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Wolfe v. Colvin

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

March 5, 2017

BRENDA LEE WOLFE, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM

          Kosik Judge

         The above-captioned action is one seeking review of a decision of the Acting Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner"), denying Plaintiff Brenda Lee Wolfe's ("Wolfe") application for Social Security Disability Insurance Benefits ("DIB") and Supplemental Security Income ("SSI") under Title II and Title XVI. For the reasons set forth below, we will vacate the decision of the Commissioner and remand the case to the Commissioner for further proceedings.

         I. Background

         Disability insurance benefits are paid to an individual if that individual is disabled and "insured"; that is, the individual has worked long enough and paid social security taxes. The last date that a claimant meets the requirements of being insured is commonly referred to as the "date last insured." It is undisputed that Wolfe met the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act through June 30, 2008. (Tr. 1436).[1]

         Wolfe was born on May 26, 1982. (Tr. 117, 1460). Wolfe has a 10th grade education and is able to communicate in English. (Id.). She has past work experience as a cashier, waitress, bartender, and food delivery driver (Tr. 122, 2015, 397, 746, 1513, 1566-67, 2019).

         Wolfe's alleged impairments are depressive disorder, bipolar disorder with psychotic features, personality disorder, post traumatic stress disorder, impulse control disorder, and panic disorder. (Doc. 14, Ptf.'sBr., at 2).

         This case has a protracted history of filings and remands from the District Court to the Commissioner for further administrative proceedings.[2] This case is now appealed to the District Court for the third time following a fourth denial decision by the Commissioner filed on March 23, 2015. (Tr. 1433 -1461; Doc.14, at 1). The Appeals Council denied Wolfe's subsequent request for review, making the March 23, 2015, the final decision of the Commissioner. (Tr. 1388-1393).

         Wolfe filed a complaint in this Court on April 12, 2016. (Doc. 1). The Commissioner filed an answer on July 14, 2016. (Doc. 10). After supporting and opposing briefs were submitted (Docs. 14, 15, 16), the appeal[3] became ripe for disposition.

         II. Standard of Review

         When considering a social security appeal, the Court has plenary review of all legal issues decided by the Commissioner. See Poulos v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec. 474 F.3d 88, 91 (3d Cir. 2007); Johnson v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec. 529 F.3d 198, 200 (3d Cir. 2008). However, our review of the Commissioner's findings of fact pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) is to determine whether those findings are supported by "substantial evidence." Id. The factual findings of the Commissioner, "if supported by substantial evidence, shall be conclusive ...." 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). "Substantial evidence does not mean a large or considerable amount of evidence, but rather such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Johnson. 529 F.3d at 200 (3d Cir. 2008) (quoting Hartranft v. Apfel. 181 F.3d 358, 360 (3d Cir. 1999)) (internal quotations and citations omitted). Substantial evidence has been described as more than a mere scintilla of evidence but less than a preponderance. Brown v. Bowen. 845 F.2d 1211, 1213 (3d Cir. 1988). "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) (citing Ventura v. Shalala. 55 F.3d 900, 901 (3d Cir. 1995)) (quoting Richardson v. Perales. 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971) (internal citations omitted)). The Third Circuit Court of Appeals has stated,

[O]ur decisions make clear that determination of the existence vel non of substantial evidence is not merely a quantitative exercise. 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. 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 conclusion.

Morales v. Apfel. 225 F.3d 310, 317 (3d Cir. 2000) (citing Kent v. Schweiker. 710 F.2d 110, 114 (3d Cir. 1983); Gilliland v. Heckler. 786 F.2d 178, 183 (3d Cir. 1986)). Therefore, a court reviewing the decision of the Commissioner must scrutinize the record as a whole. Id. (citing Smith v. Califano. 637 F.2d 968, 970 (3d Cir. 1981)).

         III. Sequential Evaluation Process

         The plaintiff must establish that there is some "medically determinable basis for an impairment that prevents him from engaging in any substantial gainful activity for a statutory twelve-month period." Fargnoli v. Massanari.247 F.3d 34, 38-39 (3d Cir. 2001) (quoting Plummer. 186 F.3d at 427) (internal quotations omitted). "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 ...."' Fargnoli. 247 F.3d at 39 (quoting 42 U.S.C. ยง 423(d)(2)(A)). The Commissioner ...


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