United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania
OPINION AND ORDER OF COURT
Donetta W. Ambrose U.S. Senior District Judge.
before the Court are Cross-Motions for Summary Judgment. [ECF
Nos. 12 and 14]. Both parties have filed Briefs in Support of
their Motions. [ECF Nos. 13 and 15]. After careful
consideration of the submissions of the parties, and based on
my Opinion set forth below, Defendant's Motion [ECF No.
14] is granted, and Plaintiff's Motion [ECF No. 12] is
has brought this action for review of the final decision of
the Commissioner of Social Security
(“Commissioner”) denying his application for
Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”) under Title
II of the Social Security Act (“Act”). On or
about February 18, 2013, Plaintiff applied for DIB. [ECF No.
6-7, at 194]. In his application, he alleged that since
August 24, 2010, he had been disabled due to chronic back
pain and depression. Id. at 194, 197. His date last
insured is December 31, 2015. Id. at 194. The state
agency denied his claims initially, and he requested an
administrative hearing. [ECF No. 6-4, at 69-72].
Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) Donald M.
Graffius held a hearing on December 5, 2014, at which
Plaintiff was represented by counsel. [ECF No. 6-2, at
29-58]. Plaintiff appeared at the hearing and testified on
his own behalf. Id. A vocational expert also was
present at the hearing and testified. Id. at 51-57.
In a decision dated February 5, 2015, the ALJ found that jobs
existed in significant numbers in the national economy that
Plaintiff could perform and, therefore, that Plaintiff was
not disabled under the Act. [ECF No. 6-2, at 12-24].
Plaintiff requested review of the ALJ's determination by
the Appeals Council, and, on March 3, 2016, the Appeals
Council denied Plaintiff's request for review. [ECF No.
6-2, at 1-3]. Having exhausted all of his administrative
remedies, Plaintiff filed this action.
parties have filed Cross-Motions for Summary Judgment. [ECF
Nos. 12 and 14]. The issues are now ripe for my review.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
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)). Additionally, 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.
eligible for social security benefits, the plaintiff must
demonstrate that he cannot engage in substantial gainful
activity because of a medically determinable physical or
mental impairment which can be expected to result in death or
which has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous
period of at least 12 months. 42 U.S.C. § 1382(a)(3)(A);
Brewster v. Heckler, 786 F.2d 581, 583 (3d Cir.
Commissioner has provided the ALJ with a five-step sequential
analysis to use when evaluating the disabled status of each
claimant. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520. The ALJ must determine:
(1) whether the claimant is currently engaged in substantial
gainful activity; (2) if not, whether the claimant has a
severe impairment; (3) if the claimant has a severe
impairment, whether it meets or equals the criteria listed in
20 C.F.R. pt. 404, subpt. P, app. 1; (4) if the impairment
does not satisfy one of the impairment listings, whether the
claimant's impairments prevent him from performing his
past relevant work; and (5) if the claimant is incapable of
performing his past relevant work, whether he can perform any
other work which exists in the national economy, in light of
his age, education, work experience and residual functional
capacity. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520. The claimant carries the
initial burden of demonstrating by medical evidence that he
is unable to return to his previous employment (steps 1-4).
Dobrowolsky, 606 F.2d at 406. Once the claimant
meets this burden, the burden of proof shifts to the
Commissioner to show that the claimant can engage in
alternative substantial gainful activity (step 5).
district court, after reviewing the entire record may affirm,
modify, or reverse the decision with or without remand to the
Commissioner for rehearing. Podedworny v. Harris,
745 F.2d 210, 221 (3d Cir. 1984).
WHETHER THE ALJ's RFC FINDING FAILED TO ACCOUNT FOR
ALL OF PLAINTIFF'S DOCUMENTED MENTAL
found that Plaintiff had severe impairments, including
scoliosis of the right hip; mild degenerative disc disease at
the T11-12 level; bilateral piriformis syndrome; mood
disorder, secondary to medical condition; depressive disorder
due to another medical condition; unspecified depressive
disorder; major depressive disorder, single episode,
moderate; unspecified anxiety disorder; post-traumatic stress
disorder; bipolar disorder with psychotic features; marijuana
abuse; and alcohol dependence in remission. [ECF No. 6-2, at
14]. He then found that Plaintiff's impairments or
combination of impairments did not meet or medically equal
the severity of one of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R.
Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. Id. at 14-15. The
ALJ further found that Plaintiff had the residual functional
capacity (“RFC”) to perform light work as defined
in 20 C.F.R. § 404.1567(b), except that he was limited
to occasional postural maneuvers such as balancing, stooping,
kneeling, crouching, and climbing ramps and stairs; was
limited to simple, routine, repetitive tasks, not performed
in a fast-paced production environment, involving only simple
work-related decisions, and in general, relatively few work
place changes; and was limited to working primarily with
objects rather than people and to no jobs requiring teamwork