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McFadden v. Berryhill

United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania

March 21, 2017



          Donetta W. Ambrose United States Senior District Judge


         Plaintiff Jason McFadden (“McFadden”) brings this action seeking judicial review of the ALJ's decision denying a claim for disability insurance benefits (“DIB”) and supplemental security income (“SSI”). McFadden filed applications in March of 2013 alleging both physical and mental impairments with an onset date in January of 2012. (R. 47) He appeared and testified at a December 8, 2014 hearing, as did a vocational expert. (R. 47) The ALJ denied McFadden's claim, finding him capable of medium level work with certain restrictions. (R. 55) McFadden has appealed and challenges the ALJ's decision in several respects. Pending are Cross Motions for Summary Judgment. Docket no. 8 and Docket no. 10. After careful consideration, I find McFadden's arguments to be unpersuasive. Consequently, the ALJ's decision is affirmed.

         Legal Analysis

         1. Standard of Review

         The 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, however, the district court must review the record as a whole. See, 5 U.S.C. §706.

         2. Credibility

         McFadden faults the ALJ for violating the applicable regulations by presuming him to be “less credible simply because he was a drug addict.” See ECF docket no. 9, p. 9. McFadden cites to SSR 13-2p which provides guidance in evaluating cases involving drug addiction and alcoholism (“DAA”). See 13-2p, 3013 WL 621536 (2013). Yet other than a passing reference to the case law, McFadden's argument is wholly undeveloped. Analysis of this issue requires the application of law to fact. McFadden has fallen short in this regard. Bare conclusory assertions are not enough to merit consideration. See Pennsylvania v. U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services, 101 F.3d 939, 945 (3d Cir. 1996) (stating that conclusory assertions are not enough and that arguments presented in such a fashion are waived).

         Nevertheless, even if I was to consider McFadden's argument on the merits, I would find that the ALJ's decision is supported by substantial evidence of record and is in accordance with the applicable case law and regulations. It is well-established that the ALJ is charged with the responsibility of determining a claimant's credibility. Baerga v. Richardson, 500 F.3d 309, 312 (3d Cir. 1974). “The ALJ's decision ‘must contain specific reasons for the finding on credibility, supported by the evidence in the case record, and must be sufficiently specific to make clear to the individual and to any subsequent reviewers the weight the adjudicators gave to the individual's statements and the reason for that weight. S.S.R. 96-7p.'” Grissinger v. Colvin, Civ. No. 15-202, 2016 WL 5919937 at * 2 (W.D. Pa. Oct. 11, 2016). Generally an ALJ's credibility assessment is entitled to great deference. Zirnsak v. Colvin, 777 F.3d 607, 612 (3d Cir. 2014); Reefer v. Barnhart, 326 F.3d 376, 380 (3d Cir. 2003). Here, the ALJ followed the appropriate two-step process when assessing pain. First she assessed whether McFadden had “an underlying medically determinable physical or mental impairment(s) … that could reasonably be expected to produce the claimant's alleged pain or underlying symptoms.” (R. 55) Second, she evaluated “the intensity, persistence, and limiting effects of the claimant's symptoms to determine the extent to which they limit the claimant's ability to do basic work activities.” (R. 55) The ALJ found that although the impairments could reasonably be expected to produce some of the symptoms he alleged, “the claimant's December 2014 hearing testimony and other attributed assertions of record concerning the intensity, persistence and limiting effects of such impairment-related symptoms are … found to be only partially credible.” (R. 56) After a review of the record, I find that the ALJ followed the proper method in assessing McFadden's credibility. (R. 55-56) Moreover, I find that the ALJ's determination is sufficient such that I can make a proper and meaningful review. Finally, I find that the ALJ's opinion is supported by substantial evidence of record. (R. 55-56) Therefore, I find no error in this regard and remand is not warranted.

         3. Step 3 - Listings

         McFadden also contends that the ALJ erred at third step of the sequential analysis. In Step 3 of the analysis set forth above, the ALJ must determine the if the claimant's impairment(s) meets or is equal to one of the impairments listed in 20 C.F.R. Pt. 404, Subpt. P, Appx. 1. Jesurum v. Sec. of Health and Human Serv., 48 F.3d 114, 117 (3d Cir. 1995). According to McFadden, he satisfies the requirements of Listing 12.05C and, as such, is disabled. See ECF docket no. 9, p. 11-20.[2] Listing 12.05C provides, in relevant part:

Intellectual disability refers to significantly subaverage general intellectual function with deficits in adaptive function initially manifested during the developmental period; i.e., the evidence demonstrates or supports onset of the impairment before age 22. The required level of severity for this disorder is met when the requirements in A, B, C, or D are satisfied. …
C. A valid verbal, performance, or full scale IQ of 60 through 70 and a physical or other mental impairment imposing additional significant work-related limitation or function. 20 ...

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