United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania
THOMAS J. SEIFERT, Plaintiff,
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.
N. Bloch United States District Judge
NOW, this 30th 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).
HEREBY ORDERED that Plaintiff's Motion for Summary
Judgment (document No. 10) is DENIED and Defendant's
Motion for Summary Judgment (document No. 12) is GRANTED.
 Plaintiff raises several arguments
that the Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) erred
in finding him to be not disabled under the Social Security
Act. Some are without legal merit, some are just factually
wrong, but none warrant remand of this matter. Instead, the
Court finds that substantial evidence supports the ALJ's
The Court will begin with the last issue raised by
counsel in Plaintiff's brief, that the ALJ's
credibility finding is contrary to law and not supported by
substantial evidence because the ALJ allegedly failed to
acknowledge Plaintiff's strong work record of 37 years
prior to his alleged onset date. Counsel asserts that
“[i]t cannot be reasonably disputed that a strong work
history is one of the factors an adjudicator must consider
when evaluating credibility” and that “it also
cannot be reasonably disputed that the ALJ failed altogether
to discuss Plaintiff's strong work history as part of the
credibility assessment.” (Doc. No. 11 at 15). The first
of these claims probably cannot reasonably be disputed. The
second most assuredly can. Counsel apparently missed the
portion of the decision where the ALJ expressly discussed
Plaintiff's work history and its impact on his
credibility and limitations at significant length. (R.
41-42). Suffice to say, the issue was more than adequately
considered by the ALJ.
Continuing to work in reverse, Plaintiff's third
argument is that the ALJ did not adequately account for his
urinary incontinence with increased urinary frequency by
including in Plaintiff's residual functional capacity
(“RFC”) that he needed ready access to a
restroom, but that the need to use the restroom could be
accommodated by normal morning, afternoon, and lunch breaks.
(R. 37). Rather than pointing to the record evidence that
would support a finding that he needs more bathroom breaks,
Plaintiff urges the Court to take the commonsensical approach
that someone with urinary problems such as his would not be
able to use the restroom on such a precise schedule. However,
the ALJ actually discussed this issue at some length,
pointing out that Plaintiff's treatment for his urinary
condition consisted of a single visit to his primary care
physician in October 2014, where he was treated for an acute
urinary track infection, with no reports of ongoing problems
in the months between that treatment and the hearing. (R.
41). He also noted that Plaintiff himself had denied any
incontinence during that treatment. (Id.).
Accordingly, the ALJ sufficiently considered all of the
evidence in determining what limitations needed to be
included in the RFC regarding use of the restroom.
Substantial evidence supports his finding that ready access,
without any necessary additional break time, sufficiently
addressed Plaintiff's impairments.
Plaintiff further argues that the limitation to medium
work in his RFC is flawed because no medical opinion of
record specifically found him to be able to perform that
level of work. He contends that, pursuant to Doak v.
Heckler, 790 F.2d 26 (3d Cir. 1986), the ALJ was
required to rely upon a specific medical opinion in
formulating Plaintiff's RFC and in finding him to be able
to do medium work. However, as the Court previously explained
in Doty v. Colvin, Civ. No. 13-80-J, 2014 WL 29036
(W.D. Pa. Jan. 2, 2014), this Court does not agree with
Plaintiff's interpretation of Doak. Rather, the
Court has repeatedly held that the decision in Doak
does not provide that an ALJ's RFC findings must be based
on a particular medical opinion or that an ALJ may only
reject a medical opinion as to functional limitations based
on another opinion. Instead, the Third Circuit Court of
Appeals, in Doak, held simply that nothing in the
record in that case, which consisted of nothing more than
testimony and three medical reports, supported the ALJ's
finding that the claimant could perform light work. While the
Circuit pointed out that none of the three reports contained
a suggestion from a physician that the claimant could perform
light work, in no way did it suggest that a finding of light
work could only be supported if one of the three had
expressly opined that the claimant could perform such work,
nor did it find that their contrary opinions precluded such a
finding per se.
Indeed, as this Court explained in Doty,
interpreting Doak in the manner suggested by
Plaintiff would ignore the fact that “[t]he ALJ -- not
treating or examining physicians or State agency consultants
-- must make the ultimate disability and RFC
determinations.” Chandler v. Comm'r of Soc.
Sec., 667 F.3d 356, 361 (3d Cir. 2011). See
also 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1527(d)(2), 404.1546(c).
Such an interpretation would also ignore the fact that
“[t]here is no legal requirement that a physician have
made the particular findings that an ALJ adopts in the course
of determining an RFC.” Titterington v.
Barnhart, 174 Fed.Appx. 6, 11 (3d Cir. 2006). See
also Chandler, 667 F.3d at 362 (holding that each fact
incorporated into the RFC need not have been found by a
medical expert). As the Circuit Court explained in
Titterington, “[s]urveying the medical
evidence to craft an RFC is part of an ALJ's
duties.” 174 Fed.Appx. at 11. Consistent with this
later case law, Doak does not prohibit the ALJ from
making an RFC assessment even if no doctor has specifically
made the same findings. See Hayes v. Astrue, Civ.
