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Parenzan v. Colvin

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

March 31, 2017

BARBARA J. PARENZAN, Plaintiff
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, [1] Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, Defendant

          MEMORANDUM

          JUDGE JAMES M. MUNLEY, Judge

         Before the court for disposition is Magistrate Judge Martin C. Carlson's report and recommendation (hereinafter “R&R”). (Doc. 17). The R&R proposes granting Plaintiff Barbara J. Parenzan's (hereinafter “plaintiff” or “claimant”) appeal of Defendant Social Security Administration's (hereinafter “defendant”) decision denying her application for disability insurance and supplemental security income benefits.[2] The defendant filed objections to the R&R (Doc. 18), and they are ripe for disposition.

         Background

         Plaintiff protectively filed a Title II application for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits on February 11, 2013. (Doc. 10-2, Admin. Record (hereinafter “R.”) at 18). Plaintiff also protectively filed a Title XVI application for supplemental security income on February 22, 2013. (R. at 17). In both applications, plaintiff alleges her disability began on March 31, 2011, due to: bilateral carpal tunnel syndrome, status-post release on the left; degenerative disc disease (hereinafter “DDD”) of the cervical spine with radiculopathy; DDD of the lumbar spine, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease; osteoarthritis of the right thumb; cystic lesion of the left wrist; depressive disorder/mood disorder; anxiety disorder; amphetamine dependence; and alcohol abuse.[3] (R. at 21).

         The Bureau of Disability Determination of the local Social Security office initially denied plaintiff's claim for benefits on May 22, 2013. (R. at 18). Plaintiff then requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (hereinafter “ALJ”). (Id.) ALJ Michele Stolls held a hearing on July 17, 2014, in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. (R. at 36-80). An impartial vocational expert, Gerald Keating, appeared at the hearing, as did the plaintiff. (Id.)

         On September 29, 2014, the ALJ denied plaintiff's application for disability insurance and supplemental security income benefits on the basis that plaintiff is not disabled under the Social Security Act. (R. at 15-30). Plaintiff then filed for review before the Social Security Administration Office of Disability Adjudication and Review Appeals Council. (R. at 12). The Appeals Council denied the request for review on January 19, 2016. (R. at 1-5). Thus, the ALJ's decision became the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security in plaintiff's case.[4] (R. at 2).

         Subsequently, plaintiff instituted the instant action to challenge the denial of benefits.[5] (Doc. 1, Compl.). She argues that substantial evidence fails to support the ALJ's decision. On February 13, 2017, Magistrate Judge Carlson recommended granting plaintiff's appeal. (Doc. 17). The defendant filed objections to the R&R (Doc. 18), and they are ripe for disposition.

         Jurisdiction

         The court has federal question jurisdiction over this Social Security Administration appeal. See 42 U.S.C. § 1383(c)(3) (“The final determination of the Commissioner of Social Security after a hearing under paragraph (1) shall be subject to judicial review as provided in section 405(g) of this title to the same extent as the Commissioner's final determinations under section 405 of this title.”); see also 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) (“Any individual, after any final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security made after a hearing to which he was a party, irrespective of the amount in controversy, may obtain a review of such decision by a civil action commenced within sixty days after the mailing to him of notice of such decision or within such further time as the Commissioner of Social Security may allow. Such action shall be brought in the district court of the United States for the judicial district in which the plaintiff resides, or has his principal place of business . . . .”).

         Standard of Review

         In disposing of objections to a magistrate judge's report and recommendation, the district court must make a de novo determination of those portions of the report against which objections are made. 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(c); see also Sullivan v. Cuyler, 723 F.2d 1077, 1085 (3d Cir. 1983). The court may accept, reject, or modify, in whole or in part, the findings or recommendations made by the magistrate judge. Henderson v. Carlson, 812 F.2d 874, 877 (3d Cir. 1987). The district court judge may also receive further evidence or recommit the matter to the magistrate judge with instructions. Id.

         In reviewing a Social Security appeal, the court must determine whether “substantial evidence” supports the ALJ's decision. See 42 U.S.C. § 405(g); Hagans v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 694 F.3d 287, 292 (3d Cir. 2012); Plummer v. Apfel, 186 F.3d 422, 427 (3d Cir. 1999). “[S]ubstantial evidence has been defined as ‘more than a mere scintilla.'” Hagans, 694 F.3d at 292 (quoting Plummer, 186 F.3d at 427). It means “such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.” Consolo v. Fed. Mar. Comm'n, 383 U.S. 607, 620 (1966).

         The court should not reverse the Commissioner's findings merely because evidence may exist to support the opposite conclusion. See 42 U.S.C. § 405(g); Rutherford v. Barnhart, 399 F.3d 546, 552 (3d Cir. 2005) (stating that courts may not weigh the evidence or substitute their own conclusions for those of the fact-finder); Fargnoli v. Massanari, 247 F.3d 34, 38 (3d Cir. 2001) (indicating that when the ALJ's findings of fact are supported by substantial evidence, courts are bound by those findings, even if they would have decided the factual inquiry differently). In an adequately developed factual record, substantial evidence may be “something less than the weight of the evidence, and the possibility of drawing two inconsistent conclusions from the evidence does not prevent an administrative agency's finding from being supported by substantial evidence.” Consolo, 383 U.S. at 620.

         Substantial evidence exists only “in relationship to all the other evidence in the record, ” Cotter v. Harris, 642 F.2d 700, 706 (3d Cir. 1981), and “must take into account whatever in the record fairly detracts from its weight.” Universal Camera Corp. v. N.L.R.B., 340 U.S. 474, 488 (1971). “When a conflict in the evidence exists, the ALJ may choose whom to credit but ‘cannot reject evidence for no reason or for the wrong reason.'” Plummer, 186 F.3d at 429 (quoting Mason v. Shalala, 994 F.2d 1058, 1066 (3d Cir. 1993)). The Commissioner must indicate which evidence was accepted, which evidence was rejected, and the reasons for rejecting certain ...


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