United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania
AMBROSE, Senior District Judge
before the Court are Cross Motions for Summary Judgment. (ECF
Nos. 10 and 12). Both parties have filed Briefs in Support of
their Motions. (ECF Nos. 11 and 13). 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. 10) and denying
Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment. (ECF No. 12).
brought this action for review of the final decision of the
Commissioner of Social Security (“Commissioner")
denying her applications for disability insurance benefits
(“DIB”) and supplemental security income
(“SSI”) pursuant to the Social Security Act
(“Act"). Plaintiff filed her applications alleging
she has been disabled since February 6, 2012. (ECF No. 8-5,
pp. 2, 10 and 12). Administrative Law Judge
(“ALJ”), David J. Kozma, held a hearing on
February 20, 2014. (ECF No. 8-2, pp. 39-55). On March 19,
2014, the ALJ found that Plaintiff was not disabled under the
Social Security Act. (ECF No. 8-2, pp. 22-34).
exhausting all of his administrative remedies thereafter,
Plaintiff filed this action. The parties have filed
Cross-Motions for Summary Judgment. (ECF Nos. 10 and 12). 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. Â§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).
Weighing Opinion Evidence as it relates to the Residual
consider Plaintiff's argument regarding the weighing of
opinion evidence as it relates to her residual functional
capacity first, as I believe it is a threshold issue.
Plaintiff argues that the ALJ erred in the weighing of the
mental opinion evidence in formulating Plaintiff's RFC
such that remand is warranted. (ECF No. 11, pp. 12-14). After
a review of the evidence, I agree.
amount of weight accorded to medical opinions is
well-established. Generally, the ALJ will give more weight to
the opinion of a source who has examined the claimant than to
a non-examining source. 20 C.F.R. § 416.927(c)(1). In
addition, the ALJ generally will give more weight to opinions
from a treating physician, “since these sources are
likely to be the medical professionals most able to provide a
detailed, longitudinal picture of [a claimant's] medical
impairment(s) and may bring a unique perspective to the
medical evidence that cannot be obtained from the objective
medical findings alone or from reports of individual
examinations, such as consultative examinations or brief
hospitalizations.” Id. § 416.927(c)(2).
If the ALJ finds that “a treating source's opinion
on the issue(s) of the nature and severity of [a
claimant's] impairment(s) is well-supported by medically
acceptable clinical and laboratory diagnostic techniques and
is not inconsistent with the other ...