United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania
JUSTIN A. MORTON, Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.
OPINION AND ORDER OF COURT
Donetta W. Ambrose Donetta W. Ambrose U.S. Senior District
before the Court are Cross-Motions for Summary Judgment. [ECF
Nos. 9 and 11]. Both parties have filed Briefs in Support of
their Motions. [ECF Nos. 10 and 12]. After careful
consideration of the submissions of the parties, and based on
my Opinion set forth below, I am granting Defendant's
Motion for Summary Judgment [ECF No. 11] and denying
Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment [ECF No. 9].
has brought this action for review of the final decision of
the Commissioner of Social Security
(“Commissioner”) denying his application for
Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”) under Title
II of the Social Security Act (“Act”) and for
Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”) under Title
XVI of the Act. On or about October 20, 2010, Plaintiff
applied for DIB and SSI. [R. 87, 97, 255-265]. In both
applications, he alleged that since October 1, 2008, he had
been disabled due to epilepsy, seizures, frequent migraines,
inability to lift over 40 pounds, problems concentrating,
short- to long-term memory loss, and trouble sleeping.
Id. His last date insured is September 30, 2010.
[R.14]. The state agency denied his claims initially, and he
requested an administrative hearing. [R. 134-159].
Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) Marty Pillion
held a hearing on November 10, 2011. [R. 79-83]. At that
hearing, Plaintiff was not represented by counsel, so the ALJ
postponed the case to allow Plaintiff the opportunity to
retain counsel. Id. ALJ Pillion held a second
hearing on January 5, 2012, at which Plaintiff was
represented by counsel. [R. 28-78]. Plaintiff appeared at the
hearing and testified on his own behalf. Id.
Plaintiff's girlfriend, Cindy George; Plaintiff's
uncle, Donald Morton; and a vocational expert also were
present at the hearing and testified. [R. 62-75]. In a
decision dated March 28, 2012, the ALJ found that jobs
existed in significant numbers in the national economy that
Plaintiff could perform and, therefore, that Plaintiff was
not disabled under the Act. [R. 12-22]. Plaintiff requested
review of the ALJ's determination by the Appeals Council,
and, on August 14, 2013, the Appeals Council denied
Plaintiff's request for review. [R. 1-6].
exhausted all of his administrative remedies, Plaintiff filed
an action in this Court on March 24, 2014. [R. 676-678]. On
May 4, 2015, I issued an opinion and order granting
Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment and remanding the
matter for consideration of Plaintiff's testimony and
other record evidence regarding his lack of medical insurance
as an explanation for his failure to pursue more regular and
aggressive medical treatment, especially with regard to his
headaches. [R. 679-691]. On June 24, 2015, the Appeals
Council vacated the final decision of the Commissioner and
remanded the matter to an ALJ for action consistent with my
May 4, 2015 Order. [R. 692-695].
Law Judge (“ALJ”) Michael S. Kaczmarek held a
hearing on November 24, 2015, at which Plaintiff was
represented by counsel. [R. 591-650]. Plaintiff appeared at
the hearing and testified on his own behalf. Id.
Plaintiff's case manager, Samantha McClain, and a
vocational expert also were present at the hearing and
testified. [R. 635-647]. In a decision dated May 25, 2016,
the ALJ found that jobs existed in significant numbers in the
national economy that Plaintiff could perform and, therefore,
that Plaintiff was not disabled under the Act. [R. 569-582].
Plaintiff subsequently filed an action directly with this
Court on July 25, 2016. [ECF No. 1].
parties have filed Cross-Motions for Summary Judgment. [ECF
Nos. 9 and 11]. The issues are now ripe for my review.
II. LEGAL ANALYSIS
A. STANDARD OF REVIEW
standard of review in social security cases is whether
substantial evidence exists in the record to support the
Commissioner's decision. Allen v. Bowen, 881
F.2d 37, 39 (3d Cir. 1989). Substantial evidence has been
defined as “more than a mere scintilla. It means such
relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as
adequate.” Ventura v. Shalala, 55 F.3d 900,
901 (3d Cir. 1995) (quoting Richardson v. Perales,
402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971)). Additionally, the
Commissioner's findings of fact, if supported by
substantial evidence, are conclusive. 42 U.S.C. §
405(g); Dobrowolsky v. Califano, 606 F.2d 403, 406
(3d Cir. 1979). A district court cannot conduct a de
novo review of the Commissioner's decision or
re-weigh the evidence of record. Palmer v. Apfel,
995 F.Supp. 549, 552 (E.D. Pa. 1998). Where the ALJ's
findings of fact are supported by substantial evidence, a
court is bound by those findings, even if the court would
have decided the factual inquiry differently. Hartranft
v. Apfel, 181 F.3d 358, 360 (3d Cir. 1999). To determine
whether a finding is supported by substantial evidence,
however, the district court must review the record as a
whole. See 5 U.S.C. § 706.
eligible for social security benefits, the plaintiff must
demonstrate that he cannot engage in substantial gainful
activity because of a 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 at least 12 months. 42 U.S.C. § 1382(a)(3)(A);
Brewster v. Heckler, 786 F.2d 581, 583 (3d Cir.
Commissioner has provided the ALJ with a five-step sequential
analysis to use when evaluating the disabled status of each
claimant. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 416.920. The ALJ
must determine: (1) whether the claimant is currently engaged
in substantial gainful activity; (2) if not, whether the
claimant has a severe impairment; (3) if the claimant has a
severe impairment, whether it meets or equals the criteria
listed in 20 C.F.R. pt. 404, subpt. P, app. 1; (4) if the
impairment does not satisfy one of the impairment listings,
whether the claimant's impairments prevent him from
performing his past relevant work; and (5) if the claimant is
incapable of performing his past relevant work, whether he
can perform any other work which exists in the national
economy, in light of his age, education, work experience and
residual functional capacity. 20 C.F.R. §§
404.1520, 416.920. The claimant carries the initial burden of
demonstrating by medical evidence that he is unable to return
to her previous employment (steps 1-4). Dobrowolsky,
606 F.2d at 406. Once the claimant meets this burden, the
burden of proof shifts to the Commissioner to show that the
claimant can engage in alternative substantial gainful
activity (step 5). Id.
district court, after reviewing the entire record may affirm,
modify, or reverse the decision with or without remand to the
Commissioner for rehearing. Podedwo ...