United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania
BARBARA R. BOERGER, Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security,  Defendant.
OPINION AND ORDER OF COURT
Donetta W. Ambrose U.S. Senior District Judge.
before the Court are Cross-Motions for Summary Judgment. [ECF
Nos. 10 and 14]. Both parties have filed Briefs in Support of
their Motions. [ECF Nos. 11 and 15]. After careful
consideration of the submissions of the parties, and based on
my Opinion set forth below, Defendant's Motion [ECF No.
14] is denied and Plaintiff's Motion [ECF No. 10] is
has brought this action for review of the final decision of
the Commissioner of Social Security
(“Commissioner”) denying her application for
Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”) under Title
XVI of the Social Security Act (the “Act”).
Plaintiff applied for SSI on or about July 2, 2013. [ECF No.
8-4, at 77]. In her application, she alleged that she was
disabled due to depression, headaches, and hydrocephalus, and
that she had been unable to work since April 1, 2010.
Id. at 66. Administrative Law Judge
(“ALJ”) Alma de Leon held a hearing on October
14, 2014, at which Plaintiff was represented by Barbara S.
Manna, a non-attorney representative. [ECF No. 8-3, at
38-65]. Plaintiff appeared at the hearing and testified on
her own behalf. Id. A vocational expert also was
present at the hearing and testified. Id. at 61-65.
In a decision dated October 28, 2014, 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. ECF No. 8-2, at 23-32. On, June
8, 2016, the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request
for review. Id. at 1-5. Having exhausted all of her
administrative remedies, Plaintiff filed this action.
parties have filed Cross-Motions for Summary Judgment. [ECF
Nos. 10 and 14]. The issues are now ripe for my review.
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)). 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.
§ 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, 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. § 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 her from performing her
past relevant work; and (5) if the claimant is incapable of
performing her past relevant work, whether she can perform
any other work which exists in the national economy, in light
of her age, education, work experience and residual
functional capacity. 20 C.F.R. § 416.920. The claimant
carries the initial burden of demonstrating by medical
evidence that she is unable to return to his 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).
district court, after reviewing the entire record, may
affirm, modify, or reverse the decision with or without
remand to the Commissioner for rehearing. Podedworny v.
Harris, 745 F.2d 210, 221 (3d Cir. 1984).
Headaches and Listing 11.03
two of the analysis, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had severe
impairments, including headaches, vertigo, lateral nystagmus,
major depressive disorder with psychotic features, and
post-traumatic stress disorder. [ECF No. 8-2, at 25]. At step
three of the analysis, the ALJ found that Plaintiff did not
have an impairment or combination of impairments that met or
medically equaled the severity of one of the listed
impairments in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1.
Id. at 25-26. In particular, the ALJ found that
Plaintiff's lateral nystagmus did not meet any of the
visual listings set forth at 2.02, 2.03, 2.04, or 2.07; and
that Plaintiff's mental impairments did not meet or
medically equal the criteria of Listings 12.04 and 12.06.
Id. The ALJ further found that Plaintiff had the
residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform
light work, except with the following limitations: the
claimant is able to lift up to 20 pounds occasionally, and
lift/carry up to 10 pounds frequently, while standing and
walking for about 6 hours, except that she can only
occasionally climb ladders, ropes, scaffolds, remaps, or
stairs and only occasionally balance. She also must avoid all
exposure to extreme cold, excessive vibration and hazards,
such as moving machinery and unprotected heights. The RFC
finding further limited Plaintiff to occupations that do not