United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania
N. Bloch United States District Judge
NOW, this 19th day of July, 2017, upon
consideration of Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment
(Doc. No. 11) filed in the above-captioned matter on
September 1, 2016, IT IS HEREBY ORDERED that said Motion is
further, upon consideration of Plaintiff s Motion for Summary
Judgment (Doc. No. 8) filed in the above-captioned matter on
August 5, 2016, IT IS HEREBY ORDERED that said Motion is
GRANTED IN PART and DENIED IN PART. Specifically, Plaintiffs
Motion is granted to the extent that it seeks a remand to the
Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner")
for further evaluation as set forth below, and denied in all
other respects. Accordingly, this matter is hereby remanded
to the Commissioner for further evaluation under sentence
four of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) in light of this Order.
January 28, 2011, Plaintiff Jodi Lynn Waldor filed a claim
for Disability Insurance Benefits under Title II of the
Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 401-434.
Specifically, Plaintiff claimed that she became disabled on
February 10, 2010, due to occipital neuralgia, depression,
bipolar, diabetes, and high blood pressure. (R. 168).
being denied initially on May 20, 2011, Plaintiff sought, and
obtained, a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge
("ALJ") on August 30, 2012. (R. 5-6, 84-88, 29-66).
In a decision dated September 7, 2012, the ALJ denied
Plaintiffs request for benefits. (R. 7-28). The Appeals
Council declined to review the ALJ's decision on
September 23, 2013. (R. 1-4). Plaintiff filed an appeal with
this Court, and, upon review, the Court remanded the case to
the ALJ for reconsideration consistent with the Court's
remand, another hearing was held before the ALJ on October 8,
2015. (R. 761-805). In a decision dated November 17, 2015,
the ALJ again denied Plaintiffs request for benefits. (R.
737-56). Plaintiff did not file exceptions to the ALJ's
decision, and the Appeals Council declined to assume
jurisdiction. The ALJ's decision dated November 17, 2015,
thus became final 61 days later. See 20 C.F.R. §
404.984(d). Plaintiff filed a timely appeal with this Court,
and the parties have filed cross-motions for summary
Standard of Review
review of a social security case is based upon the pleadings
and the transcript of the record. See 42 U.S.C.
§ 405(g). The scope of review is limited to determining
whether the Commissioner applied the correct legal standards
and whether the record, as a whole, contains substantial
evidence to support the Commissioner's findings of fact.
See Matthews v. Apfel, 239 F.3d 589, 592 (3d Cir.
2001) (noting that '"[t]he findings of the
Commissioner of Social Security as to any fact, if supported
by substantial evidence, shall be conclusive'"
(quoting 42 U.S.C. § 405(g))); Schaudeck v.
Commissioner of Soc. Sec. Admin., 181 F.3d 429, 431 (3d
Cir. 1999) (stating that the court has plenary review of all
legal issues, and reviews the ALJ's findings of fact to
determine whether they are supported by substantial
evidence" is defined as '"more than a mere
scintilla. It means such relevant evidence as a reasonable
mind might accept as adequate'" to support a
conclusion. Plummer v. Apfel, 186 F.3d 422, 427 (3d
Cir. 1999) (quoting Ventura v. Shalala, 55 F.3d 900,
901 (3d Cir. 1995)). However, a '"single piece of
evidence will not satisfy the substantiality test if the
[Commissioner] ignores, or fails to resolve, a conflict
created by countervailing evidence.'" Morales v.
Apfel, 225 F.3d 310, 317 (3d Cir. 2000) (quoting
Kent v. Schweiker, 710 F.2d 110, 114 (3d Cir.
1983)). '"Nor is evidence substantial if it is
overwhelmed by other evidence- particularly certain types of
evidence (e.g., that offered by treating physicians)-or if it
really constitutes not evidence but mere
disability is established when the claimant can demonstrate
some medically determinable basis for an impairment that
prevents him or her from engaging in any substantial gainful
activity for a statutory twelve-month period. See
Fargnoli v. Massanari, 247 F.3d 34, 38-39 (3d Cir.
2001). "A claimant is considered unable to engage in any
substantial gainful activity 'only if 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 ....'" Id. at 39
(quoting 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(2)(A)).
Social Security Administration has promulgated regulations
incorporating a five-step sequential evaluation process for
determining whether a claimant is under a disability as
defined by the Act. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520.
In Step One, the Commissioner must determine whether the
claimant is currently engaging in substantial gainful
activity. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(b). If so,
the disability claim will be denied. See Bowen v.
Yuckert, 482 U.S. 137, 140 (1987). If not, the second
step of the process is to determine whether the claimant is
suffering from a severe impairment. See 20 C.F.R.
§ 404.1520(c). "An impairment or combination of
impairments is not severe if it does not significantly limit
[the claimant's] physical or mental ability to do basic
work activities." 20 C.F.R. § 404.1522(a). If the
claimant fails to show that his or her impairments are
"severe, " he or she is ineligible for disability
benefits. If the claimant does have a severe impairment,
however, the Commissioner must proceed to Step Three and
determine whether the claimant's impairment meets or
equals the criteria for a listed impairment. See 20
C.F.R. § 404.1520(d). If a claimant meets a listing, a
finding of disability is automatically directed. If the
claimant does not meet a listing, the analysis proceeds to
Steps Four and Five.
Four requires the ALJ to consider whether the claimant
retains the residual functional capacity ("RFC") to
perform his or her past relevant work, see 20 C.F.R. §
404.1520(e), and the claimant bears the burden of
demonstrating an inability to return to this past relevant
work, see Adorno v. Shalala, 40 F.3d 43, 46 (3d Cir.
1994). If the claimant is unable to resume his or her former
occupation, the evaluation then moves to the fifth and final
stage, the burden of production shifts to the Commissioner,
who must demonstrate that the claimant is capable of
performing other available work in the national economy in
order to deny a claim of disability. See 20 C.F.R.
§ 404.1520(g). In making this determination, the ALJ
should consider the claimant's RFC, age, education, and
past work experience. See id. The ALJ must further
analyze the cumulative effect of all the claimant's