United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania
N. Bloch, United States District Judge
NOW, this 20th day of March, 2018, upon
consideration of Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment
(Doc. No. 13), filed in the above-captioned matter on
September 11, 2017, IT IS HEREBY ORDERED that said Motion is
further, upon consideration of Plaintiff's Motion for
Summary Judgment (Doc. No. 11), filed in the above-captioned
matter on August 10, 2017, IT IS HEREBY ORDERED that said
Motion is GRANTED IN PART and DENIED IN PART. Specifically,
Plaintiff's Motion is granted to the extent that is seeks
remand to the Commissioner of Social Security
(“Commissioner”) for further evaluation as set
forth below, and denied in all other respects. Accordingly,
this matter is hereby remanded to the Commissioner for
further evaluation under sentence four of 42 U.S.C. §
405(g) in light of this Order.
September 5, 2012, Plaintiff Michael Little protectively
filed a claim for disability insurance benefits under Title
II of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 401
et seq. Specifically, Plaintiff claimed that he
became disabled on August 13, 2012, due to back problems,
knee and hip problems, depression, anxiety, and trouble
concentrating. (R. 126-27, 155).
being denied initially on December 7, 2012, Plaintiff sought,
and obtained, a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge
(“ALJ”) on September 26, 2013. (R. 42-59, 80-84).
In a decision dated November 1, 2013, the ALJ denied
Plaintiff's request for benefits. (R. 16-34). The Appeals
Council declined to review the ALJ's decision on February
13, 2015. (R. 1-5).
filed a complaint in this Court objecting to the final
decision of the Commissioner, and the Court remanded
Plaintiff's claim for further evaluation due to an
inaudible portion of the hearing transcript. On remand, on
November 29, 2016, a new hearing was held before a different
ALJ. (R. 406-39). On December 30, 2016, the ALJ again denied
Plaintiff's request for benefits. (R. 387-405). Plaintiff
filed a timely appeal with this Court, and the parties have
filed cross-motions for summary judgment.
Standard of Review
review of a social security case is based upon the pleadings
and the transcript of the record. See 42 U.S.C.
§ 405(g). The scope of review is limited to determining
whether the Commissioner applied the correct legal standards
and whether the record, as a whole, contains substantial
evidence to support the Commissioner's findings of fact.
See Matthews v. Apfel, 239 F.3d 589, 592 (3d Cir.
2001) (noting that “‘[t]he findings of the
Commissioner of Social Security as to any fact, if supported
by substantial evidence, shall be conclusive'”
(quoting 42 U.S.C. § 405(g))); Schaudeck v.
Comm'r of Soc. Sec. Admin., 181 F.3d 429, 431 (3d
Cir. 1999) (stating that the court has plenary review of all
legal issues, and reviews the ALJ's findings of fact to
determine whether they are supported by substantial
evidence” is defined as “‘more than a mere
scintilla. It means such relevant evidence as a reasonable
mind might accept as adequate'” to support a
conclusion. Plummer v. Apfel, 186 F.3d 422, 427 (3d
Cir. 1999) (quoting Ventura v. Shalala, 55 F.3d 900,
901 (3d Cir. 1995)). However, a “‘single piece of
evidence will not satisfy the substantiality test if the
[Commissioner] ignores, or fails to resolve, a conflict
created by countervailing evidence.'” Morales
v. Apfel, 225 F.3d 310, 317 (3d Cir. 2000) (quoting
Kent v. Schweiker, 710 F.2d 110, 114 (3d Cir.
1983)). “‘Nor is evidence substantial if it is
overwhelmed by other evidence- particularly certain types of
evidence (e.g., that offered by treating physicians)-or if it
really constitutes not evidence but mere
disability is established when the claimant can demonstrate
some medically determinable basis for an impairment that
prevents him or her from engaging in any substantial gainful
activity for a statutory twelve-month period. See
Fargnoli v. Massanari, 247 F.3d 34, 38-39 (3d Cir.
2001). “A claimant is considered unable to engage in
any substantial gainful activity ‘only if his physical
or mental impairment or impairments are of such severity that
he is not only unable to do his previous work but cannot,
considering his age, education, and work experience, engage
in any other kind of substantial gainful work which exists in
the national economy . . . .'” Id. at 39
(quoting 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(2)(A)).
Social Security Administration has promulgated regulations
incorporating a five-step sequential evaluation process for
determining whether a claimant is under a disability as
defined by the Act. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520.
In Step One, the Commissioner must determine whether the
claimant is currently engaging in substantial gainful
activity. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4)(i). If
so, the disability claim will be denied. See Bowen v.
Yuckert, 482 U.S. 137, 140 (1987). If not, the second
step of the process is to determine whether the claimant is
suffering from a severe impairment. See 20 C.F.R.
§ 404.1520(a)(4)(ii). “An impairment or
combination of impairments is not severe if it does not
significantly limit [the claimant's] physical or mental
ability to do basic work activities.” 20 C.F.R. §
404.1522. If the claimant fails to show that his or her
impairments are “severe, " he or she is ineligible
for disability benefits. If the claimant does have a severe
impairment, however, the Commissioner must proceed to Step
Three and determine whether the claimant's impairment
meets or equals the criteria for a listed impairment.
See 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4)(iii). If a
claimant meets a listing, a finding of disability is
automatically directed. If the claimant does not meet a
listing, the analysis proceeds to Steps Four and Five.
Four requires the ALJ to consider whether the claimant
retains the residual functional capacity (“RFC”)
to perform his or her past relevant work, see 20
C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4)(iv), and the claimant bears the
burden of demonstrating an inability to return to this past
relevant work, see Adorno v. Shalala, 40 F.3d 43, 46
(3d Cir. 1994). If the claimant is unable to resume his or
her former occupation, the evaluation then moves to the fifth
and final step.
stage, the burden of production shifts to the Commissioner,
who must demonstrate that the claimant is capable of
performing other available work in the national economy in
order to deny a claim of disability. See 20 C.F.R.
§ 404.1520(a)(4)(v). In making this determination, the
ALJ should consider the claimant's RFC, age, education,
and past work experience. See Id. The ALJ must
further analyze the cumulative effect of all the