United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania
Donetta W. Ambrose United States Senior District Judge.
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 Plaintiff's
Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 9) and denying
Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment. (ECF No. 11).
brought this action for review of the final decision of the
Commissioner of Social Security (“Commissioner”)
denying her applications for disability insurance benefits
and supplemental security income pursuant to the Social
Security Act (“Act”). Plaintiff filed her
applications alleging she had been disabled since December 4,
2008. (ECF Nos. 5-7, pp. 2, 4). Administrative Law Judge
(“ALJ”), Michael S. Kaczmarek, held a hearing on
January 31, 2014. (ECF No. 5-3). On July 18, 2014, the ALJ
found that Plaintiff was not disabled under the Act. (ECF No.
5-2, pp. 24-36). After exhausting all administrative
remedies, Plaintiff filed this action.
parties have filed Cross-Motions for Summary Judgment. (ECF
Nos. 9 and 11). The issues are now ripe for 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). Additionally, 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
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. § 423(d)(1)(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(a). 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., appx. 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. The claimant carries the
initial burden of demonstrating by medical evidence that he
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).
Duty to develop the record
first argues that the ALJ failed to meet his duty to properly
develop the record. (ECF No. 10, pp. 12-15). Specifically,
Plaintiff asserts that the ALJ failed to develop the record
with regard to Plaintiff's records from Jefferson
Regional Counseling Center and Dr. Wayne. Id.
Plaintiff submits that the ALJ closed the record without even
attempting to obtain the records of Dr. Wayne, despite
rejecting Dr. Wayne's treating source statement on the
basis that treatment records were missing. Id. at p.
12. Thus, Plaintiff argues that the ALJ opinion is not based
on substantial evidence such that remand is warranted.
regulations make clear that it is the plaintiff's burden
to prove that he/she is disabled, which means the plaintiff
has the duty to provide medical and other evidence showing
that he/she has an impairment(s) and how severe it is. 20
C.F.R. §§404.1512(a-c), 416.912(a-c). This burden
does not shift to the ALJ. Nonetheless, an ALJ has the duty
to develop the record sufficiently to make a determination of
disability. Ventura v. Shalala,55 F.3d 900 (3d Cir.
1995); 20 C.F.R. §§404.1512(d), 416.912(d).
Usually, the issue of whether an ALJ had developed the record