United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania
N. Bloch United States District Judge
NOW, this 28th day of February, 2017, upon consideration of
Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. No. 12)
filed in the above-captioned matter on October 11, 2016, IT
IS HEREBY ORDERED that said Motion is DENIED.
further, upon consideration of Plaintiff's Motion for
Summary Judgment (Doc. No. 10) filed in the above-captioned
matter on October 10, 2016, IT IS HEREBY ORDERED that said
Motion is GRANTED IN PART and DENIED IN PART. Specifically,
Plaintiff's Motion is granted to the extent that it seeks
a remand to the Commissioner of Social Security
(“Commissioner”) for further evaluation as set
forth below, and denied in all other respects. Accordingly,
this matter is hereby remanded to the Commissioner for
further evaluation under sentence four of 42 U.S.C. §
405(g) in light of this Order.
September 13, 2010, Plaintiff, Patrick Lynn Reynolds, filed a
claim for Supplemental Security Income under Title XVI of the
Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 1381-1383f.
Plaintiff claimed that he became disabled on December 1,
1987, due to a back injury with chronic back pain, joint pain
and numbness in the left arm and both legs, shortness of
breath even with light exertion, inability to lift over five
pounds without pain, inability to stand for more than 15
minutes without pain, fatigue, pain and shortness of breath
walking a short way, and other health issues. (R. 11).
being denied initially on December 13, 2010, Plaintiff sought
and obtained a hearing on January 11, 2012, before
Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) David Brash. (R.
24-62). An additional hearing was held before the ALJ on June
13, 2012. (R. 63-88). In a decision dated July 19, 2012, the
ALJ denied Plaintiff's request for benefits. (R. 8-23).
The Appeals Council declined to review the ALJ's decision
on February 12, 2014. (R. 1-6). Thereafter, Plaintiff filed a
timely appeal with the United States District Court for the
Western District of Pennsylvania, and by Order dated April
21, 2015, the Court remanded the case for further
administrative proceedings. In particular, the Court found
that the ALJ's RFC assessment was
not supported by substantial evidence because, in failing to
address the question of Plaintiff's left hand impairment,
it is not clear whether the ALJ chose to reject a limitation
concerning Plaintiff's left hand, whether the ALJ felt
that the RFC fully accounted for Plaintiff's left hand
limitations, or whether the omission of a limitation
concerning Plaintiff's left hand was merely
unintentional. While the ALJ was by no means required to
simply adopt all of the findings of Dr. Tayal, he was
required to explain his basis for rejecting them if he chose
to do so, particularly in light of the fact that he expressly
gave additional weight to this opinion in formulating
Plaintiff's RFC. On the other hand, it is possible that
the ALJ expected that limiting Plaintiff's overhead
reaching also adequately addressed any additional left hand
problems Dr. Tayal detected, but, without a specific
explanation by the ALJ of his reasoning, it is not apparent
to the Court whether this general limitation also accounts
for any more specific left hand limitations.
(R. 477). Accordingly, the case was remanded “for
further discussion as to the rationale for not including
specific left hand limitations in determining Plaintiff's
RFC and in formulating the hypothetical question to the
VE.” (R. 477-78).
remand, a supplemental hearing was held before the ALJ on
January 22, 2016. (R. 420-435). In a decision dated March 9,
2016, the ALJ issued a partially favorable decision to
Plaintiff, having concluded that beginning became disabled as
of June 3, 2014, the date his age category changed, but was
not disabled prior to that date. (R. 403-414). Having
exhausted his administrative remedies for the second time,
Plaintiff filed this action, and the parties have filed
cross-motions for summary judgment.
Standard of Review
review of a social security case is based upon the pleadings
and the transcript of the record. See 42 U.S.C.
§ 405(g). The scope of review is limited to determining
whether the Commissioner applied the correct legal standards
and whether the record, as a whole, contains substantial
evidence to support the Commissioner's findings of fact.
See Matthews v. Apfel, 239 F.3d 589, 592 (3d Cir.
2001) (“[t]he findings of the Commissioner of Social
Security as to any fact, if supported by substantial
evidence, shall be conclusive” (quoting 42 U.S.C.
evidence” is defined as “more than a mere
scintilla. It means such relevant evidence as a reasonable
mind might accept as adequate” to support a conclusion.
Plummer v. Apfel, 186 F.3d 422, 427 (3d Cir. 1999).
However, a “single piece of evidence will not satisfy
the substantiality test if the [Commissioner] ignores, or
fails to resolve, a conflict created by countervailing
evidence.” Morales v. Apfel, 225 F.3d 310, 317
(3d Cir. 2000) (quoting Kent v. Schweiker, 710 F.2d
110, 114 (3d Cir. 1983)). “Nor is evidence substantial
if it is overwhelmed by other evidence - particularly certain
types of evidence (e.g., that offered by treating physicians)
- or if it really constitutes not evidence but mere
disability is established when the claimant can demonstrate
some medically determinable basis for an impairment that
prevents him or her from engaging in any substantial gainful
activity for a statutory twelve-month period. See
Fargnoli v. Massanari, 247 F.3d 34, 38-39 (3d Cir.
2001). “A claimant is considered unable to engage in
any substantial gainful activity ‘only if 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 . . . .'” Id. at 39
(quoting 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(2)(A)).
Social Security Administration (“SSA”) has
promulgated regulations incorporating a five-step sequential
evaluation process for determining whether a claimant is
under a disability as defined by the Act. See 20
C.F.R. § 416.920. In Step One, the Commissioner must
determine whether the claimant is currently engaging in
substantial gainful activity. See 20 C.F.R. §
416.920(b). If so, the disability claim will be denied.
See Bowen v. Yuckert, 482 U.S. 137, 140 (1987). If
not, the second step of the process is to determine whether
the claimant is suffering from a severe impairment.
See 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(c). “An
impairment or combination of impairments is not severe if it
does not significantly limit [the claimant's] physical or
mental ability to do basic work activities.” 20 C.F.R.
§ 416.921(a). If the claimant fails to show that his or
her impairments are “severe, ” he or she is
ineligible for disability benefits. If the claimant does have
a severe impairment, however, the Commissioner must proceed
to Step Three and determine ...