No. 07-710, 2007 WL 4456119, at *2 (E.D. Pa. Dec. 17, 2007).
The Third Circuit, in Doak, did nothing more than
make a substantial evidence finding in light of the record of
the case and did not purport to create a rule that an RFC
determination must be based on a specific medical opinion,
and subsequent Third Circuit case law confirms this
understanding. See also Mays v. Barnhart, 78
Fed.Appx. 808, 813 (3d Cir. 2003); Cummings v.
Colvin, No. 1:14-cv-251-TFM, 2015 WL 4092321, at **5-6
(W.D. Pa. July 7, 2015); Carter v. Colvin, Civ. No.
2:14-1498, 2015 WL 1866208, at *10 n.3 (W.D. Pa. Apr. 23,
2015); Goodson v. Colvin, Civ. No. 13-01719, 2014 WL
5308021, at *3 (Oct. 16, 2014).
Of course, in any event, substantial evidence must
support an ALJ's findings as to the claimant's RFC.
Here, however, substantial evidence does support the
ALJ's findings. The ALJ thoroughly discussed all of the
evidence, including Plaintiff's own subjective claims
(which, contrary to Plaintiff's assertion, did not
constitute the only evidence in the record regarding his
limitations); the objective diagnostic and clinical findings;
Plaintiff's benign treatment history, including his
refusal of more advanced treatment such as physical therapy;
and the fact that Plaintiff's reported symptoms have been
sporadic and have improved with medication. (R. 38-39,
40-41). He explained that Plaintiff's physical conditions
could be accommodated by a limitation to medium work with
numerous other postural, reaching, and environmental
limitations. (R. 41). In light of his careful review of the
evidence, and the fact that no medical source opined that
Plaintiff had more severe physical limitations, substantial
evidence supports the ALJ's finding.
Perhaps Plaintiff's primary argument is that the
ALJ erred in finding that Plaintiff could perform the jobs
identified by the vocational expert (“VE”) -
polisher, linen room attendant, and hand packer - at the
hearing. Plaintiff claims that the ALJ was required to
resolve the conflict between the VE's testimony that he
could perform these jobs and the requirements of these
positions pursuant to the Dictionary of Occupational Titles
(“DOT”), which he alleges were incompatible with
the reading, writing, and mathematical limitations contained
in his RFC. The Court disagrees for various reasons and finds
that the ALJ properly relied on the testimony of the VE in
finding that Plaintiff could perform jobs that exist in
significant numbers in the national economy
It is important to be clear and accurate as to the
ALJ's RFC findings, the VE's testimony, and the
requirements for the positions of polisher, linen room
attendant, and hand packer in the DOT. Plaintiff
characterizes the ALJ as having found that he was limited to
work that requires “no ability to read, write,
or perform math.” (Doc. No. 11 at 1 n.1)(emphasis in
the original). This is not, however, what the ALJ found. At
no point did the ALJ find that Plaintiff had no ability to
read, write, or perform mathematics at all; rather, he
included a restriction in the RFC that Plaintiff could
“perform no work involving reading, writing, or
arithmetic.” (R. 37). He expressly found that the
record did not fully support Plaintiff's allegations
regarding his limitations in these areas. (R. 39).
Accordingly, the ALJ did not find that Plaintiff was
illiterate or incapable of performing any mathematics, but
only that he was limited to jobs not “involving”
these skills. Based on this finding, and on the ALJ's
hypothetical question, the VE testified that a person with
Plaintiff's RFC could perform work as a polisher, DOT
761.684-026; a linen room attendant, DOT 222.387-030; and a
hand packer, DOT 920.587-018. (R. 82-84). The ALJ asked the
VE whether this testimony was consistent with the DOT, and
the VE stated that it was. (R. 84).
As noted, these jobs are all listed in the DOT.
“The DOT is a vocational dictionary that lists and
defines all jobs available in the national economy and
specifies what qualifications are needed to perform each
job.” McHerrin v. Astrue, Civ. No. 09-2035,
2010 WL 3516433, at *3 (E.D. Pa. Aug. 31, 2010) (citing
S.S.R. 00-4p, 2000 WL 1898704 (Dec. 4, 2000)). Among other
qualifications, jobs in the DOT are assigned a General
Educational Development (“GED”) level, which
includes a reasoning, mathematical, and language development
level. See DOT, App. C, § III. The GED
generally “embraces those aspects of education (formal
and informal) which are required of the worker for
satisfactory job performance.” Id. The three
component parts of the GED - reasoning development
(“RD”), mathematical development
(“MD”), and language development
(“LD”) - are each rated on a scale from 1 to 6,
with 1 representing the lowest degree of required
development. As Plaintiff points out, two of the positions
which the VE testified, and the ALJ found, he could perform -
polisher and hand packer - have MD and LD levels of 1, while