United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania
DOUGLAS K. SHAFFER, Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL,  COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant. AMBROSE, Senior District Judge
Donetta W. Ambrose United States Senior District Judge
before the court are Cross-Motions for Summary Judgment. (ECF
Nos. 13 and 15). Both parties have filed Briefs in Support of
their Motions. (ECF Nos. 14 and 16). After careful
consideration of the submissions of the parties, and based on
my Opinion set forth below, I am granting in part and denying
in part Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No.
13) and granting in part and denying in part Defendant's
Motion for Summary Judgment. (ECF No. 15).
brought this action for review of the final decision of the
Commissioner of Social Security denying his application for
disability insurance pursuant to the Social Security Act.
Plaintiff filed his applications alleging disability since
January 1, 2014. (ECF No. 10-7, p. 2). Administrative Law
Judge (“ALJ”), Randy Riley, held two hearing: one
on April 21, 2016 (ECF No. 10-3) and one September 27, 2016.
(ECF No. 10-2, pp. 29-41). On October 26, 2016, the ALJ found
that Plaintiff was not disabled under the Act. (ECF No. 10-2,
exhausting all administrative remedies, Plaintiff filed the
instant action with this court. The parties have filed
Cross-Motions for Summary Judgment. (ECF Nos. 13 and 15).
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).
Residual Functional Capacity (“RFC
argues that the ALJ's RFC is not supported by substantial
evidence. (ECF No. 12, pp. 12-17). Specifically,
Plaintiff takes issue with the weighing of the opinion
evidence. Id. The amount of weight accorded to
medical opinions is well-established. Generally, the ALJ will
give more weight to the opinion of a source who has examined
the claimant than to a non-examining source. 20 C.F.R. §
416.927(c)(1). In addition, the ALJ generally will give more
weight to opinions from a treating physician, “since
these sources are likely to be the medical professionals most
able to provide a detailed, longitudinal picture of [a
claimant's] medical impairment(s) and may bring a unique
perspective to the medical evidence that cannot be obtained
from the objective medical findings alone or from reports of
individual examinations, such as consultative examinations or
brief hospitalizations.” Id.
§416.927(c)(2). The opinion of a treating physician need
not be viewed uncritically, however. Rather, only where an
ALJ finds that “a treating source's opinion on the
issue(s) of the nature and severity of [a claimant's]
impairment(s) is well-supported by medically acceptable
clinical and laboratory ...