United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania
action, plaintiff Patricia Walsh seeks review of the final
decision of defendant, the Acting Commissioner of the Social
Security Administration (the “Commissioner”),
denying her claim for Supplemental Security Income
(“SSI”) under Title XVI of the Social Security
Act (“SSA”), 42 U.S.C. §§ 1381-1383f.
The denial was based on a determination by an Administrative
Law Judge (“ALJ”) that plaintiff was not disabled
under the SSA. By Order dated October 26, 2015, the Court
referred the case to United States Magistrate Judge Marilyn
Heffley for a Report and Recommendation (“R &
R”). On July 28, 2016, Judge Heffley issued an R &
R recommending that plaintiff's Motion and Request for
Review be denied. Presently before the Court are
plaintiff's Objections to the R & R. For the reasons
that follow, the Court approves and adopts the R & R,
overrules plaintiff's Objections, and denies
plaintiff's Motion and Request for Review.
background of this case is set forth in detail in Magistrate
Judge Heffley's R & R and will be recited in this
Memorandum only as necessary to address plaintiff's
Objections. Plaintiff applied for SSI on April 24, 2009.
Administrative R. (“R.”) 14. After her
application was denied, plaintiff requested a hearing which
was held on May 24, 2011. R & R 2 (citing R. 14, 100).
After the hearing, the initial denial was affirmed, and
plaintiff appealed. R. 14. A second hearing was held on June
13, 2013, and the ALJ again denied plaintiff's
application in a decision dated November 13, 2015. R & R
2 (citing R. 14-27). In concluding that plaintiff was not
disabled, the ALJ found that plaintiff suffered from eight
severe impairments (obesity, fibromyalgia, migraine
headaches, bipolar disorder, depressive disorder, major
depressive disorder, generalized anxiety disorder and panic
disorder), and seven non-severe impairments. R & R 4
(citing R. 16-17). The ALJ determined that plaintiff's
impairments did not, alone or in combination, meet or equal a
listed impairment under the SSA. R & R 4 (citing R. 18).
Based on her determination of plaintiff's limitations and
the testimony of a vocational expert, the ALJ found that
plaintiff was capable of performing jobs that existed in
significant numbers in the national economy and was thus not
disabled under the SSA. R & R 4-5 (citing R. 20, 26-27).
Appeals Council denied plaintiff's request for review on
April 1, 2015, and the ALJ's determination was thus
affirmed as the Commissioner's final decision. R & R
2 (citing R. 1-2). Plaintiff commenced this action seeking
review of the Commissioner's final decision pursuant to
42 U.S.C. § 405(g) on May 13, 2015.
district court evaluates de novo those portions of a
magistrate judge's report and recommendation to which an
objection is made. 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(C). The Court
may “accept, reject, or modify, in whole or in part,
the findings or recommendations made by the magistrate
review of the Commissioner's final decision is limited.
The Court reviews the Commissioner's denial of benefits
to “determine whether it is supported by substantial
evidence on the record as a whole” and applied the
correct legal standards. McCrea v. Comm'r of Soc.
Sec., 370 F.3d 357, 359 (3d Cir. 2004); Friedberg v.
Schweiker, 721 F.2d 445, 447 (3d Cir. 1983).
“Substantial evidence is ‘such relevant evidence
as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a
conclusion.' Although substantial evidence is more than a
mere scintilla, it need not rise to the level of a
preponderance.” McCrea, 370 F.3d at 359-60
(quoting Newell v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 347 F.3d
541, 545 (3d Cir. 2003)).
establish a disability under the SSA, the claimant must
demonstrate some “medically determinable basis for an
impairment that prevents her from engaging in any substantial
gainful activity” for the statutory period. Diaz v.
Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 577 F.3d 500, 503 (3d Cir.
2009) (quotation marks and citations omitted); 42 U.S.C.
§ 423(d)(1)(A). A claimant bears the initial burden of
proving the existence of a disability. Rossi v.
Califano, 602 F.2d 55, 57 (3d Cir. 1979). Once the
claimant satisfies this burden, the burden of proof shifts to
the Commissioner to show that the claimant “has the
capacity to perform specific jobs that exist in the national
claims are evaluated using a “five-step sequential
evaluation” of whether a claimant: (1) is currently
employed; (2) has a severe impairment; (3) has an impairment
that meets or equals the requirements of a listed impairment;
(4) can perform past relevant work based on her residual
functional capacity; and (5) if not, can perform other work
in view of her residual functional capacity, age, education,
and work experience. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520; see
McCrea, 370 F.3d at 360. In deciding a disability
claim, “an ALJ must clearly set forth the reasons for
[her] decision. Conclusory statements that a condition does
not constitute a medical equivalent of a listed impairment
are insufficient. The ALJ must provide a discussion of the
evidence and an explanation of reasoning for [her] conclusion
to sufficiently enable meaningful judicial review.”
Diaz, 577 F.3d at 504 (quotation marks and citations
omitted). However, the ALJ “need not employ particular
magic words[, ] . . . particular language[, ] or adhere to a
particular format in conducting [the] analysis.”
Id. (quotation marks omitted).
objects to the R & R on the grounds that Magistrate Judge
Heffley erred in her conclusions that (1) the ALJ properly
evaluated the evidence of plaintiff's obesity,
fibromyalgia, and migraine headaches; (2) substantial
evidence supported the ALJ's determination that
plaintiff's impairments did not meet or equal the
criteria of the mental impairment listings; and (3) the ALJ
permissibly relied on the testimony of the vocational expert.
The Court addresses each objection in turn.
Plaintiff's First Objection
first objects to Judge Heffley's conclusion that the ALJ
adequately evaluated the effects of plaintiff's obesity,
fibromyalgia, and migraine headaches, and the combined effect
of plaintiff's impairments. Obj. 6, 10. The Court
addresses each of plaintiff's arguments in turn.
determining whether a claimant is disabled, “an ALJ
must meaningfully consider the effects of a claimant's
obesity, individually and in combination with her
impairments, on her workplace function at step three and at
every subsequent step.” Diaz, 577 F.3d at 504.
Plaintiff makes two arguments with respect to the ALJ's
consideration of plaintiff's obesity.
plaintiff argues that “[t]he essence of the [R & R]
appears to be that because the ALJ stated that she considered
obesity, the conclusion is sufficient even though the ALJ did
not undertake any substantive analysis of the actual
evidence.” Obj. 6. Plaintiff asserts that the ALJ
failed in her obligation to provide a specific ...