United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania
Stanley E. Hilton, Esq., Michael Colville Assistant U.S.
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER OF COURT
Gustave Diamond, United States District Judge
NOW, this 24 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 ("DIB") under Title II of the Social
Security Act ("Act"), IT IS ORDERED that the
Commissioner's motion for summary judgment (Document No.
11) be, and the same hereby is, granted and plaintiffs motion
for summary judgment (Document No. 9) be, and the same hereby
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). Importantly, 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 conclusions.
protectively filed her application for DIBon October 11,
2012, alleging a disability onset date of August 27, 2012,
due to Crohn's disease and other gastrointestinal
problems and depression and anxiety. Plaintiffs application was
denied initially. At plaintiffs request an ALJ held a hearing
on January 29, 2014, at which plaintiff, represented by
counsel, appeared and testified. On May 19, 2014, the ALJ
issued a decision finding that plaintiff is not disabled. On
October 6, 2015, the Appeals Council denied review making the
ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner.
was 32 years old on the date of the ALJ's decision and is
classified as a younger person under the regulations. 20
C.F.R. §§404.1563(c). She has at least a high
school education and has past relevant work experience as a
graphic designer, but she has not engaged in any substantial
gainful activity since her alleged onset date.
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 Depression/Anxiety and Crohn's Disease
status/post Ileal Resection, 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,
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
sorter, garment bagger and marker. Relying on the vocational
expert's testimony, the ALJ found that although plaintiff
is unable to perform 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 that 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). 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)(1)(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; Newell v. Commissioner of Social
Security. 347 F.3d 541, 545 (3d Cir. 2003). If the
claimant is found disabled or not disabled at any step, the
claim need not be reviewed further. Id.; see Barnhart v.
Thomas. 124 S.Ct. 376 (2003).
plaintiffs primary challenge to the ALJ's decision is
that the ALJ improperly evaluated the medical evidence by
failing to give controlling weight to the opinion of her
treating physician. Alternatively, plaintiff requests a
remand of this case so that the ALJ may consider additional
records that were not previously before the ALJ but were
submitted for the first time to the Appeals Council. Upon
review, the court is satisfied that the ALJ correctly
evaluated all of the medical evidence under the appropriate
standards and that his evaluation of that evidence is
supported by substantial evidence. In addition, the court
finds that a new evidence remand is not warranted in this
first argument is that the ALJ improperly evaluated the
medical evidence. Specifically, plaintiff argues that the ALJ
erred in giving "little weight" to the opinion of
her treating physician, Dr. Kim Pierce, who completed a
medical source statement regarding plaintiffs ability to
perform work-related physical activities and a medical
statement regarding pain. (R. 353-357). Dr. Pierce opined
that plaintiff is "unable to concentrate or focus due to
severe fatigue, " (R. 353), and indicated that plaintiff
has marked restrictions in activities of daily living, marked
difficulty in maintaining social functioning and deficiencies
of concentration, persistence or pace resulting in frequent
failure to complete tasks in a timely manner. (R. 355). Dr.
Pierce concluded that plaintiffs pain, anxiety and depression
would make "any meaningful work impossible." (R.
357). Plaintiff contends that Dr. Pierce's opinion is
entitled to controlling weight.
rules by which the ALJ is to evaluate the medical evidence
are well-established under the Social Security Regulations
and the law of this circuit. Opinions of treating physicians
are entitled to substantial, and at times even controlling,
weight. 20 C.F.R. §404.1527(c)(2); Fargnoli,
247 F.3d at 38. Where a treating physician's opinion on
the nature and severity of an impairment is well supported by
medically acceptable clinical and laboratory diagnostic
techniques and is not inconsistent with other substantial
evidence in the record, it will be given controlling weight.
Id. However, when a treating source's opinion is
not entitled to controlling weight, it is to be evaluated and
weighed under the same standards applied to all other medical
opinions, taking into account numerous factors, including the
opinion's supportability, consistency and specialization.
20 C.F.R. §404.1527(c).
the opinion of any physician, including a treating physician,
as to the claimant's residual functional capacity, or on
the ultimate determination of disability, never is entitled
to special significance. 20 C.F.R. §404.1527(d); SSR
96-5p. "The law is clear... that the opinion of a
treating physician does not bind the ALJ on the issue of
functional capacity." Brown v. Astrue. 649 F.3d
193, 197 n. 2 (3d Cir. 2011). Rather, "[t]he ALJ-not
treating or examining physicians or State agency
consultants-must make the ultimate disability and RFC