United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania
M. MUNLEY JUDGE
the court for disposition is Magistrate Judge Gerald B.
Cohn's report and recommendation (hereinafter
“R&R”). (Doc. 22). The R&R proposes
denying Plaintiff Dwayne Granton's (hereinafter
“plaintiff” or “claimant”) appeal of
Defendant Social Security Administration's (hereinafter
“SSA”) decision denying his application for
supplemental security income (hereinafter
“SSI”). Plaintiff filed objections to the R&R
(Doc. 23), and they are ripe for disposition.
August 1, 2011, plaintiff filed a protective
application for SSI due to bipolar, anxiety disorder,
panic disorder, depression, and a learning disorder. (Doc.
10, Admin. Record (hereinafter “R.”) at 34;
250-58; 321).Originally, plaintiff alleged that his
disability began on July 1, 2011. (R. at 250). He later
amended his disability onset date to October 28, 2011. (R. at
211). On January 5, 2012, the SSA denied plaintiff's
application. (R. at 113-17). Plaintiff then filed a request
for a hearing before an administrative law judge (hereinafter
“ALJ”). (R. at 121-23).
held hearings on May 2, 2013, and November 20, 2013.
Plaintiff testified via telephone that he was born June 3,
1977, and obtained a GED in 1997. (R. at 37, 41). He worked
as a cleaner for Imperial Commercial Cleaning. (R. at 40,
43). Since July of 2011, he worked sporadically for Labor
Group, Performance Group, and Stop and Shop. (R. at 44,
54-55). Plaintiff has been incarcerated at least three times
for convictions of robbery, weapons possession, and retail
left. (R. at 37-39).
mentioned above, plaintiff has alleged a disability onset
date of October 28, 2011, for mental health issues. (R. at
211). Plaintiff testified that he received no inpatient
hospitalization for mental health limitations since October
of 2011. (R. at 45). Additionally, he received no intensive
outpatient treatment for mental health. (R. at 45-46).
Plaintiff also testified, however, that he lived in a mental
health unit while incarcerated because he is unhappy, sad,
not functioning, and endures panic attacks. (R. at 62-64).
Plaintiff testified he is unable to work because he
“was told in a work environment that [he] was not able
to keep up and perform the work properly . . . .” (R.
at 53). Stated differently, he testified that his supervisors
would not let him work because he “wasn't able to
perform to their standard.” (R. at 53; 60-61).
decision issued on November 27, 2013, the ALJ denied
plaintiff's claims, finding that plaintiff is not
disabled. (R. at 8-30). Plaintiff requested that the SSA
Appeals Council review the ALJ's decision, but the
Appeals Council denied plaintiff's request on March 9,
2015. (R. at 1-5). Thus, the ALJ's decision stood as the
Commissioner's final decision.
result of the Commissioner's denial of SSI, plaintiff
filed an appeal to this court on May 7, 2015. The Clerk of
Court assigned plaintiff's appeal to Magistrate Judge
Gerald B. Cohn, and on February 14, 2017, Magistrate Judge
Cohn recommended that plaintiff's appeal be denied on
grounds that substantial evidence supports the ALJ's
decision. (Doc. 22). Plaintiff filed timely objections to the
R&R (Doc. 23), and they are ripe for disposition.
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 . . . .”).
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.
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). The United States Supreme Court has defined
“substantial evidence” as “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 Third Circuit
Court of Appeals has explained that “substantial
evidence has been defined as ‘more than a mere
scintilla'; it means ‘such relevant evidence as a
reasonable mind might accept as adequate.'”
Hagans, 694 F.3d at 292 (quoting Plummer,
186 F.3d at 427).
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 its own conclusion 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.
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 evidence. Johnson v. Comm'r of
Soc. Sec., 529 F.3d 198, 204 (3d Cir. 2008). Therefore,
a court reviewing the decision of the Commissioner must
scrutinize the record as a whole. Smith v. Califano,
637 F.2d 968, 970 (3d Cir. 1981).
receive disability benefits, the plaintiff must demonstrate
an “inability to engage in any substantial gainful
activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or
mental impairment which can be expected to result in death or
which has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous
period of not less than 12 months.” 42 U.S.C. §
423(d)(1)(A) (emphasis added). An individual is incapable of
engaging in “substantial gainful activity” when
“his physical or mental impairment or impairments are
of such severity that he is not only unable to do his
previous work but cannot, considering his age, education, and
work experience, engage in any other kind of substantial
gainful work which exists in the national economy[.]”
42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(2)(A).
Commissioner evaluates SSI claims with a five-step sequential
analysis. 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(a)(4). This analysis
requires the Commissioner to consider, in sequence, whether a
claimant (1) is engaging in substantial gainful activity; (2)
has an impairment, or combination of impairments, that is
severe; (3) has an impairment or combination of
impairments that meets or equals the requirements of a
“listed impairment”; (4) has the “residual
functional capacity” to return to his or her past work;
and (5) if not, whether he or she can perform other work in
the national economy. 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(a)(4)(i)-(v).
applying the five-step sequential analysis in the instant
case, the ALJ found at Step 1 that plaintiff had not engaged
in substantial gainful activity since October 28, 2011. (R.
at 13). At Step 2, she found that plaintiff has the following
severe impairments: affective disorder; anxiety-related
disorder; history of borderline intellectual functioning;
personality disorder; polysubstance abuse disorder; and
status-post gunshot wound to the abdomen. (R. at 13-14). At
Step 3, the ALJ found that plaintiff does not have an
impairment or combination of impairments that meets or
medically equals the severity of one of the listed
impairments. (R. at 14-18).
next determined that plaintiff has the residual functional
capacity (hereinafter “RFC”) to
perform light work . . . with the following additional
restrictions: requires regular breaks, defined as a ten to
fifteen minute break midway through the first half of the
shift, a similar break midway through the second half of the
shift, a twenty to thirty minute break halfway through the
shift, and one or two five to ten minute unscheduled restroom
or drink breaks; use of bilateral hand/arm levers or cranks
limited to occasionally; climbing stairs limited to
occasionally; avoid altogether climbing ladders, ropes,
scaffolding, or poles as part of the work; stooping,
kneeling, crouching or squatting limited to occasionally;
avoid altogether crawling on hands and knees or feet as part
of the work; avoid concentrated exposure to extreme cold;
avoid altogether work around or with vibrating objects or
surfaces; no work around drugs, alcohol, or prescription
drugs; limited to simple duties that can be learned on the
job in a short period of time and that are consistent with
occupations having no GED value greater than one; avoid
altogether required direction interaction, not just contact,
with the general public as part of the work; no more than
occasional required direct interaction, not just contact,
with coworkers as part of the work; and avoid work at a
production rate pace that requires constant pushing or
pulling of materials.
(R. at 118-23). The ALJ then proceeded to Step 4 of the
sequential evaluation and received testimony from an
impartial vocational expert (hereinafter “VE”).
testified that plaintiff could no longer work as a cleaner.
(R. at 74-75). Based on this testimony and a finding that the
non-exertional demands of plaintiff's past work exceed
the RFC, the ALJ found at Step 4 that plaintiff is unable to
perform any past relevant work. (R. at 23).
at Step 5, the ALJ determined that plaintiff could still
perform other work that exists in significant numbers in the
national economy. (R. at 24-25). Specifically, the ALJ found
that plaintiff could work as a bakery worker, bakery racker,
binder/machine feeder/offbearer, or poultry eviscerator. (R.
at 24). Because the ALJ concluded that plaintiff is capable