United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania
N. Bloch United States District Judge.
NOW, this 21st day of September, 2017, upon
consideration of the parties' cross motions for summary
judgment, the Court, upon review of the Acting Commissioner
of Social Security's final decision, denying
Plaintiff's claim for disability insurance benefits under
Subchapter II of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §
401 et seq., and denying Plaintiff's claim for
supplemental security income benefits under Subchapter XVI of
the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. § 1381, et
seq., finds that the Acting Commissioner's findings
are supported by substantial evidence and, accordingly,
affirms. See 42 U.S.C. § 405(g); Jesurum v.
Sec'y of U.S. Dep't of Health & Human
Servs., 48 F.3d 114, 117 (3d Cir. 1995); Williams v.
Sullivan, 970 F.2d 1178, 1182 (3d Cir. 1992), cert.
denied sub nom., 507 U.S. 924 (1993); Brown v.
Bowen, 845 F.2d 1211, 1213 (3d Cir. 1988); see also
Berry v. Sullivan, 738 F.Supp. 942, 944 (W.D. Pa. 1990)
(if supported by substantial evidence, the Commissioner's
decision must be affirmed, as a federal court may neither
reweigh the evidence, nor reverse, merely because it would
have decided the claim differently) (citing Cotter v.
Harris, 642 F.2d 700, 705 (3d Cir. 1981)).
IT IS HEREBY ORDERED that Plaintiff's Motion for Summary
Judgment (Doc. No. 7) is DENIED and Defendant's Motion
for Summary Judgment (Doc. No. 9) is GRANTED.
 Plaintiff argues, in essence, that the
Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) erred by failing
to adequately address the basis for his findings regarding
Plaintiff's limitations in his ability to interact with
supervisors, co-workers and the public, resulting in a
residual functional capacity assessment (“RFC”)
that is not supported by substantial evidence. The Court
disagrees and finds that substantial evidence supports the
ALJ's findings as well as his ultimate determination,
based on all the evidence presented, of Plaintiff's
The Court notes at the outset that an RFC is properly
based on all of the relevant evidence in the case record.
See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1545, 416.945.
Moreover, “[t]he ALJ-not treating or examining
physicians or State agency consultants-must make the ultimate
disability and RFC determinations.” Chandler v.
Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 667 F.3d 356, 361 (3d Cir.
2011) (citing 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1527(e)(1),
404.1546(c)); S.S.R. 96-5p, 1996 WL 374183 (S.S.A. 1996). An
ALJ is not limited to choosing between competing opinions in
the record, and may instead develop his own. See 20
CFR §§ 404.1546(c), 416.946(c). Thus, an ALJ is not
required to rely only on any particular physician's
opinion, and the RFC finding is actually an
administrative-rather than a medical-determination.
See 96-5p, 1996 WL 374183, *5.
In this case, the ALJ found that Plaintiff has
moderate limitations in social functioning overall, and the
RFC specifically indicates that Plaintiff is capable of work
that includes no work-related contact with the public, only
occasional and superficial interaction with co-workers, and
no more than occasional supervision. (R. 16, 17). Plaintiff
notes that, in making this finding, the ALJ relied upon the
opinion of consultative psychiatric examiner Byron E. Hillin,
Ph.D., who also found that Plaintiff had moderate limitations
in interacting with the public, co-workers, and supervisors.
(R. 19, 273). In his brief, Plaintiff does not argue that the
ALJ's moderate limitation finding is incorrect, but
instead contends that the ALJ erred in failing to explain his
reasons for finding different individual limitations with
regard to these three different types of social interactions,
when the opinion upon which the ALJ relied simply found
moderate limitations in all three categories.
As noted, supra, the ALJ's RFC
determination is properly based on all the evidence
presented, not just a single opinion, even if that opinion
was given great weight by the ALJ. Thus, just because the
opinion to which the ALJ gave great weight found that
Plaintiff had moderate limitations with regard to
interactions with the public, co-workers and supervisors does
not mean that the findings in his RFC as to those three types
of interactions had to be identical. There is a variety of
evidence in the record, including medical records, testimony,
and opinion evidence, all of which the ALJ thoroughly
discussed in his decision and clearly took into consideration
in formulating his RFC. (R. 15-20). Also, there is,
obviously, a range of limitations within any category,
whether that category is slight, moderate, marked, etc. (R.
273). When determining the specific limitations applicable to
this particular claimant, it was appropriate for the ALJ to
formulate an RFC identifying suitable limitations no less
restrictive than those that would fit within that moderate
range, taking into consideration all of the evidence
presented, which is what the ALJ did in this case.
The Court notes, further, that the RFC is defined as
the most a Plaintiff can still do despite his
limitations. See 20 C.F.R. §§
404.1545(a)(1), 416.945(a)(1). Thus, the inclusion of greater
restrictions as to certain social interactions works in
Plaintiff's favor by putting greater limits on the jobs
available to him. (R. 21). In this case, by prescribing the
limitations as to Plaintiff's ability to interact with
co-workers and the public that he did, the ALJ clearly chose
to give Plaintiff the benefit of the doubt in formulating his
RFC, as the more restrictive limitations certainly benefit
Plaintiff. At the same time, however, just because the ALJ
erred on the side of caution in finding that Plaintiff should
have no work-related contact with the public, does not mean
that the ALJ should necessarily also have found that
Plaintiff could have no contact with supervisors as well.
Obviously, such a limitation would go far beyond the overall
moderate limits in social functioning that the ALJ found, and
the Court cannot find, upon review of the ALJ's entire
decision as well as the record in this case, that the ALJ
erred in not making such a finding. Although the ALJ was
certainly permitted to include in his RFC the limitations in
interactions with the public and co-workers that he did, it
was also perfectly reasonable, upon consideration of the
evidence in this case, to limit Plaintiff to only occasional
supervision. See, e.g., Tooley v. Colvin, 2015 WL
3866061 (M.D. Pa. June 23, 2015) (finding that the ALJ's
RFC adequately accounted for marked limitations in the
ability to interact with co-workers by limiting the claimant
to only occasional interaction with co-workers, i.e., between
very little and one-third of the workday). Moreover, the
findings of the ALJ are clearly supported by his discussion
of the evidence of record and his conclusions in his
The Court therefore finds that the ALJ properly
discussed the relevant evidence of record, adequately
addressed Plaintiff's various limitations in interacting
with supervisors, co-workers and the public, and arrived at a
well-reasoned determination of ...