42 U.S.C.
§§ 405(g) 6 and 1383(c)(3)7. Section 405(g) permits
a district court to review the transcripts and records upon
which a determination of the Commissioner is based, and the
court will review the record as a whole. See 5
U.S.C. §706. When reviewing a decision, the district
court's role is limited to determining whether the record
contains substantial evidence to support an ALJ's
findings of fact. Burns v. Barnhart, 312 F.3d 113,
118 (3d Cir. 2002). Substantial evidence is defined as
"such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might
accept as adequate" to support a conclusion. Ventura
v. Shalala, 55 F.3d 900, 901 (3d Cir. 1995) (quoting
Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401, 91 S.Ct.
1420, 28 L.Ed.2d 842 (1971)). If the ALJ's findings of
fact are supported by substantial evidence, they are
conclusive. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g); Richardson, 402
U.S. at 390.
district court cannot conduct a de novo review of
the Commissioner's decision, or re-weigh the evidence of
record; the court can only judge the propriety of the
decision with reference to the grounds invoked by the
Commissioner when the decision was rendered. Palmer v.
Apfel, 995 F.Supp. 549, 552 (E.D. Pa. 1998); S.E.C.
v. Chenery Corp., 332 U.S. 194, 196 - 97, 67 S.Ct. 1575,
91 L.Ed. 1995 (1947). Otherwise stated, “I may not
weigh the evidence or substitute my own conclusion for that
of the ALJ. I must defer to the ALJ's evaluation of
evidence, assessment of the credibility of witnesses, and
reconciliation of conflicting expert opinions. If the
ALJ's findings of fact are supported by substantial
evidence, I am bound by those findings, even if I would have
decided the factual inquiry differently.” Brunson
v. Astrue, 2011 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 55457 (E.D. Pa. Apr.
14, 2011) (citations omitted).
THE PARTIES' MOTIONS
contends that the ALJ failed to properly consider the
opinions of Plaintiff's treating physician, Dr. Violagio;
failed to properly assess Plaintiff's credibility; failed
to properly assess his residual functional capacity
(“RFC”); and mischaracterized and misstated the
I address Plaintiff's contentions regarding his treating
physician, Dr. Violago. An ALJ is entitled to discount a
treating physician's opinion that lacks support, or is
contradicted by other medical evidence. Ford v.
Comm'r Soc. Sec., 611 Fed.Appx. 102 (3d Cir. 2015).
Moreover, an ALJ is permitted to rely on reviewing opinions,
even when rejecting a treating source. Buckner v.
Colvin, 2016 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 53456 (M.D. Pa. Mar. 30,
2016). The ALJ is entitled to weigh the entirety of the
record in making his finding. Brown v. Astrue, 649
F.3d 193, 196 (3d Cir. 2011).
the ALJ considered Dr. Violago's opinion and records,
noting that Plaintiff's diagnoses were largely based on
Plaintiff's subjective statements. Diagnostic testing
showed only mild conditions, and were otherwise normal and
unremarkable. Another treating source, Dr. Platto, noted only
minimal findings. The ALJ therefore accorded Dr.
Violago's opinion “some weight, ” to the
extent that it was consistent with the record. The ALJ
further noted, however, that the mild objective findings
undermined Dr. Violago's assessment. As Plaintiff
observes, the ALJ gave the opinion of Dr. Kumar, the state
agency medical consultant, significant weight. In so doing,
the ALJ observed that Dr. Kumar's opinion was consistent
with the objective evidence, and was not undermined by
reliance on Plaintiff's subjective statements. I find no
error in the ALJ's approach to Dr. Violago.
next argues that the ALJ erred in failing to find Plaintiff
fully credible. An ALJ's credibility assessments are
entitled to substantial deference. Szallar v. Comm'r
Soc. Sec., 631 Fed.Appx. 107 (3d Cir. 2015). Plaintiff
contends that his subjective complaints have been consistent,
and are in concert with the medical evidence supplied by his
treating physicians. As Plaintiff observes, the records
reflect degenerative disc disease and degenerative joint
disease; he also correctly observes that objective evidence
of pain itself is not required. Plaintiff does not, however,
contradict the ALJ's characterizations of the objective
findings regarding Plaintiff's degenerative conditions as
mild or minimal. The operative question is not merely whether
a claimant is impaired, but whether he is so impaired as to
be unable to work; in other words, ...