United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania
OPINION AND ORDER OF COURT
Donetta W. Ambrose U.S. Senior District Judge.
se Plaintiff, Kennesha Henderson, on behalf of D.D.R., a
minor, has brought this action for review of the final
decision of the Commissioner of Social Security
(“Commissioner”) denying her application for
Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”) under Title
XVI of the Social Security Act (the “Act”).
Plaintiff protectively filed an application for SSI on or
about February 27, 2012. [ECF No. 8-6, Ex. B1D, No. 8-7, Ex.
B3E]. In her application, Henderson alleged that D.D.R. was
disabled due to a small lung valve, a hole in his heart, and
speech problems. Id. Administrative Law Judge
(“ALJ”) Alma S. deLeon held a hearing on November
20, 2013, at which D.D.R. was represented by a non-attorney
representative. [ECF No. 8-2, at 30-49]. Henderson appeared
at the hearing and testified on behalf of D.D.R. Id.
In a decision dated January 6, 2014, the ALJ found that
D.D.R. was not disabled under the Act. Id. at 14-25.
On July 15, 2015, the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's
request for review. Id. at 1-3. Having exhausted all
of her administrative remedies, Plaintiff filed this action
on behalf of D.D.R.
filed an Answer and Transcript on May 5, 2016. [ECF Nos. 7,
8]. Pursuant to my first Scheduling Order, filed May 6, 2016,
Plaintiff's motion for summary judgment and brief were
due by June 6, 2016. [ECF No. 9]. After Plaintiff failed to
file any motions by that date, in light of Plaintiff's
pro se status, I issued an Amended Scheduling Order
on June 8, 2016 extending Plaintiff's deadline for filing
her motion for summary judgment and brief to July 8, 2016.
[ECF No. 10]. I mailed a copy of the Amended Scheduling Order
to Plaintiff at her then-address of record. On June 28, 2016,
Defendant filed a Notice to Court of Resending Answer and
Social Security Administrative Transcript to Plaintiff's
New Address. [ECF No. 11]. In that Notice, Defendant informed
the Court that, on or around June 28, 2016, the package
containing the Answer and Transcript that Defendant had sent
to Plaintiff at her address of record had been returned with
the notation “unclaimed” and with a corrected
address listed on the address label. Id. ¶ 2
& Ex. A. The Notice further indicated that Defendant had
resent the Answer and Transcript to Plaintiff at her new
address via certified mail. Id. ¶ 3. Based on
the representations in Defendant's Notice, I issued a
second Amended Scheduling Order requiring Plaintiff to file
her motion and brief no later than July 29, 2016. [ECF No.
12]. On August 24, 2016, after Plaintiff again failed to file
any motions or related documentation, I issued an Order to
Show Cause requiring Plaintiff to file a motion and brief no
later than September 26, 2016 or face dismissal of her case.
[ECF No. 13].
September 26, 2016, Plaintiff responded to the Order to Show
Cause by filing a packet containing additional medical
records pertaining to D.D.R. [ECF No. 14]. Although she did
not file a traditional motion or brief, I accepted her
filing, construed it as a motion for summary judgment, and
permitted the case to proceed. Defendant filed a Motion for
Summary Judgment and Brief on October 6, 2016. [ECF Nos. 16
and 17]. The issues are now ripe for my review.
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.
§ 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, the
district court must review the record as a whole.
See 5 U.S.C. § 706.
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). Because
Plaintiff is acting pro se, applicable standards, as
well as Plaintiff's submissions must be viewed liberally.
Mohan v. Colvin, No. 14-148, 2014 WL 4925181, at *1
(W.D. Pa. Sep. 30, 2014).
Social Security Act provides that a child under 18 is
“disabled” for purposes of SSI eligibility if he
or she “has a medically determinable physical or
mental impairment, which results in marked and
severe functional limitations, and 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. § 1382c(a)(3)(C)(i). The
Commissioner follows a three-step sequential process in
determining childhood disability: (1) whether the child is
doing substantial gainful activity; (2) if not, whether he or
she has a medically determinable severe impairment; (3) if
so, whether the child's severe impairment meets,
medically equals, or functionally equals the severity of a
set of criteria for an impairment listed in 20 C.F.R. Part
404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. 20 C.F.R. § 416.924. An
impairment functionally equals a listed impairment if the
child has “marked” limitations in two domains of
functioning or an “extreme”
limitation in one domain. Id. §
416.926a(a). The six domains are: acquiring and using
information; attending and completing tasks; interacting and
relating with others; moving about and manipulating objects;
caring for yourself; and health and physical well-being.
Id. § 416.926a(b)(1)(i)-(vi). When evaluating
the ability to function in each domain, the ALJ considers
information that will help answer the following questions
“about whether your impairment(s) affect your
functioning and whether your activities are typical of other
children your age who do not have impairments”: What
activities are you able to perform? What activities are you
not able to perform? Which of your activities are limited or
restricted compared to other children your age who do not
have impairments? Where do you have difficulty with your
activities-at home, in childcare, at school, or in the
community? Do you have difficulty independently initiating,
sustaining, or completing activities? What kind of help do
you need to do your activities, how much help do you need,
and how often do you need it? Id. §
case, the ALJ found that although D.D.R. had severe
impairments,  he did not have an impairment or
combination of impairments that met, medically equaled, or
functionally equaled the severity of a set of criteria for an
impairment listed in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix
1 (20 C.F.R. §§ 416.924, 416.925, and 416.926).
[ECF No. 8-2, pp. 17-25]. As a result, the ALJ found that
D.D.R. was not disabled under the Act. Id.
pro se filings fail to assert any specific error
with the ALJ's opinion. [ECF No. 14]. Rather, she
attaches twenty-seven pages of medical records dated between
April and July of 2016 regarding D.D.R. [ECF No. 14-1]. To
the extent Plaintiff believes these records provide an
appropriate basis for remand, such belief is without merit in
this case. Generally, evidence that was not before the ALJ
“cannot be used to argue that the ALJ's decision
was not supported by ‘substantial evidence.'”
Jones v. Sullivan, 954 F.2d 125, 128 (3d Cir. 1991).
When a claimant seeks to rely on evidence first presented to
the District Court, sentence six of Section 405(g) provides
that the court may remand the case for consideration of that
evidence only if the evidence is (1) new; (2) material; and
(3) good cause exists for not presenting the evidence to the
Commissioner in the prior proceedings. See Matthews v.
Apfel, 239 F.3d 589, 594 (3d Cir. 2001); 42 U.S.C.
§ 405(g) (sentence six).
even if the records are “new” in the sense that
they post-date the ALJ's decision, they are not
“material” within the meaning of the Act because
they do not relate to the time period for which benefits were
denied. Indeed, the documents Plaintiff attached in response
to my Order to Show Cause post-date the application for
benefits by four years and the administrative hearing by over
two years. [ECF No. 14]. Other documents attached to the
Complaint are dated in 2015, over a year after the hearing.
[ECF No. 4]. Implicit in the materiality requirement
“is that the new evidence relate to the time period for
which benefits were denied, and that it not concern evidence
of a later-acquired disability or the subsequent
deterioration of the previously non-disabling
condition.” Szubak v. Sec'y of Health &
Human Servs., 745 F.2d 831, 833 (3d Cir. 1984). In the
latter cases, the appropriate remedy is to file a new
application for benefits. See 20 C.F.R. §