United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania
EDUARDO C. ROBRENO, J.
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.
FACTUAL BACKGROUND AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
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.
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.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
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).
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).
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)).
THE ALJ'S DECISION
the five-step inquiry described above, the ALJ determined
that Galette was not disabled.
one, the ALJ found that Galette had not engaged in
substantial gainful activity since March 6, 2016. R. 19.
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.
three, the ALJ found that Galette's impairments did not
meet or medically equal the severity of one of the
impairments listed ...