United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania
KENNETH E. AULT
CAROLYN W. COLVIN
Donetta W. Ambrose Senior Judge.
filed an application for supplemental social security
disability benefits pursuant to Title II of the Social
Security Act, alleging disability due to physical impairments
beginning on July 6, 2012. Plaintiff's application was
denied initially, and upon hearing before an Administrative
Law Judge (“ALJ”). The Appeals Council denied his
request for review. Plaintiff now appeals to this Court. For
the following reasons, Plaintiff's Motion will be
granted, and Defendant's denied, and this matter remanded
for further proceedings.
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
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).
contends that the ALJ failed to properly consider the
decision of the Veterans Administration (“VA”).
The ALJ noted that Plaintiff was afforded a 20 percent
disability rating from the VA, but Plaintiff asserts that his
rating was, in fact, 70 percent, effective April 4, 2008.
Indeed, the VA assigned a 20 percent rating for
Plaintiff's diabetes, 10 percent for neuropathy in each
extremity, and 70 percent overall. Defendant concedes that
the ALJ failed to acknowledge the overall 70 percent rating,
but asserts that this failing is not fatal to the ALJ's
regulations specify that a decision by any non-governmental
or governmental agency about an individual's disability
is based that agency's own rules, and does not constitute
a SSA decision about whether an individual is disabled. 20
C.F.R. § 404.1504; Malcom v. Barnhart, 448
F.Supp.2d 595, 604 (D. Del. 2006). While a VA rating is not
binding on the Social Security Administration
(“SSA”), however, it is entitled to
“substantial weight.” Burczyk v. Colvin,
2016 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 70603, at *5 (W.D. Pa. May 31, 2016).
Therefore, an ALJ is required to provide specific, valid
reasons for discounting a VA rating. Toliver v.
Colvin, 2016 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 41569 (C.D. Cal. Mar. 29,
2016). Here, the ALJ rejected the 20 percent VA rating based
on the overall record and the differences in agency
standards. I am not permitted to speculate, however,
regarding how a 70 percent rating might have affected the
ALJs conclusions. That rating, even if inadvertently, was not
considered at all. Remand is required on that basis.
Plaintiff argues that the ALJ failed to address failed to
address Exhibits 1F and 2F in his decision, and did not
explain the omission. Exhibits 1F and 2F consist of treatment
records from Dr. Klain and the Indiana Regional Medical
Center 205-232. The latter contains blood test results, as
well as imaging studies, copies of which were sent to Dr.
Klain. The ALJ did, however, discuss Dr. Klain's
treatment. Plaintiff does not assert how these exhibits are
material, or might have affected the substantive outcome.
“The ALJ is not required to give an exhaustive
discussion of all the exhibits. 'Consideration of all the
evidence does not mean that the ALJ must explicitly refer to
each and every exhibit in the record.'" Mays v.
Barnhart, 227 F.Supp.2d 443, 448 (E.D. Pa. 2002). I find
no error in this regard.
Plaintiff contends that the ALJ failed to acknowledge his
bladder dysfunction resulting from prostate cancer, despite
medical records and testimony in that regard. Because the ALJ
did not refer to Plaintiff's allegations in that regard,
I cannot discern whether he rejected Plaintiff's
allegations of limitations, or merely failed to consider
them. The ALJ should take the opportunity on remand to
address Plaintiff's allegations of incontinence and their
Plaintiff's Motion will be granted, and Defendant's
denied. This matter will be remanded for further proceedings
consistent with the ...