United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania
Donetta W. Ambrose, United States Senior District Judge
before the court are Cross-Motions for Summary Judgment. (ECF
Nos. 7 and 9). Both parties have filed Briefs in Support of
their Motions. (ECF Nos. 8 and 10). After careful
consideration of the submissions of the parties, and based on
my Opinion set forth below, I am denying Plaintiff's
Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 7) and granting
Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment. (ECF No. 9).
brought this action for review of the final decision of the
Commissioner of Social Security denying his application for
disability insurance benefits. Plaintiff filed his
application alleging disability since November 16, 2012. (ECF
No. 5-7, p. 2). Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”),
John J. Porter, held a hearing on May 11, 2015. (ECF No.
5-3). On August 5, 2015, the ALJ found that Plaintiff was not
disabled under the Act. (ECF No. 5-2, 14-29).
exhausting all administrative remedies, Plaintiff filed the
instant action with this court. The parties have filed
Cross-Motions for Summary Judgment. (ECF Nos. 8 and 10). 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. §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. §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).
first argues that he was denied due process of law. (ECF No.
8, pp. 10-12). “[D]ue process requires that any hearing
afforded [a Social Security disability] claimant be full and
fair.” Ventura v. Shalala, 55 F.3d 900, 902
(3d Cir.1995). This standard is violated where the ALJ
displays a bias or animus against a claimant or a claimant is
deprived of the opportunity to present evidence.
Ventura, 55 F.3d at 902-03. Plainly put, a claimant
is entitled to a fair hearing before an impartial ALJ.
Id. “A party asserting bias must show that the
behavior of the ALJ was ‘so extreme as to display clear
inability to render fair judgment.'” Roberson
v. Colvin, Civ. No. 13-1183, 2014 WL 4258206 at * 4
(W.D. Pa. Aug. 26, 2014), citing, Liteky v. United
States, 5410 U.S. 540, 551, 114 S.Ct. 1147, 127 L.Ed.2d
support of his position, Plaintiff submits that the ALJ's
“actions near the conclusion of the hearing were
outrageous.” (ECF No. 8, p. 10). Plaintiff argues that
the ALJ would not let Plaintiff explain a trip he took to
Japan “because it was obvious that the ALJ mistakenly
thought that Gogal had attempted to mislead him.”
Id., at pp. 10-11. After a very careful review of
the evidence, I find that while the ALJ may have allowed his
temper to flare a bit, Plaintiff has fallen short of
demonstrating that the ALJ's conduct was “‘so
extreme as to display clear inability to render fair
judgment.'” Roberson, 2014 WL 4258206 at *
the hearing, the ALJ had asked Plaintiff to discuss his
conduct outside of his home and Plaintiff responded but left
out discussing his trip to Japan or any other travels. (ECF
No. 5-3, pp. 16-17). The ALJ learned about a trip to Japan
from Plaintiff's mother's testimony. Id., at
pp. 38-39. Having learned of the trip, the ALJ recalled
Plaintiff to testify and permitted him to respond and explain
the Japan trip and other travels. Id., at pp. 39-41.
The ALJ then asked if the evidence was complete and Plaintiff
said he believed it was. Id., at p. 41. From this,
it is apparent that Plaintiff was given a fair opportunity to
provide his full explanation for his travels to the ALJ.
wasn't until after the evidence was complete that
Plaintiff's counsel stated they were not there to hide
anything that the ALJ became exasperated. Id., at
pp. 41-43. Counsel for Plaintiff and the ALJ engaged in the
ATTY: Well, we're not here to hide anything, your honor.
The-as you indicated at the outset, to be considered as -
ALJ: Well, you're not here to hide anything. I said to
his man, do you go out of the house? No, judge, I don't
go out of the house except for once in a while with my lunch
- from wife. His mother says he goes to lunch with his wife
most every day. Then I learn from his mother he traveled to
Japan. To Japan. It probably wasn't cheap. So, he spent a
bunch of money to go to Japan to see a band he ...