United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania
N. Bloch United States District Judge
NOW, this 29th day of March, 2017, upon consideration of the
parties' cross-motions for summary judgment, the Court,
upon review of the Commissioner of Social Security's
final decision denying Plaintiff's claim for Disability
Insurance Benefits under Subchapter II of the Social Security
Act, 42 U.S.C. § 401, et seq., finds that the
Commissioner's findings are supported by substantial
evidence and, accordingly, affirms. See 42 U.S.C.
§ 405(g); Jesurum v. Secretary of U.S. Department of
Health & Human Services, 48 F.3d 114, 117 (3d Cir.
1995); Williams v. Sullivan, 970 F.2d 1178, 1182 (3d
Cir. 1992), cert. denied sub nom., 507 U.S. 924
(1993); Brown v. Bowen, 845 F.2d 1211, 1213 (3d Cir.
1988). See also Berry v. Sullivan, 738 F.Supp. 942,
944 (W.D. Pa. 1990) (if supported by substantial evidence,
the Commissioner's decision must be affirmed, as a
federal court may neither reweigh the evidence, nor reverse,
merely because it would have decided the claim differently)
(citing Cotter v. Harris, 642 F.2d 700, 705 (3d Cir.
1981)). See also Monsour Medical Center v. Heckler,
806 F.2d 1185, 1190-91 (3d Cir. 1986).
IT IS HEREBY ORDERED that Plaintiff's Motion for Summary
Judgment (document No. 9) is DENIED and Defendant's
Motion for Summary Judgment (document No. 13) is GRANTED.
 Plaintiff's raises numerous
arguments that the Administrative Law Judge
(“ALJ”) erred in finding him to be not disabled
under the Social Security Act, none of which warrant remand
of this matter. Instead, the Court finds that substantial
evidence supports the ALJ's decision.
Plaintiff first suggests that he was given something
less than a full and fair hearing before the ALJ. This seems
to be based on a few instances in the record where the ALJ
tried to move the hearing along. (R. 82-89). However, in
context, the ALJ's statements were no more than part of
her effort to expedite the process and were in no way meant
to limit the evidence Plaintiff could produce. Indeed, the
ALJ expressly gave Plaintiff the option of scheduling a
supplemental hearing if he believed that he needed more time
to present all of his evidence. (R. 82). Moreover, Plaintiff
in no way suggests what evidence, if any, he was precluded
from entering into the record or how anything in the record
demonstrates bias or animus on the part of the ALJ. These
facts fall far short of a situation in which a claimant has
been deprived of a fair hearing. See Bordes v. Comm'r
of Soc. Sec., 235 Fed.Appx. 853, 857-58 (3d Cir.
Plaintiff next argues that remand is warranted because
the ALJ failed to analyze thoroughly the listings contained
in Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 of the Code of Federal
Regulations pertaining to the musculoskeletal system,
respiratory system, cardiovascular system, endocrine
disorders, and malignant neoplastic diseases, and, further,
that her analysis of his mental impairments pursuant to
Listings 12.04 and 12.06 was insufficient. The Court
disagrees. The ALJ asked counsel at the hearing whether
Plaintiff was claiming to meet any listing, and counsel
responded that he was not. (R. 52-53). Indeed, even now
Plaintiff does not actually argue that he meets any of the
listings, merely that the ALJ's discussion was not
adequate pursuant to the standard set forth in Burnett v.
Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 220 F.3d 112 (3d Cir. 2000). In
essence, he is arguing that the ALJ was required to provide a
detailed analysis of about half of all the listings even
though he himself has never alleged that he meets one. As the
Third Circuit Court of Appeals has explained,
Burnett does not require an ALJ to employ any
specific language or format in discussing the listings at
Step Three of the sequential process, but rather requires
that ALJ “to ensure that there is sufficient
development of the record and explanation of findings to
permit meaningful review.” Jones v. Barnhart,
364 F.3d 501, 505 (3d Cir. 2004). In determining whether the
ALJ has done so, the Court is to look at the decision as a
whole to see whether it illustrates that the ALJ considered
the proper factors in reaching his or her conclusion. See
id. Here, the ALJ discussed the medical evidence at
great length, and merely clarified at Step Three that it did
not meet the listings most likely at issue. Considering this
extensive discussion, and the fact that Plaintiff himself
does not contend that the ALJ ignored any specific evidence
that would demonstrate that he met a listing, the Court finds
that substantial evidence supports the ALJ's finding.
See Lopez v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 270 Fed.Appx.
119, 121-22 (3d Cir. 2008).
Plaintiff's arguments about the weight given to
aspects of the opinion of Dr. Paul Means, D.O., one of his
treating physicians, are somewhat intertwined, but lack merit
in any regard. For instance, Plaintiff argues that the ALJ
erred in not giving controlling weight to Dr. Means'
opinion that he would miss three or more days of work per
month as a result of his impairments. (R. 451). It is true
that when assessing a claimant's application for
benefits, the opinion of the claimant's treating
physician generally is to be afforded significant weight.
See Fargnoli v. Massanari, 247 F.3d 34, 43 (3d Cir.
2001); Plummer v. Apfel, 186 F.3d 422, 429 (3d Cir.
1999). In fact, the regulations provide that a treating
physician's opinion is to be given “controlling
weight” so long as the opinion is well-supported by
medically acceptable clinical and laboratory diagnostic
techniques and not inconsistent with other substantial
evidence in the record. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1527(d)(2);
Fargnoli, 247 F.3d at 43; Plummer, 186 F.3d
at 429. As a result, the ALJ may reject a treating
physician's opinion outright only on the basis of
contradictory medical evidence, and not on the basis of the
ALJ's own judgment or speculation, although he may afford
a treating physician's opinion more or less weight
depending upon the extent to which supporting explanations
are provided. See Plummer, 186 F.3d at 429.
However, it is also important to remember
The ALJ -- not treating or examining physicians or
State agency consultants -- must make the ultimate disability
and RFC determinations. Although treating and examining
physician opinions often deserve more weight than the
opinions of doctors who review records, “[t]he law is
clear . . . that the opinion of a treating physician does not
bind the ALJ on the issue of functional capacity[.]”
Brown v. Astrue, 649 F.3d 193, 197 n. 2 (3d
Cir.2011). State agent opinions merit significant
consideration as well.
Chandler v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 667 F.3d
356, 361 (3d Cir. 2011)(internal citations omitted in part).
Here, the ALJ included in her decision a substantial
discussion as to why she weighed Dr. Means' opinion as
she did and as to how she formulated Plaintiff's residual
functional capacity (“RFC”).
As Plaintiff acknowledges, the ALJ actually afforded
“significant” weight to Dr. Means' opinion,
with the exception as to his opinion regarding work absences.
(R. 36). Regarding Dr. Means' opinion that Plaintiff
would miss three or more days of work per month, the ALJ
discussed at significant length how such an opinion was
inconsistent with the medical evidence, including Dr.
Means' own clinical findings. She further explained that
such an opinion was inconsistent with the rest of Dr.
Means' assessment of mild to moderate limitations.
(Id.). Indeed, Dr. Means did not in any way explain
the medical basis for finding that Plaintiff would be absent
from work for that specific amount of time, nor is there
other medical evidence in the record supporting such a
finding. As such, the ALJ was justified in giving less weight
to this aspect of Dr. Means' opinion.
Plaintiff further argues that the ALJ erred in not
specifically addressing the Global Assessment of Functioning
(“GAF”) score of 50 assessed to him by Dr. Means.
Although the ALJ did not specifically discuss this score,
under the facts of this case, the Court ...