Searching over 5,500,000 cases.

Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

Gogal v. Berryhill

United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania

March 27, 2018



          Donetta W. Ambrose, United States Senior District Judge

         Pending 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).

         I. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff 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).

         After 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.


         A. Standard of Review

         The 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 U.S.C. §706.

         To be 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. 1986).

         The 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). Id.

         A 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).

         B. Due Process

         Plaintiff 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 474 (1994).

         In 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 * 4.

         During 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.

         It 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 following exchange.

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 ...

Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.