United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania
M. MUNLEY, JUDGE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
the court for disposition is Plaintiff Brandy Gorby's
appeal of the defendant's denial of her application for
supplemental security income benefits. Plaintiff suffers from
depression, anxiety, attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder
and oppositional defiant disorder, which render her
completely unable to function outside of her home according
to her treating psychiatrist. Magistrate Judge Gerald B. Cohn
issued a report and recommendation (hereinafter
“R&R”) suggesting that the appeal be denied.
Plaintiff has filed objections to the R&R, bringing the
case to its present posture.
applied for supplemental security income (hereinafter
“SSI”) under the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C.
§§ 401-433 on May 3, 2013. (Doc. 11, Administrative
Record (hereinafter “R.”) at 18). The Bureau of
Disability Determination denied the application on July 12,
2013. (R. at 58-74). Plaintiff then requested a hearing
before an Administrative Law Judge (hereinafter
“ALJ”). (R. at 77-79). ALJ Patrick Cutter held a
hearing on June 4, 2014 and issued a decision on June 12,
2014 finding that plaintiff is not disabled and not entitled
to benefits. (R. at 11-36). Plaintiff requested review by the
Appeals Council. (R. at 8-10). The Appeals Council denied
review on September 16, 2014. (R. at 1-6). Thus, the decision
of the ALJ became the “final decision” of the
Social Security Commissioner. See Sims v. Apfel, 530
U.S. 103, 107 (2000).
November 17, 2014, plaintiff instituted the instant action
pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) appealing the decision of
the Commissioner. (Doc. 1). The Commissioner answered the
complaint and filed the administrative transcript of
proceedings on January 21, 2015. (Doc. 10, 11). The parties
briefed their respective positions, and the court referred
the matter to Magistrate Judge Cohn for the issuance of an
March 3, 2016, Magistrate Judge Cohn issued his R&R,
recommending the denial of plaintiff's appeal. (Doc. 17).
Plaintiff then filed objections to the report and
recommendation. (Doc. 18). The government waived the
opportunity to respond to the objections. (Doc. 19). The case
is thus ripe for disposition.
court has federal question jurisdiction over this Social
Security Administration appeal. See 42 U.S.C. §
1383(c)(3) (“The final determination of the
Commissioner of Social Security after a hearing under
paragraph (1) shall be subject to judicial review as provided
in section 405(g) of this title to the same extent as the
Commissioner's final determinations under section 405 of
this title.”); see also 42 U.S.C. §
405(g) (“Any individual, after any final decision of
the Commissioner of Social Security made after a hearing to
which he was a party, irrespective of the amount in
controversy, may obtain a review of such decision by a civil
action commenced within sixty days after the mailing to him
of notice of such decision or within such further time as the
Commissioner of Social Security may allow. Such action shall
be brought in the district court of the United States for the
judicial district in which the plaintiff resides, or has his
principal place of business . . . .”).
case is before the court on objections to the magistrate
judge's R&R. To dispose of such objections, the
district court must make a de novo determination of
those portions of the report against which objections are
made. 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(c); see also Sullivan v.
Cuyler, 723 F.2d 1077, 1085 (3d Cir. 1983). The court
may accept, reject, or modify, in whole or in part, the
findings or recommendations made by the magistrate judge.
Henderson v. Carlson, 812 F.2d 874, 877 (3d Cir.
1987). The district court judge may also receive further
evidence or recommit the matter to the magistrate judge with
reviewing a Social Security appeal, this court must determine
whether “substantial evidence” supports the
ALJ's decision. See 42 U.S.C. § 405(g);
Hagans v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 694 F.3d 287, 292
(3d Cir. 2012); Plummer v. Apfel, 186 F.3d 422, 427
(3d Cir. 1999). The United States Supreme Court has defined
“substantial evidence” as “such relevant
evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to
support a conclusion.” Consolo v. Fed. Mar.
Comm'n, 383 U.S. 607, 620 (1966). The Third Circuit
Court of Appeals has explained that “substantial
evidence has been defined as ‘more than a mere
scintilla;' it means ‘such relevant evidence as a
reasonable mind might accept as adequate.'”
Hagans, 694 F.3d at 292 (quoting Plummer,
186 F.3d at 427).
court should not reverse the Commissioner's findings
merely because evidence may exist to support the opposite
conclusion. See 42 U.S.C. § 405(g);
Rutherford v. Barnhart, 399 F.3d 546, 552 (3d Cir.
2005) (stating that courts may not weigh the evidence or
substitute its own conclusion for those of the fact-finder);
Fargnoli v. Massanari, 247 F.3d 34, 38 (3d Cir.
