United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania
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.
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).
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).
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).
case has a protracted history of filings and remands from the
District Court to the Commissioner for further administrative
proceedings. 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).
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 became ripe for disposition.
Standard of Review
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)).
Sequential Evaluation Process
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. § 423(d)(2)(A)). The Commissioner