United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania
OPINION AND ORDER
Donetta W. Ambrose United States Senior District Judge.
Joshua Fields (“Fields”) brings this action
pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and 1383(c)(3) for
review of the ALJ's decision denying a claim for
disability insurance benefits (DIB) and supplemental security
income (SSI) under Titles II and XVI of the Social Security
Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 401-34, 1381-1383f. Fields
alleges a disability beginning on May 15, 2013. (R. 23) He
contends that he is disabled due to a number of mental
impairments. Following a hearing which included a
consultation with a vocational expert, the ALJ denied his
claim, concluding that Fields had the residual functional
capacity (“RFC”) to perform certain tasks
associated with unskilled positions such as a laundry worker,
sorter and marker. (R. 30) Fields appealed. Pending are Cross
Motions for Summary Judgment. See ECF Docket Nos.  and
. After careful consideration, the case is remanded for
Standard of Review
standard of review in social security cases 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). Determining whether substantial
evidence exists is “not merely a quantitative
exercise.” Gilliland v. Heckler, 786 F.2d 178,
183 (3d Cir. 1986) (citing Kent v. Schweiker, 710
F.2d 110, 114 (3d Cir. 1983)). “A single piece of
evidence will not satisfy the substantiality test if the
secretary ignores, or fails to resolve, a conflict created by
countervailing evidence. Nor is evidence substantial if it is
overwhelmed by other evidence - particularly certain types of
evidence (e.g., that offered by treating physicians).”
Id. The Commissioner's findings of fact, if
supported by substantial evidence, are conclusive. 42 U.S.C.
Â§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. Â§706.
Step Two Analysis
stated above, at the second step of the analysis, the ALJ
must assess whether the claimant has a medically determinable
impairment or combination of impairments that is severe. 20
C.F.R. § 404.1520(a). An impairment is severe if it
significantly limits a claimant's physical or mental
ability to perform basic work activities. 20 C.F.R. §
404.1520(c); 20 C.F.R. § 1521(a). If the claimant is
found to have a severe impairment, the analysis proceeds to
the next step. Here, Fields contends that the ALJ
oversimplified his analysis at this stage.
the ALJ identified Fields as suffering from the severe
impairments of “depression and mood disorder.”
(R. 26) Yet, as the ALJ himself acknowledged in the second
step of the analysis, Fields was diagnosed with attention
deficit hyperactivity disorder, poor impulse disorder,
episodic mood disorder, cannabis dependence, bipolar disorder
and depression. (R. 26-27) In failing to diagnose these
additional impairments as “severe”, Fields urges
that the ALJ erred in his findings with respect to step two.
I find the ALJ's failure to distinguish between or among
Fields's various diagnoses to be troublesome,
argument must be rejected. The ALJ found that Fields had
severe impairments that satisfied the de minimis
criteria set forth at the second step of the analysis.
Benefits were not denied at this stage. Because the ALJ found
in Fields's favor at this juncture, the fact that he did
not differentiate among different mental impairments
constitutes harmless error. See Salles v. Commr. of Soc.
Sec., 229 Fed.Appx. 140, 145 n. 2 (3d Cir. 2007)
(stating that, “[b]ecause the ALJ found in Salle's
favor at Step Two, even if he had erroneously concluded that
some of her other impairments were non-severe, any error was
harmless.”), citing, Rutherford v. Barnhart,
399 F.3d 546, 553 (3d Cir. 2005) and Roberts v.
Astrue, Civ. No. 8-625, 2009 WL 3183084 (W.D. Pa. Sept.
30, 2009) (finding that, “[e]ven assuming that the ALJ
failed to include all of the Plaintiff's severe
impairments at step two, this would be harmless error, as the
ALJ did not make his disability determination at this step.
Indeed, remand would not affect the outcome of this case and
is not warranted.”). Because the ALJ found in
Fields's favor at step two, any alleged error was
harmless and does not require reversal or remand.
also attacks the ALJ's residual functional capacity
analysis. Fields suggests that the ALJ's failure to
differentiate among the various mental impairments, indeed
his seeming failure to even acknowledge the existence of some
of those impairments, renders his RFC analysis inadequate.
Additionally, Fields reasons, the ALJ's RFC analysis is
based upon mere speculation and thus lacks substantial
evidentiary support. After careful consideration, I agree
with both contentions.
case, the ALJ acknowledged that in making the RFC
determination he was obligated to consider all impairments,
even those he has found not to be severe. (R. 25) (stating,
“[i]n making this finding, I must consider all of the
claimant's impairments, including impairments that are
not severe”). At step two of the analysis, the ALJ
clearly identified numerous mental impairments, both severe
and non-severe, that Fields struggled with. (R. 26-27,
acknowledging that Fields had been diagnosed with attention
deficit hyperactivity disorder, poor impulse control
disorder, episodic mood disorder, cannabis dependence,
bipolar disorder and depression) Yet the ALJ's RFC
analysis is devoid of reference to any of these conditions.
Nowhere does the ALJ discuss the impact of Fields's
uncontroverted mental impairments on his residual functional
capacity. Without such a detailed analysis, I am unable to
conduct a proper and meaningful review. Consequently, remand
is warranted for a full and proper analysis consistent with
Fields contends that the ALJ improperly reached his
conclusions without the benefit of any medical expert's
opinion. Here, the medical evidence of record was supplied by
Dr. Sonaya Radfar and records from Chartiers Community MH /
MR. In fact, the only opinion regarding Fields's
residual functional capacity was supplied by Dr.
Radfar. The ALJ rejected this opinion. (R. 29)
Thus, the ALJ made conclusions regarding ...