United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania
OPINION AND ORDER OF COURT
Donetta W. Ambrose U.S. Senior District Judge.
before the Court are Cross-Motions for Summary Judgment. [ECF
Nos. 12 and 16]. Both parties have filed Briefs in Support of
their Motions. [ECF Nos. 13 and 17]. After careful
consideration of the submissions of the parties, and based on
my Opinion set forth below, I am denying Defendant's
Motion for Summary Judgment [ECF No. 16] and granting
Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment [ECF No. 12].
has brought this action for review of the final decision of
the Commissioner of Social Security
(“Commissioner”) denying his application for
Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”) under Title
II of the Social Security Act (“Act”) and for
Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”) under Title
XVI of the Act. On or about February 8, 2013, Plaintiff
applied for DIB, and, on or about December 7, 2012, he
applied for SSI. [ECF No. 8-2, at 11; ECF No. 8-5 (Exs.
5D-8D)]. Plaintiff alleged that he had been disabled since
February 15, 2012, due to lumbar bulging discs L5-6 without
myelopathy, varicocele cervicalgia, arthritis in cervical
spine, numbness/tingling in left hand, carpal tunnel,
migraines, depression, anxiety, PTSD, hypertension, and
vitiligo. [ECF No. 8-3 (Exs. 8A, 10A); ECF No. 8-5 (Exs.
5D-8D)]. His date last insured was June 30, 2014. [ECF No.
8-2, at 14 (citing Ex. 12D)]. The state agency denied his
claims initially, and he requested an administrative hearing.
[ECF No. 8]. Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”)
Joanna Papazekos held a hearing on September 10, 2014, at
which Plaintiff was represented by counsel. [ECF No. 8-2, at
37-62]. Plaintiff appeared at the hearing and testified on
his own behalf. Id. A vocational expert
(“VE”), also was present at the hearing, but did
not testify. Id. at 37-39. At the hearing, the ALJ
admitted record exhibits 1A-21F into evidence and continued
the hearing to obtain a consultative examination.
Id. at 58-62. After proffer to Plaintiff's
representative without objection, a Psychiatric and
Intelligence Evaluation dated February 2, 2015, from
consultative examiner, Steven Pacella, Ph.D., was marked as
Ex. 23F. [ECF No. 8-2, at 11 (citing Exs. 13E, 23F)]. In
addition, Plaintiff's representative submitted a
treatment note dated September 3, 2014 from Dr. John Uribe,
UPMC Comprehensive Care Associates. Id. (citing Ex.
22F). On March 13, 2015, the ALJ proffered interrogatories to
the VE who had been present at the hearing. Id.
(citing Exs. 14E, 12B). The VE submitted responses to the
interrogatory requests, and the responses were proffered to
Plaintiff's representative without written objection,
comment, statement, or questions. Id. (citing Exs.
decision dated May 21, 2015, the ALJ found that jobs existed
in significant numbers in the national economy that Plaintiff
could perform and, therefore, that Plaintiff was not disabled
under the Act. [ECF No. 8-2, at 11-30]. Plaintiff requested
review of the ALJ's determination by the Appeals Council,
and, on December 12, 2016, the Appeals Council denied
Plaintiff's request for review. [ECF No. 8-2, at 1-3].
Having exhausted all of his administrative remedies,
Plaintiff filed this action.
parties have filed Cross-Motions for Summary Judgment. [ECF
Nos. 12 and 16]. The issues are now ripe for my 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 U.S.C. § 706.
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. § 1382(a)(3)(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, 416.920. 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, app. 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, 416.920. 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.
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).
WHETHER THE ALJ IMPROPERLY REJECTED THE DIAGNOSIS OF