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 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
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.
IT IS HEREBY ORDERED that Plaintiff's Motion for Summary
Judgment (Doc. No. 19) is DENIED and that Defendant's
Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. No. 21) is GRANTED.
 Plaintiff argues that the
Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) erred in making
a determination as to his residual functional capacity
(“RFC”), and ultimately as to whether he was
disabled, without a current medical opinion. The Court
disagrees and finds that substantial evidence supports the
ALJ's finding that Plaintiff is not disabled.
Plaintiff relies primarily on the Third Circuit Court
of Appeals' opinion in Doak v. Heckler, 790 F.2d
26 (3d Cir. 1986), in arguing that the ALJ was required to
rely upon a specific, and current, medical opinion in
formulating Plaintiff's RFC. However, as the Court
previously explained in Doty v. Colvin, 2014 WL
29036 (W.D. Pa. Jan. 2, 2014), this Court does not agree with
Plaintiff's interpretation of Doak. Rather, the
Court has consistently held that the decision in
Doak does not provide that an ALJ's RFC findings
must be based on a particular medical opinion or that an ALJ
may only reject a medical opinion as to functional
limitations based on another opinion. Instead, the Third
Circuit Court of Appeals, in Doak, held simply that
nothing in the record in that case, which consisted of
nothing more than testimony and three medical reports,
supported the ALJ's finding that the claimant could
perform light work. While the Circuit pointed out that none
of the three reports contained a suggestion from a physician
that the claimant could perform light work, in no way did it
suggest that a finding of light work could only be supported
if one of the three had expressly opined that the claimant
could perform such work, nor did it find that their contrary
opinions precluded such a finding per se.
Indeed, as this Court explained in Doty,
interpreting Doak in the manner suggested by
Plaintiff would ignore the fact that “[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). See
also 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1527(d)(2), 404.1546(c),
416.927(d)(2), 416.946(c); SSR 96-5p, 1996 WL 374183 (S.S.A.)
(July 2, 1996). Such an interpretation would also ignore the
fact that “[t]here is no legal requirement that a
physician have made the particular findings that an ALJ
adopts in the course of determining an RFC.”
Titterington v. Barnhart, 174 Fed.Appx. 6, 11 (3d
Cir. 2006). See also Chandler, 667 F.3d at 362
(holding that each fact incorporated into the RFC need not
have been found by a medical expert). As the Circuit Court
explained in Titterington, “[s]urveying the
medical evidence to craft an RFC is part of an ALJ's
duties.” 174 Fed.Appx. at 11. Consistent with this
later case law, Doak does not prohibit the ALJ from
making an RFC assessment even if no doctor has specifically
made the same findings. See Hayes v. Astrue, 2007 WL
4456119, at *2 (E.D. Pa. Dec. 17, 2007). The Third Circuit,
in Doak, did nothing more than make a substantial
evidence finding in light of the record of the case and did
not purport to create a rule that an RFC determination must
be based on a specific medical opinion, and subsequent Third
Circuit case law confirms this understanding. See also
Mays v. Barnhart, 78 Fed.Appx. 808, 813 (3d Cir. 2003);
Cummings v. Colvin, 129 F.Supp.3d 209, 214-17 (W.D.
Pa. 2015); Carter v. Colvin, 2015 WL 1866208, at *10
n.3 (W.D. Pa. Apr. 23, 2015); Goodson v. Colvin,
2014 WL 5308021, at *3 (Oct. 16, 2014).
In this case, there actually were medical opinions in
the record, which the ALJ discussed at significant length.
Indeed, she discussed all and gave “great weight”
(R. 545) to one of these opinions, that offered by the state
agency medical reviewer, Frank Bryan, M.D., on October 14,
2009. (R. 354-64). While the RFC determined by the ALJ did
not fully incorporate Dr. Bryan's opinion, it was
actually substantially more restrictive. (R. 537). The ALJ
did exactly what she was required to do in formulating the
RFC by considering the entire record, including the
However, Plaintiff further argues that even if the
ALJ's RFC finding had relied specifically on the
reviewing agent's opinion, or any of the others, these
opinions were not current enough to constitute substantial
evidence. Generally speaking, there is no specific limit on
how much time may pass between a medical professional's
report or opinion and the ALJ's decision relying on it.
See Chandler, 667 F.3d at 361. Indeed, “there
is always a time lapse between the consultant's report
and the ALJ hearing and decision.” Id.
Nonetheless, where there is a substantial amount of new
evidence between the date an opinion relied upon by an ALJ is
offered and the date on which the ALJ renders his or her
decision, remand may be warranted. See Cadillac v.
Barnhart, 84 Fed.Appx. 163, 168-69 (3d Cir. 2003);
Grimes v. Colvin, 2016 WL 246963, at *2 (W.D. Pa.
Jan. 21, 2016). Here, though, there was no later evidence
suggesting that Dr. Bryan's opinion, or any other
opinion, was no longer valid. In fact, the ALJ thoroughly
discussed the evidence post-dating Dr. Bryan's opinion,
much of which, as the ALJ pointed out, related to
Plaintiff's drug-seeking behavior. Moreover, as mentioned
above, the RFC found by the ALJ accounted for all of the
evidence, and was more restrictive than the functional
limitations to which Dr. Bryan opined.
Although Plaintiff also expresses some concern
regarding possible unconscious bias by the ALJ, the Court
emphasizes that the record shows no such issue. The decision
in this case was thorough and based on all of the record
evidence. Accordingly, for all of the reasons ...