United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania
DARNELL JONES, II J.
Mary Huff claims she is disabled and, therefore, entitled to
supplemental income under Title XVI of the Social Security
Act. Huff commenced the instant action seeking judicial
review of the Social Security Administration's decision
denying her claim for the second time. This Court referred
the matter to the Honorable M. Faith Angell, U.S. Magistrate
Judge, for a report and recommendation (R&R). Before this
Court are Plaintiff's Objections to Judge Angell's
R&R. After an independent review of the record and the
parties' briefs, Plaintiff's Objections are overruled
and Judge Angell's R&R is approved and adopted in its
of the second denial of Plaintiff's claim depends, in
part, on this Court's prior decision to remand
Plaintiff's original claim.
This Court's Decision to Remand Plaintiff's Original
was 48 years old when she initially filed a Title XVI
application claiming disability due to a long list of
infirmities, including fibromyalgia and migraine headaches.
An Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) denied that original claim.
Admin R. 10-13, 17, ECF No. 8-2.
initial decision, the ALJ determined that Huff did not suffer
from severe fibromyalgia or migraine headaches within the
meaning of the applicable Social Security regulations. He
found instead that two of her other impairments were severe:
degenerative disc disease and mood disorder. The ALJ also
found that Huff had the residual functional capacity (RFC) to
do a limited range of light work, specifically lifting 10
pounds frequently and 20 pounds occasionally and performing
simple one- to two-step routine tasks with no decision-making
or speed work. Considering Huff's age, eleventh-grade
education, and work experience, as well as the existence of
relevant jobs in the national economy that she could perform
even with her limitations, the ALJ concluded that Huff was
not disabled within the meaning of Title XVI. Id. at
with that result, Huff commenced the first action in this
Court, requesting review and remand on the grounds that the
ALJ erred by not finding that her fibromyalgia and migraines
were severe impairments and by improperly rejecting medical
evidence offered by her treating physicians. See Huff v.
Astrue, No. 11-cv-2626, Pl.'s Br. & SI 3-14, Dkt
No. 11 (E.D.P.A. Sept. 12, 2011). Huff also claimed the ALJ
incorrectly evaluated her credibility and failed to properly
explain his assessment of her RFC. Id. at 14-21.
This Court referred the case to the Honorable Arnold C.
Rapoport, U.S. Magistrate Judge, for a report and
Rapoport recommended remanding the case to the Social
Security Administration. Admin. R. 836, ECF No. 8-14. He
found the ALJ's chronological analysis of Plaintiff's
“fibromyalgia contain[ed] inconsistencies that need[ed]
to be re-examined, ” specifically whether the ALJ
“believed that Plaintiff had been treated for
fibromyalgia for an extended period of time, as would be
implied by the statement that she has been on ‘multiple
medications for fibromyalgia in the past, '” or
whether he believed that she has only “‘recently
sought treatment' for her fibromyalgia.”
Id. at 827. Judge Rapoport also found that
substantial evidence did not support the ALJ's
determination that Plaintiff's migraines were not severe
because it was based solely on the finding that “all
testing had been negative” even though migraines are
not typically detectable “by imaging techniques or
laboratory tests.” Id. at 827-28. Lastly, he
determined that “contradictory medical evidence”
did not support the ALJ's decision to reject the opinions
of Plaintiff's treating physicians. Id. at 834.
basis, Judge Rapoport concluded that remand was necessary
because additional analysis could impact the ALJ's RFC
and credibility determinations, as well as his assessment of
the vocational expert's testimony. Id. at 835.
This Court adopted Judge Rapoport's R&R, and remanded
the claim to the Social Security Administration
On Remand, Social Security Again Denied Plaintiff's
remand, the ALJ reached the same conclusions and again denied
Huff's claim - the decision that is the subject of the
present action. Admin R. 746-61, ECF No. 8-13. Plaintiff is
again requesting review and remand for an award of benefits.
Pl.'s Br. & SI 21, ECF No. 10. On referral from this
Court, Judge Angell issued an R&R recommending that
Plaintiff's claim be denied. Plaintiff filed timely
Objections, which this Court now reviews.
to a magistrate judge's R&R are entitled to de
novo review. 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(C). A district
court judge “may accept, reject, or modify, in whole or
in part, the findings or recommendations made by the
magistrate judge.” Id. However, the review of
a final decision of the Social Security Commissioner is
deferential and is limited to determining whether the
Commissioner's decision is supported by
“substantial evidence.” 32 U.S.C. §§
405(g), 1382(c)(3); see also Jenkins v. Comm'r of
Soc. Sec., 192 F. App'x 113, 114 (3d Cir.
2006). Substantial evidence “does not mean a large or
considerable amount of evidence, but rather such relevant
evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to
support a conclusion.'” Hartranft v.
Apfel, 181 F.3d 358, 360 (3d Cir. 1999) (quoting
Pierce v. Underwood, 487 U.S. 522, 565 (1988)). In
terms of the traditional burdens of proof, substantial
evidence is “more than a mere scintilla but may be
somewhat less than a preponderance of the evidence.”
Ginsburg v. Richardson, 436 F.2d 1146, 1148 (3d Cir.
1971). In assessing whether substantial evidence supports an
ALJ's decision, a court must consider all evidence of
record regardless of whether the ALJ cited to it. Smith
v. Califano, 637 F.2d 968, 970 (3d Cir. 1981).
Objections raise the same issues presented before Judge
Angell: (1) the ALJ's finding that Plaintiff does not
have “severe fibromyalgia” or “severe
migraines” is not supported by substantial evidence;
(2) the ALJ rejected the medical opinions of Plaintiff's
treating physicians without reasonable explanation; (3) the
ALJ improperly rejected Plaintiff's testimony; and (3)
the ALJ incorrectly relied on vocational expert testimony.
Pl.'s Objs., ECF No. 18. Additionally, Plaintiff claims
the ALJ failed to comply with the Remand Order, such failure
being itself a ground for reversal. Id. at 1 (citing
Sullivan v. Hudson, 490 U.S. 877, 886 (1989)).
Because this Court agrees with Judge Angell's R&R in
all respects, and finds the ALJ complied with the Remand
Order, Plaintiff's Objections are overruled and judgment
will be entered in Defendant's favor.
The ALJ Sufficiently Justified His Determination that
Plaintiff's Fibromyalgia and Migraines
Are Not Severe
claims the ALJ did not adequately address the severity of her
fibromyalgia or migraines, and incorrectly found those
impairments to be non-severe, thereby prejudicing his
conclusion that she is not disabled. Pl.'s Objs. 2-3.
denying Plaintiff's disability claim a second time, the
ALJ followed the five-step analysis required by the Social
Security Administration's regulations, 20 C.F.R. §
416.920. See Admin. R. 747-60, ECF No. 8-13. At
issue here is step two, which involves evaluating
Plaintiff's medically determinable impairments and their
respective severity. See 20 C.F.R. §
416.920(a)(4)(ii), (c). It is not enough merely to identify
impairments; the ALJ must also determine whether those
impairments are severe enough to warrant further analysis.
See Newell v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 347 F.3d 541,
546 (3d Cir. 2003) (if step two's severity requirement is
met, the sequential analysis may proceed). In this case, the
ALJ concluded that Plaintiff suffered from severe
degenerative disc disease and mood disorder, but not from
severe fibromyalgia or migraines. Admin. R. 749-55, ECF No.
8-13. The ALJ completed the five-step analysis for the two