2001)(indicating that when the ALJ's findings of fact are
supported by substantial evidence, courts are bound by those
findings, even if they would have decided the factual inquiry
differently). In an adequately developed factual record,
substantial evidence may be “something less than the
weight of the evidence, and the possibility of drawing two
inconsistent conclusions from the evidence does not prevent
an administrative agency's finding from being supported
by substantial evidence.” Consolo, 383 U.S. at
evidence exists only “in relationship to all the other
evidence in the record, ” Cotter v. Harris,
642 F.2d 700, 706 (3d Cir. 1981) and “must take into
account whatever in the record fairly detracts from its
weight.” Universal Camera Corp. v. N.L.R.B.,
340 U.S. 474, 488 (1971). “When a conflict in the
evidence exists, the ALJ may choose whom to credit but
‘cannot reject evidence for no reason or for the wrong
reason.” Plummer, 186 F.3d at 429 (quoting
Mason v. Shalala, 994 F.2d 1058, 1066 (3d Cir.
1993)). The Commissioner must indicate which evidence was
accepted, which evidence was rejected, and the reasons for
rejecting certain evidence. Johnson v. Comm'r of Soc.
Sec., 529 F.3d 198, 204 (3d Cir. 2008). Therefore, a
court reviewing the decision of the Commissioner must
scrutinize the record as a whole. Smith v. Califano,
637 F.2d 968, 970 (3d Cir. 1981).
receive disability benefits, the plaintiff must demonstrate
an “inability to engage in any substantial gainful
activity by reason of any 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 not less than 12 months.” 42
U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A) (emphasis added). An individual is
incapable of engaging in “substantial gainful
activity” when “his physical or mental impairment
or impairments are of such severity that he is not only
unable to do his previous work but cannot, considering his
age, education, and work experience, engage in any other kind
of substantial gainful work which exists in the national
economy[.]” 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(2)(A).
Commissioner evaluates supplemental security income claims
with a five-step sequential analysis. 20 C.F.R. §
416.920(a)(4). This analysis requires the Commissioner to
consider, in sequence, whether a claimant (1) is engaging in
substantial gainful activity,  (2) has an impairment, or
combination of impairments, that is severe,  (3) has an
impairment or combination of impairments that meets or equals
the requirements of a “listed impairment,
” (4) has the “residual functional
capacity” to return to his or her past work and (5) if
not, whether he or she can perform other work in the national
economy. 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(a)(4)(i)-(v). As part of
step four, the administrative law judge must determine the
claimant's residual functional capacity. 20 C.F.R.
functional capacity is the individual's maximum remaining
ability to do sustained work activities in an ordinary work
setting on a regular and continuing basis. See SSR
96-8p, 1996 WL 374184. A regular and continuing basis
contemplates full-time employment and is defined as eight
hours a day, five days per week or other similar schedule.
Id. The residual functional capacity assessment must
include a discussion of the individual's abilities.
Id.; 20 C.F.R. § 416.945; Fargnoli,
247 F.3d at 40 (defining residual functional capacity as that
which an individual is still able to do despite the
limitations caused by his or her impairment(s)).
instant case, the ALJ found at step one that plaintiff has
not engaged in substantial gainful activity since the date
the application was filed. (R .at 19). In fact, plaintiff had
only reached seventeen years of age at the time that she
filed her application. (R. at 18). The ALJ found that the
plaintiff had severe impairments of depression, anxiety,
attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder and oppositional
defiant disorder. (R. at 19, 26). Plaintiff does not,
however, have an impairment or combination of impairments
that meets or medically equals a listed impairment according
to the ALJ. (R. at 26). The ALJ found that plaintiff has the
residual functional capacity to perform routine, repetitive
one and two-step tasks, with a toleration of occasional
changes to the work environment. Further, the ALJ found that
plaintiff is capable of occasional decisionmaking and
occasional interaction with the public, co-workers and
supervisors. (R. at 28).
found that plaintiff had “past relevant work” as
a “cook's helper”, a job that plaintiff
performed for two weeks. (R. at 30). She is currently able to
perform this past relevant work according to the ALJ.
(Id.) Further, the vocational expert at the
plaintiff's hearing found that someone with
plaintiff's residual functional capacity could perform
other work in the national economy such as laundry laborer,
bakery worker-conveyor line, and cleaner-housekeeper. (R. at
30-31). Thus, the ALJ concluded that plaintiff is not
disabled as defined by the Social Security Act. (R. at 32).
As explained above, the ALJ's decision became the final
decision of the Commissioner. Plaintiff then appealed to this
court. The Magistrate Judge suggests that substantial
evidence supports the ALJ's decision, and therefore, the
instant appeal should be denied. Plaintiff then filed the
objects to the following three conclusions of the R&R: 1)
the finding that substantial evidence supports the ALJ's
assignment of weight to the medical opinions and the Listing
assessment; 2) the finding that substantial evidence supports
the ALJ's credibility evaluation with regard to Global
Assessment of Functioning (“GAF”) scores; and 3)
the finding that substantial ...