United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania
SHARON M. ADORNO, Plaintiff,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, ACTING COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER OF COURT
Gustave Diamond United States District Judge
NOW, this 23th day of January, 2017, upon due
consideration of the parties' cross-motions for summary
judgment relating to plaintiffs request for review of the
decision of the Commissioner of Social Security
("Commissioner") denying plaintiffs application for
disability insurance benefits and supplemental security
income ("SSI") under Titles II and XVI,
respectively, of the Social Security Act ("Act"),
IT IS ORDERED that the Commissioner's motion for summary
judgment (Document No. 22) be, and the same hereby is,
granted, and plaintiffs motion for summary judgment (Document
No. 18) be, and the same hereby is, denied.
factfinder, an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") has
an obligation to weigh all of the facts and evidence of
record and may reject or discount any evidence if the ALJ
explains the reasons for doing so. Plummer v. Apfel.
186 F.3d 422, 429 (3d Cir. 1999). Where the ALJ's
findings of fact are supported by substantial evidence, a
reviewing court is bound by those findings, even if it would
have decided the factual inquiry differently. Fargnoli v.
Massanari, 247 F.3d 34, 38 (3d Cir. 2001). These
well-established principles preclude a reversal or remand of
the ALJ's decision here because the record contains
substantial evidence to support the ALJ's findings and
protectively filed her pending applications for disability
insurance benefits and SSI on June 13, 2012, alleging a
disability onset date of May 25, 2012, due to depression,
bipolar disorder, anxiety, mood disorder and scoliosis.
Plaintiffs applications were denied initially. At plaintiffs
request an ALJ held a hearing on January 17, 2014, at which
plaintiff, represented by counsel, appeared and testified. On
January 31, 2014, the ALJ issued a decision finding that
plaintiff is not disabled. On June 16, 2015, the Appeals
Council denied review making the ALJ's decision the final
decision of the Commissioner.
was 50 years old on her alleged onset date and is classified
as a person closely approaching advanced age under the
regulations. 20 C.F.R. §§404.1563(d) and
416.963(e). She has at least a high school education and has
past relevant work experience as a personal home health aide,
a collections clerk and a receptionist, but she has not
engaged in any substantial gainful activity since her alleged
reviewing plaintiffs medical records and hearing testimony
from plaintiff and a vocational expert, the ALJ concluded
that plaintiff is not disabled within the meaning of the Act.
The ALJ found that although plaintiff has the severe
impairments of affective disorder, anxiety-related disorder,
personality disorder, scoliosis, cervical and lumbar
degenerative disc disease and obesity, those impairments,
alone or in combination, do not meet or equal the criteria of
any of the impairments listed at Appendix 1 of 20 C.F.R.,
Part 404, Subpart P.
also found that plaintiff retains the residual functional
capacity ("RFC") to engage in work at the light
exertional level but with numerous restrictions necessary to
accommodate her physical and mental
impairments. Taking into account these restrictions, a
vocational expert identified numerous categories of jobs
which plaintiff can perform based upon her age, education,
work experience and residual functional capacity, including
electroni accessories assembler, non-government mail clerk
and conveyor line bakery worker. Relying on the vocational
expert's testimony, the ALJ found that although plaintiff
is unable to perforn any of her past relevant work, she is
capable of making an adjustment to numerous jobs existing in
significant numbers in the national economy. Accordingly, the
ALJ concluded thai plaintiff is not disabled under the Act.
defines "disability" as the inability to engage in
substantial gainful activity by reason of a physical or
mental impairment which can be expected to last for a
continuous period of at least twelve months. 42 U.S.C.
§§423(d)(1)(A) and 1382c(a)(3)(A). The impairment
or impairments must be so severe that the claimant "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) and §1382c(a)(3)(B).
Commissioner has promulgated regulations incorporating a
five-step sequential evaluation process for determining
whether a claimant is under a disability. 20 C.F.R.
§§404.1520 and 416.920. If the claimant is found
disabled or not disabled at any step, the claim need not be
reviewed further. Id.; see Barnhart v.
Thomas, 540 U.S. 20 (2003).
plaintiff raises a plethora of challenges to the ALJ's
decision: (1) the ALJ erred at step 2 in finding that several
of plaintiff s medically determinable impairments are
"not severe" under the regulations; (2) the ALJ
erred at step 3 in finding that plaintiffs severe mental
impairments do not meet or equal the criteria of Listings
12.04 and 12.06; (3) the ALJ failed to give proper weight to
the opinion of the consultative psychologist; (4) the
ALJ's RFC finding fails to account for all of plaintiff s
limitations; and, (5) the ALJ improperly evaluated plaintiffs
credibility. Upon review, the court is satisfied that the ALJ
correctly evaluated all of the evidence under the appropriate
standards and that all of the ALJ's findings at every
step of the sequential evaluation process are supported by
first argument is that the ALJ erred at step 2 of the
sequential evaluation process in finding that several of
plaintiff s medically determinable impairments, including
hypertension, hyperlipidemia, pre-diabetes, vitamin D
deficiency, hypothyroidism, and recurrent right-sided
paresthesias and chronic severe headaches secondary to a
benign brain tumor, are not "severe" within the
meaning of the regulations. The court is satisfied that the
ALJ's step 2 finding is supported by substantial
two, the ALJ must determine whether the claimant has a
"severe medically determinable physical... impairment
that meets the duration requirement...." 20 C.F.R.
§§404.1520(a)(4)(ii) and 416.920(a)(4)(ii). An
impairment is "severe" if it "significantly
limits your physical or mental ability to do basic work
activities." 20 C.F.R. §§404.1520(c) and
416.920(c). The duration requirement mandates that the severe
impairment "must have lastec or must be expected to last
for a continuous period of at least 12 months." 42
U.S.C. §§423(d)(1)(A) and 1382c(a)(3)(A); see
also 20 C.F.R. §§404.1509 and 416.909.
step two inquiry is a de minimus screening device
and, if the evidence presents more than a slight abnormality,
the step two requirement of severity is met and the
sequential evaluation process should continue.
Newell, 347 F.3d at 546. The claimant bears the
burden; step 2 of establishing that an impairment is severe.
See McCrea v. Commissioner of Social Security. 370
F.3d 357, 360 (3rd Cir. 2004).
while not an exacting one, it nevertheless was plaintiffs
burden to show that her medically determinable impairments
result in more than a de minimus effect on her
ability to perform basic work functions. She did not meet
that burden. As the ALJ explained in her decision, all of the
impairments which she found to be not severe typically are
well-controlled with minimal, conservative treatment and
medication, and none cause more than minimal limitation in
plaintiffs functioning. (R. 15-16). The court finds no error
in the ALJ's thoroug evaluation of these impairments at
is important to note that the ALJ did not deny plaintiffs
claim at step 2. McCre; 370 F.3d at 360-61 (the
Commissioner's determination to deny a claim at
step 2 "should be reviewed with close scrutiny"
because step 2 "is to be rarely utilized as a basis for
the denial oi benefits".) Instead, the ALJ considered
the impact of all of plaintiffs medically determinable
impairments, severe and not severe, on plaintiffs RFC and
found no additional limitations that would result from her
non-severe impairments beyond those accounted for in the RFC