United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania
JASON R. DADDARIO
NANCY A. BERRYHILL
Law Judge Anne W. Chain denied Jason R. Daddario's
application for Social Security disability insurance
benefits. Mr. Daddario appealed. We referred the
appeal to Magistrate Judge Thomas J. Rueter for a report and
recommendation ("Report"). After considering the
briefing, Judge Rueter recommended we deny Mr. Daddario's
request for review.
Daddario filed three objections to Judge Rueter's Report
challenging ALJ Chain for improperly: (1) rejecting treating
orthopedic surgeon Steven J. Valentino, D.O.'s opinion;
(2) rejecting treating physiatrist John J. Kraus, M.D.'s
opinion; and (3) omitting credibly established limitations in
her hypothetical to the Vocational Expert.
review ALJ Chain's findings of fact under the deferential
"substantial evidence" standard. We must affirm
her decision "so long as [her] conclusions are supported
by substantial evidence." Substantial evidence is
"such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might
accept as adequate to support a
conclusion." "It is 'more than a mere
scintilla but may be somewhat less than a preponderance of
the evidence.'" We review the record as a whole to
determine whether substantial evidence supports a factual
finding. After our de novo review of the
record, the Report, and Mr. Daddario's objections, we
find substantial evidence to support ALJ Chain's findings
and adopt Judge Rueter's Report entering judgment for the
ALJ Chain properly afforded limited weight to Dr.
Valentino's July 12, 2012 opinion.
Daddario objects to the weight given by ALJ Chain to the July
18, 2012 opinion of treating orthopedic surgeon Dr.
Valentino. ALJ Chain assigned "little weight" to
Dr. Valentino's opinion explaining it (1) pre-dated the
amended onset date of September 1, 2012; (2) did not provide
function by function limitations; (3) is based on subjective
complaints; and (4) is inconsistent with findings of normal
gait and full strength.
Daddario objects to Judge Rueter's Report as failing to
address his argument ALJ Chain erred when she rejected Dr.
Valentino's July 18, 2012 opinion as pre-dating the
September 1, 2012 onset date while at the same time relying
on reports from other physicians also predating the onset
date. Judge Rueter acknowledged this argument. After
reviewing all of Mr. Daddario's arguments and the
applicable law, he concluded ALJ Chain provided adequate
justification for assigning limited weight to Dr.
Valentino's opinion for the other three
reasons.Judge Rueter analyzed Dr. Valentino's
opinion notwithstanding its date. Even if we disregard ALJ
Chain's dismissal of Dr. Valentino's July 12, 2012
opinion based on timing, ALJ Chain found three other
substantial grounds to afford less weight to Dr.
Valentino's July 18, 2012 opinion.
Dr. Valentino failed to provide function by function
Daddario objects to Judge Rueter's finding ALJ Chain did
not err when she found Dr. Valentino failed to provide
function by function limitations. Dr. Valentino opined Mr.
Daddario's "[s]ymptoms are worse with activity and
prolonged posture and decreased with rest and
recumbency." Judge Rueter disagreed, finding while
Mr. Daddario offered his own explanation for Dr.
Valentino's opinion, Dr. Valentino's statement did
not provide function by function limitations. Mr. Daddario
contends the "plain meaning" of Dr. Valentino's
words shows function by function limitations and "yields
a conclusion" he is precluded from prolonged sitting,
standing, and walking, and requires rest in a recumbent
agree with Judge Rueter's conclusion Dr. Valentino's
opinion does not support Mr. Daddario's interpretation.
Disability determinations are reserved to the
Daddario objects to Judge Rueter's finding Dr.
Valentino's July 2012 conclusion Mr. Daddario "is
disabled from gainful employment" is not binding on ALJ
Chain. Judge Rueter correctly applied the relevant
regulations and case law providing medical opinions as to a
claimant's disability are not binding on the ALJ and
disability determinations are reserved for the
Commissioner. Mr. Daddario objects, arguing Dr.
Valentino's opinion of worsening pain with activity and
prolonged posture which is decreased by rest and recumbency
is not an opinion on an issue reserved to the Commissioner,
but an opinion regarding the "nature and severity"
of his impairments entitled to special significance under the
disagree. Medical opinions, as defined by regulation, are
"statements from acceptable medical sources that reflect
judgments about the nature and severity of your
impairment(s), including your symptoms, diagnosis and
prognosis, what you can still do despite impairment(s), and
your physical or mental restrictions." Opinions on
issues reserved to the Commissioner will not be given any
special significance, including opinions on the nature and
severity of a claimant's impairments.
Dr. Valentino's opinion is based on subjective complaints
Daddario objects to Judge Rueter's finding the ALJ did
not err when she found Dr. Valentino's opinion is based
on subjective complaints of pain. Dr. Valentino's July
2012 treatment notes state Mr. Daddario "unfortunately
continues to be in severe pain. He is disabled from gainful
employment from chronic pain; every second of his life as
he indicates."Correctly applying the relevant law,
Judge Rueter found a medical report's memorialization of
a claimant's subjective statements does not elevate the
statements to a medical opinion. Judge Rueter found ALJ Chain
properly discounted Dr. Valentino's opinion on this
Daddario argues ALJ Chain's interpretation of Dr.
Valentino's opinion ignores the objective evidence in the
record of an earlier, failed lumbar surgery, contending Dr.
Valentino, as a specialist, "understood" Mr.
Daddario's pain to be continuing and his opinion should
be given more weight under 20 C.F.R. § 404.1527(c)(5).
Subsection 404.1527(c)(5) provides opinions of specialists
are "generally give[n] more weight. . . about medical
issues related to his or her area of specialty than to the
medical opinion of a source who is not a specialist."
But this recognition does not vitiate the law of this Circuit
regarding a claimant's subjective statements in a medical
report. Judge Rueter additionally noted ALJ Chain properly
discounted Dr. Valentino's July 2012 opinion in part
because the opinion is inconsistent with a finding - in the
same treatment notes - of normal gait and full
Judge Rueter properly evaluated Dr. Kuznits's
Daddario further objects to Judge Rueter's rejection of
his argument Dr. Valentino's opinion is supported by
reports of another treating physician, Sagi M. Kuznits, M.D.
Dr. Kuznits, a neurosurgeon, performed Dr. Daddario's
laminectomy in 2010 and examined him again in August 2012 and
March 2013. Dr. Kuznits's March 22, 2013
examination concluded "[g]iven the degree of disability