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Selvaggi v. Colvin

United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania

January 6, 2017

GREGORY JOHN SELVAGGI
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN

          OPINION AND ORDER

          Donetta W. Ambrose Senior Judge.

         SYNOPSIS

         Plaintiff 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 granted.

         OPINION

         I. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         Judicial 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.

         A 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).

         II. THE PARTIES' MOTIONS

         Plaintiff 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 record.

         A. Dr. Violago

         First, 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).

         Here, 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.

         B. Credibility

         Plaintiff 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, ...


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