United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania
WILLIAM J. NEALON UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
December 22, 2016, Plaintiff, Ginger Patton, filed a
complaint seeking review of the Commissioner of the Social
Security Administration's (“Commissioner”)
denial of her application for Supplemental Security Income
under Title XVI of the Social Security Act. (Doc. 1). On
March 1, 2017, Defendant filed an Answer and Transcript.
(Docs. 7 and 8). On April 11, 2017, Plaintiff filed a brief
in support of the complaint. (Doc. 9). On June 9, 2017,
Defendant filed a brief in opposition. (Doc. 13). A Report
and Recommendation (“R&R”) was issued by
United States Magistrate Judge Martin C. Carlson on October
12, 2017, recommending that the appeal be denied, the
decision of the Commissioner be affirmed, final judgment be
entered in favor of Defendant and against Plaintiff, and the
Clerk of Court be directed to close this matter. (Doc. 15).
No objections have been filed, and the matter is now ripe for
review. Having reviewed the reasoning of the Magistrate
Judge, the R&R will be adopted in part.
neither party objects to a magistrate judge's report and
recommendation, the district court is not statutorily
required to review the report, under de novo or any
other standard. Thomas v. Arn, 474 U.S. 140, 152
(1985); 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(C). Nevertheless, the
Third Circuit Court of Appeals has held that it is better
practice to afford some level of review to dispositive legal
issues raised by the report. Henderson v. Carlson,
812 F.2d 874, 878 (3d Cir. 1987), writ denied 484
U.S. 837 (1987); Garcia v. I.N.S., 733 F.Supp. 1554,
1555 (M.D. Pa. 1990) (Kosik, J.) (stating “the district
court need only review the record for plain error or manifest
injustice”). In the absence of objections, review may
properly be limited to ascertaining whether there is clear
error that not only affects the rights of the plaintiff, but
also seriously affects the integrity, fairness, or public
reputation of judicial proceedings. Cruz v. Chater,
990 F.Supp. 375, 377 (M.D. Pa. 1998) (Vanaskie, J.).
the Magistrate Judge appropriately sets forth the standard
for reviewing a Social Security appeal and the Sequential
Evaluation Process used by an administrative law judge to
determine whether the claimant is disabled, which are herein
adopted as such. (Doc. 15, pp. 7-12). The Magistrate Judge
also reviews the medical records and the ALJ's decision,
also herein adopted as such. (Id. at pp. 4-7).
Ultimately, Magistrate Judge Carlson determines that the
ALJ's decision that Plaintiff's impairments did not
meet any Impairments Listings at Step Three and that the
ALJ's RFC determination that Plaintiff could perform
light work with some limitations are supported by substantial
evidence and recommends that this Court affirm the decision
of the Commissioner. (Id. at pp. 13-20).
party having objected to the Magistrate Judge's
recommendations, this Court has the duty to review the
R&R for clear error. Upon review of the administrative
record and the R&R, Court finds no clear error with the
R&R's recommendation that substantial evidence
supports the ALJ's decision at Step Three. However, there
is clear error with the R&R's recommendation that the
ALJ's RFC determination is supported by substantial
evidence because, in determining Plaintiff could perform
light work, and thus lift and/ or carry up to twenty (20)
pounds, the ALJ effectively rejected the only medical opinion
of record regarding the amount of weight Plaintiff could lift
and/ or carry, which was ten (10) pounds, and seemingly
substituted his own opinion for that of the medical opinion
provided. (Tr. 18).
responsibility for deciding a claimant's RFC rests with
the administrative law judge. See 20 C.F.R. §
404.1546. The Court recognizes that the residual functional
capacity assessment must be based on a consideration of all
the evidence in the record, including the testimony of the
claimant regarding her activities of daily living, medical
records, lay evidence, and evidence of pain. See Burnett
v. Commissioner of Social Sec. Admin., 220 F.3d 112,
121-122 (3d Cir 2000). The Commissioner's regulations
define medical opinions as “statements from physicians
and psychologists or other acceptable medical sources that
reflect judgments about the nature and severity of [a
claimant's] impairment(s), including [a claimant's]
symptoms, diagnosis and prognosis, what [a claimant] can
still do despite impairments(s), and [a claimant's]
physical or mental restrictions.” 20 C.F.R.
§404.1527(a)(2). Regardless of its source, the ALJ is
required to evaluate every medical opinion received.
See 20 C.F.R. §404.1527(c).
arriving at the RFC, an administrative law judge should be
mindful that the preference for the treating physician's
opinion has been recognized by the Third Circuit Court of
Appeals and by all of the federal circuits. See,
e.g., Morales v. Apfel, 225 F.3d 310,
316-18 (3d Cir. 2000). This is especially true when the
treating physician's opinion “reflects expert
judgment based on a continuing observation of the
patient's condition over a prolonged time.”
Morales, 225 F.3d at 317; Plummer, 186 F.3d
at 429; see also 20 CFR §
416.927(d)(2)(i)(1999) (“Generally, the longer a
treating source has treated you and the more times you have
been seen by a treating source, the more weight we will give
to the source's medical opinion.”).
when the treating physician's opinion conflicts with a
non-treating, non-examining physician's opinion, the ALJ
may choose whom to credit in his or her analysis, but
“cannot reject evidence for no reason or for the wrong
reason.” Morales, 225 F.3d 316-18. It is
within the ALJ's authority to determine which medical
opinions he rejects and accepts, and the weight to be given
to each opinion. 20 C.F.R. § 416.927. The ALJ is
permitted to give great weight to a medical expert's
opinion if the assessment is well-supported by the medical
evidence of record.
to SSR 96-6p, an administrative law judge may only assign
less weight to a treating source opinion based on a
non-treating, non-examining medical opinion in
“appropriate circumstances.” SSR 96-6p, 1996 SSR
LEXIS 3. This regulation does not define “appropriate
circumstances, ” but gives an example that
“appropriate circumstances” exist when a
non-treating, non-examining source had a chance to review
“a complete case record . . . which provides
more detailed and comprehensive information than what was
available to the individual's treating source.”
Id. (emphasis added).
of what weight an administrative law judge affords to medical
opinions, the administrative law judge has the duty to
adequately explain the evidence that he or she rejects or
affords lesser weight. Diaz v. Comm'r of Soc.
Sec., 577 F.3d 500, 505-06 (3d Cir. 2009). “The
ALJ's explanation must be sufficient enough to permit the
court to conduct a meaningful review.” Burnett v.
Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 220 F.3d 112, 119-20 (3d Cir.
in choosing to reject the evaluation of a treating physician,
an ALJ may not make speculative inferences from medical
reports and may reject the treating physician's opinions
outright only on the basis of contradictory medical evidence.
Morales, 225 F.3d at 316-18. An ALJ may not reject a
written medical opinion of a treating physician based on his
or her own credibility judgments, speculation or lay opinion.
Id. An ALJ may not disregard the medical opinion of
a treating physician based solely on his or her own
“amorphous impressions, gleaned from the record and
from his evaluation of the [claimant]'s
credibility.” Id. As one court has stated,
“Judges, including administrative law judges of the
Social Security Administration, must be ...