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Galette v. Colvin

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

March 24, 2017



          EDUARDO C. ROBRENO, J.

         Presently before the Court is the motion for summary judgment filed by the Commissioner of Social Security asking for dismissal of Cedric Galette's pro se Complaint in which he seeks review and reversal of the Commissioner's final denial of his disability insurance benefits (“DIB”) and supplemental security income (“SSI”) claims under Titles II and XVI of the Social Security Act. 42 U.S.C. §§ 401-434, 1381-1383f. Upon consideration of the parties' submissions and the administrative record, the Court will grant the Commissioner's motion and enter judgment in her favor.


         On June 12, 2013, Galette protectively filed applications for SSI and DIB, alleging that he had been disabled since March 6, 2013. R. 203-15. The Social Security Administration initially denied his claims on November 8, 2013. R. 102-111. An administrative law judge (“ALJ”) held a hearing regarding the claims on January 7, 2015, at which Galette was represented by a non-attorney representative. R. 37-63. On February 25, 2015, the ALJ issued an unfavorable decision, finding that Galette was not disabled. R. 17-29. Galette requested review by the Appeals Council, which denied his request on April 30, 2015. R. 8-10.

         Galette filed his Complaint in the present action on October 26, 2015, seeking judicial review of the ALJ's decision pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). ECF No. 3. After failing to comply with this Court's procedural order requiring the filing of a “Brief and Statement of Issues in Support of Request for Review, ” the Court issued a rule to show cause why the matter should not be dismissed. ECF No. 10. Galette filed a handwritten statement on August 16, 2016, which the Court deemed a response to the rule to show cause. ECF Nos. 11, 14. After a September 23, 2016 rule to show cause hearing, the Court ordered the Commissioner to file a motion for summary judgment. ECF No. 14. The Commissioner filed her motion on November 14, 2016 and Galette filed responses on December 14, 2016 and February 27, 2017. ECF Nos. 18-21.


         In reviewing the Commissioner's final determination that a person is not disabled and, therefore, not entitled to Social Security benefits, the Court may not independently weigh the evidence or substitute its own conclusions for those reached by the ALJ. See Burns v. Barnhart, 312 F.3d 113, 118 (3d Cir. 2002). Instead, the Court must review the factual findings presented in order to determine whether they are supported by substantial evidence. See 42 U.S.C. § 405(g); Rutherford v. Barnhart, 399 F.3d 546, 552 (3d Cir. 2005).

         Substantial evidence is that which a “reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.” Rutherford, 399 F.3d at 552 (quoting Reefer v. Barnhart, 326 F.3d 376, 379 (3d Cir. 2003)). “It is ‘more than a mere scintilla but may be somewhat less than a preponderance of the evidence.'” Id. (quoting Ginsburg v. Richardson, 436 F.2d 1146, 1148 (3d Cir. 1971)). If the ALJ's decision is supported by substantial evidence, the Court may not set it aside “even if [it] would have decided the factual inquiry differently.” Hartranft v. Apfel, 181 F.3d 358, 360 (3d Cir. 1999). “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 . . . or if it really constitutes not evidence but mere conclusion.” Kent v. Schweiker, 710 F.2d 110, 114 (3d Cir. 1983).

         An ALJ uses a five-step inquiry to determine if a plaintiff is entitled to benefits. A plaintiff must first establish that (1) she is not engaged in any substantial gainful activity, and (2) she suffers from a severe impairment. Jesurum v. Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., 48 F.3d 114, 117 (3d Cir. 1995) (citing Bowen v. Yuckert, 482 U.S. 137, 140-41 (1987)). If the plaintiff satisfies these two elements, the ALJ determines (3) whether the impairment is equivalent to an impairment listed in 20 C.F.R. pt. 404, Subpt. P, App. 1, which creates a presumption of disability. Id. If not, the plaintiff must prove that (4) the impairment nonetheless prevents her from performing work that she has performed in the past. Id. The relevant inquiry is “whether the claimant retains the residual functional capacity to perform her past relevant work.” Fargnoli v. Massanari, 247 F.3d 34, 39 (3d Cir. 2001). If the plaintiff proves she does not, the ALJ must grant her benefits unless the ALJ can demonstrate that (5) considering plaintiff's residual functional capacity (“RFC”), age, education, and work experience, there are jobs available in significant numbers in the national economy that the plaintiff can perform. Jesurum, 48 F.3d at 117 (citing Ferguson v. Schweiker, 765 F.2d 31, 37 (3d Cir. 1985)).


         Using the five-step inquiry described above, the ALJ determined that Galette was not disabled.

         At step one, the ALJ found that Galette had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since March 6, 2016. R. 19.

         At step two, the ALJ found that Galette suffered from the following severe impairments: severe right upper extremity disorders including degenerative joint disease, disorders of the back, affective disorders, anxiety disorders, a chronic pain disorder, a personality disorder with cluster B traits, and polysubstance abuse. R. 20.

         At step three, the ALJ found that Galette's impairments did not meet or medically equal the severity of one of the impairments listed ...

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