United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania
OPINION AND ORDER
Donetta W. Ambrose United States Senior District Judge.
Paul Rayburg (“Rayburg”) brings this action
seeking judicial review of the ALJ's decision denying a
claim for a period of disability and disability insurance
benefits (“DIB”). Rayburg filed an application in
January of 2013, alleging a disability beginning on March of
2007 due to both physical and mental symptoms. He appeared and
testified at a July 3, 22014 hearing, as did a vocational
expert. The ALJ denied Rayburg's claim, finding him
capable of performing a significant number of jobs in the
national economy. Rayburg has appealed. Pending are Cross
Motions for Summary Judgment. Docket no. 14 and Docket no.
16. After careful consideration, I find Rayburg's
arguments to be unpersuasive. Consequently, the ALJ's
decision is affirmed.
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
Amore 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). Determining whether
substantial evidence exists is “not merely a
quantitative exercise.” Gilliland v. Heckler, 786 F.2d
178, 183 (3d Cir. 1986) (citing Kent v. Schweiker, 710 F.2d
110, 114 (3d Cir. 1983)). “A single piece of evidence
will not satisfy the substantiality test if the secretary
ignores, or fails to resolve, a conflict created by
countervailing evidence. Nor is evidence substantial if it is
overwhelmed by other evidence - particularly certain types of
evidence (e.g., that offered by treating physicians).”
Id. The Commissioner's findings of fact, if
supported by substantial evidence, are conclusive. 42 U.S.C.
Â§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. Â§706.
ALJ's RFC Assessment is Supported By Substantial Evidence
urges that the ALJ's residual functional capacity
assessment (“RFC”) contradicts Social Security
Ruling 96-6p and is not supported by substantial evidence of
record. As to the first contention, Rayburg does not cite to
any specific portion of SSR 96-6p, nor does he cite to any
case law in support of his proposition. He seems to reason
that because the ALJ relied upon the opinion issued by Dr.
Wyszomierski, who issued her opinion before receiving and
reviewing all the medical records, that opinion is invalid. I
disagree. SSR 96-6p sets forth the policy guiding the weight
to accord to competing medical opinions. Here, the ALJ had
only one medical opinion - that provided by the state agency
physician Dr. Wyszomierski. Rayburg's physicians did not
provide any opinions regarding his residual functional
capacity or any limiting effects of his impairments. The ALJ
adequately explained why he gave weight to Dr.
Dr. Wyszomierski provided a persuasive and detailed
assessment of the claimant's functional capacity. Her
opinions regarding the claimant's right shoulder
limitations are supported by the two surgical interventions
discussed above in conjunction with the claimant's
ongoing complaints of pain. Her opinions pertaining to the
claimant's left shoulder restrictions are supported by
Dr. Anderson's medical assessment. Unlike the medical
sources of record, Dr. Wyszomierski had the opportunity to
review the claimant's longitudinal medical history for
the entire relevant period under consideration.
(R. 29) Further, although Dr. Wyszomierski may have issued
her opinion prior to receipt of some of the records from
Rayburg's treating pain specialist, case law supports the
proposition that the ALJ is entitled to rely upon the
findings of an agency evaluator even if there is a lapse of
time between the report and the hearing. See Chandler v.
Comm'r. of Soc. Sec., 667 F.3d 356, 361 (3d Cir. 2012).
Thus, there is nothing inherently wrong with relying upon a
state agency evaluator's opinion rendered prior to
receipt of the entirety of the medical records. Rather, the
cogent issue is whether records issued or received after the
state agency physician prepared his/her report are at odds
with that report. My review of the record does not reveal
anything compelling in Dr. Trachtman's records. He did
not issue an opinion regarding Rayburg's functional
abilities. Further, the ALJ had the entire longitudinal
history of Rayburg's treatment in formulating the RFC. He
acknowledged Dr. Trachtman's prescription of pain
medication and the record notations over the course of
treatment that Rayburg was “stable” and that the
medications had improved his pain. (R. 29) As such, I find no
violation of Rule 96-6p.
Rayburg's contention that the ALJ's RFC analysis is
without substantial evidentiary support, I again reject his
contention. Specifically, Rayburg faults the ALJ for citing
to only portions of some of Dr. Trachtman's office notes
and records. However, it is clear from the ALJ's decision
that he reviewed Dr. Trachtman's records. (R. 29,
referencing Dr. Trachtman's records) Further, the Third
Circuit Court has stated that “[t]here is no
requirement that the ALJ discuss in its opinion every tidbit
of evidence included in the record.” Hur v. Barnhart,
94 Fed. App'x. 130, 133 (3d Cir. 2004). There is no
expectation that the ALJ “make reference to every
relevant treatment note.” Fargnoli v. Massanari, 247
F.3d 34, 42 (3d Cir. 2001). The ALJ was not required to
reference each of Dr. Trachtman's notations in the record
and I find no evidence that the ALJ mischaracterized the
I find that substantial evidence supports the ALJ's RFC
finding. Again, as stated above, Dr. Trachtman did not offer
any expert opinion regarding Rayburg's limitations. Dr.
Wyszomierski did. She opined that Rayburg was capable of
occasionally lifting / carrying up to 20 pounds and of
frequently lifting / carrying up to 10. (R. 82) She found
that Rayburg could stand / walk about 6 hours and sit about 6
hours in an 8-hour workday. (R. 82-84) She further found that
Rayburg was limited in his upper extremities with respect to
his ability to push and / or pull. (R. 83) She ascribed
certain postural limitations and manipulative limitations to
him, again referencing his shoulder injuries. (R. 83) The ALJ
inquired of the vocational expert whether an individual with
the functional limitations identified by Dr. Wyszomierski
could perform any occupations. The VE responded that a person
with such limitations could perform certain unskilled jobs
such as an office helper, a mail clerk and a photocopying
machine operator. (R. 31) The ALJ in turn relied upon this
testimony in formulating the RFC, taking into account the
medication prescribed by Dr. Trachtman. (R. 29 stating,
“[h]is narcotic pain medicine precludes him from
occupations requiring exposure to workplace hazards.”)
Simply stated, substantial evidence supports the ALJ's
RFC analysis and there is no basis for remand.
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE WESTERN ...