United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania
MICHAEL M. FISHER, Plaintiff,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.
DONETTA W. AMBROSE, UNITED STATES SENIOR DISTRICT JUDGE
before the Court are Cross Motions for Summary Judgment. (ECF
Nos. 13 and 15). Both parties have filed Briefs in Support of
their Motions. (ECF Nos. 14 and 16). After careful
consideration of the submissions of the parties, and based on
my Opinion set forth below, I am granting Plaintiff's
Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 13) and denying
Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment. (ECF No. 15).
brought this action for review of the final decision of the
Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner")
denying his application for supplemental security income
(“SSI”) pursuant to the Social Security Act
("Act"). Plaintiff filed his application alleging
he had been disabled since November 1, 2009. (ECF No. 8-5, p.
8) Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”), Natalie
Appetta, held a hearing on October 22, 2014. (ECF No. 8-2,
pp. 31-90). On November 4, 2014, the ALJ found that Plaintiff
was not disabled under the Social Security Act. (ECF No. 8-2,
pp. 17-30). After exhausting all of his administrative
remedies thereafter, Plaintiff filed this action.
parties have filed Cross-Motions for Summary Judgment. (ECF
Nos. 13 and 15). The issues are now ripe for review.
Standard of Review
to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), this court has jurisdiction to
review decisions to deny a complainant's application for
benefits under the Act. This court, however, does not have
jurisdiction to review “abuses of agency discretion in
refusing to reopen claims for social security
benefits.” Califano v. Sanders, 430 U.S. 99,
107-08 (1977); Coup v. Heckler, 834 F.2d 313, 317
(3d Cir. 1987) (“A decision of the Secretary declining
to reopen a claim is not judicially reviewable.”),
abrogated on other grounds by Gisbrecht v. Barnhart,
535 U.S. 789, 122 S.Ct. 1817, 152 L.Ed.2d 996 (2002).
Nevertheless, this Court may examine the administrative
record to determine whether a de facto reopening
occurred. Coup, 834 F.2d at 317. “A reopening
... will be found ‘where the administrative process
does not address an earlier decision, but instead reviews the
entire record in the new proceeding and reaches a decision on
the merits ....‘ “ Id. (quoting Kane v.
Heckler, 776 F.2d 1130, 1132 (3d Cir. 1985)).
this court has jurisdiction to review a decision to deny an
application for benefits under the Act, the standard of
review 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.
§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. 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. §706.
eligible for social security benefits, the plaintiff must
demonstrate that he cannot engage in substantial gainful
activity because of a medically determinable physical or
mental impairment which can be expected to result in death or
which has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous
period of at least 12 months. 42 U.S.C. §423(d)(1)(A);
Brewster v. Heckler, 786 F.2d 581, 583 (3d Cir.
Commissioner has provided the ALJ with a five-step sequential
analysis to use when evaluating the disabled status of each
claimant. 20 C.F.R. §404.1520(a). The ALJ must
determine: (1) whether the claimant is currently engaged in
substantial gainful activity; (2) if not, whether the
claimant has a severe impairment; (3) if the claimant has a
severe impairment, whether it meets or equals the criteria
listed in 20 C.F.R., pt. 404, subpt. P., appx. 1; (4) if the
impairment does not satisfy one of the impairment listings,
whether the claimant's impairments prevent him from
performing his past relevant work; and (5) if the claimant is
incapable of performing his past relevant work, whether he
can perform any other work which exists in the national
economy, in light of his age, education, work experience and
residual functional capacity. 20 C.F.R. §404.1520. The
claimant carries the initial burden of demonstrating by
medical evidence that he is unable to return to his previous
employment (steps 1-4). Dobrowolsky, 606 F.2d at
406. Once the claimant meets this burden, the burden of proof
shifts to the Commissioner to show that the claimant can
engage in alternative substantial gainful activity (step 5).
district court, after reviewing the entire record may affirm,
modify, or reverse the decision with or without remand to the
Commissioner for rehearing. Podedworny v. Harris,
745 F.2d 210, 221 (3d Cir. 1984).
Plaintiff's Treating Physicians
first argues that the ALJ erred in rejecting the opinions of
his treating physicians and relying on the opinions of the
two non-examining state agency consultants. (ECF No. 14, pp.
11-14). The amount of weight accorded to medical opinions is
well-established. Generally, the ALJ will give more weight to
the opinion of a source who has examined the claimant than to
a non-examining source. 20 C.F.R. § 416.927(c)(1). In
addition, the ALJ generally will give more weight to opinions
from a treating physician, “since these sources are
likely to be the medical professionals most able to provide a
detailed, longitudinal picture of [a claimant's] medical
impairment(s) and may bring a unique perspective to the
medical evidence that cannot be obtained from the objective
medical findings alone or from reports of individual
examinations, such as consultative examinations or brief
hospitalizations.” Id. § 416.927(c)(2).
If the ALJ finds that “a treating source's opinion
on the issue(s) of the nature and severity of [a
claimant's] impairment(s) is well-supported by medically
acceptable clinical and laboratory diagnostic techniques ...