United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania
OPINION AND ORDER
DONETTA W. AMBROSE SENIOR JUDGE, U.S. DISTRICT COURT.
filed an application for social security disability and
disability insurance benefits. Plaintiff alleged disability
due to various mental and physical impairments, some of which
were related to injuries sustained as the result of a car
accident. Plaintiff's application was denied initially,
and following hearing before an Administrative Law Judge
(“ALJ”). The Appeals Council denied her request
for review. The parties' Cross-Motions for Summary
Judgment are before the Court. For the following reasons,
Plaintiff's Motion will be granted, and Defendant's
denied. This matter will be remanded for further proceedings.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
review of the Commissioner's final decisions on
disability claims is provided by statute. 42 U.S.C.
§§ 405(g) 6 and 1383(c)(3) 7. Section 405(g)
permits a district court to review the transcripts and
records upon which a determination of the Commissioner is
based, and the court will review the record as a whole. See 5
U.S.C. §706. When reviewing a decision, the district
court's role is limited to determining whether the record
contains substantial evidence to support an ALJ's
findings of fact. Burns v. Barnhart, 312 F.3d 113,
118 (3d Cir. 2002). Substantial evidence is defined as
"such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might
accept as adequate" to support a conclusion. Ventura
v. Shalala, 55 F.3d 900, 901 (3d Cir. 1995) (quoting
Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401, 91 S.Ct.
1420, 28 L.Ed.2d 842 (1971)). If the ALJ's findings of
fact are supported by substantial evidence, they are
conclusive. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g); Richardson, 402 U.S. at
district court cannot conduct a de novo review of the
Commissioner's decision, or re-weigh the evidence of
record; the court can only judge the propriety of the
decision with reference to the grounds invoked by the
Commissioner when the decision was rendered. Palmer v.
Apfel, 995 F.Supp. 549, 552 (E.D. Pa. 1998); S.E.C.
v. Chenery Corp., 332 U.S. 194, 196 - 97, 67 S.Ct. 1575,
91 L.Ed. 1995 (1947). Otherwise stated, “I may not
weigh the evidence or substitute my own conclusion for that
of the ALJ. I must defer to the ALJ's evaluation of
evidence, assessment of the credibility of witnesses, and
reconciliation of conflicting expert opinions. If the
ALJ's findings of fact are supported by substantial
evidence, I am bound by those findings, even if I would have
decided the factual inquiry differently.” Brunson
v. Astrue, No. No. 10-6540, 2011 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 55457
(E.D. Pa. Apr. 14, 2011) (citations omitted). Nonetheless, I
am not required to read the ALJ's opinion “in a
vacuum.” Knox v. Astrue, No. No. 9-1075, 2010
U.S. Dist. LEXIS 28978, at *22 (W.D. Pa. May 26, 2010).
THE PARTIES' MOTIONS
challenges the ALJ's findings that Plaintiff failed to
meet various Listings. In particular, she avers that the ALJ
erred in failing to find that she met Listings §§
1.02A, 1.04, 1.07, and 12.06. A Plaintiff's failure to
point to evidence of conditions required by the Listings is
fatal to such a challenge. See Arrington v. Colvin,
216 F.Supp.3d 217, 235 (D. Mass. 2016) (citing cases).
argues that the ALJ erred in assessing Listing § 1.04,
which addresses spinal disorders. The Listing “requires
the claimant to produce evidence of nerve root compression,
spinal arachnoiditis, or lumbar spinal stenosis, ”
along with other requirements. See, e.g., Harris v.
Comm'r of Soc. Sec., No. 11-2961, 2012 U.S. Dist.
LEXIS 140308, at *12 (D.N.J. Sep. 27, 2012) (citing 20 C.F.R.
pt. 404, subpt. P, app. 1 § 1.04). Plaintiff
acknowledges that the diagnostic studies of record alone are
likely insufficient to meet the Listing, but contends that
her complaints of pain were consistent with the studies'
findings and diagnoses of spondylosis and lumbar facet
syndrome. Crediting her pain complaints and accepting those
diagnoses, however, does not constitute the required
evidence. Plaintiff points to no evidence that would mandate
or support findings that meet the specific requirements of
addition, Plaintiff argues that the medical records
demonstrate that her left femoral mononeuropathy meets
Listing § 1.02A, which addresses major dysfunction of a
joint. In particular, she complains that the ALJ summarily
rejected the reports of Dr. Mathew and Dr. Klein, who
evaluated her for long-term disability insurance and the
litigation resulting from her accident. Listing 1.02 A
requires, inter alia, certain symptoms resulting in
“inability to ambulate effectively.”
“Inability to ambulate effectively means an extreme
limitation of the ability to walk.” Godfrey v.
Astrue, No. 10-565, 2011 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 51145, at *14
(W.D. Pa. May 12, 2011) (quoting 20 C.F.R. Pt. 404, Subpt. P,
Appendix 1, Listing 1.00B2b). Plaintiff does not explain how
the records to which she points, which merely recount
Plaintiff's various injuries and diagnoses, and broadly
suggest that she remained symptomatic, would support a
finding that she meets the specific requirements of Listing
§ 1.02A; the connection is not apparent.
also asserts that the ALJ failed in his assessment of Listing
1.07, which addresses fracture of an upper extremity. As
Defendant points out, Plaintiff's wrist condition did not
result from a fracture, which is a prerequisite for Listing
1.07; indeed, she ascribes her wrist condition to tendonitis.
Finally, Plaintiff argues that the combination of her
impairments impacts her ability to perform even the most
minimal activities of daily living. Plaintiff, however, does
not point to a Listing that might apply to a combination of
her impairments, or that the ALJ arguably should have
evaluated. I reject Plaintiff's arguments.
in a different Section of her brief (Section II), Plaintiff
contends that the ALJ failed to evaluate whether she met
Listing 12.06, for PTSD. To satisfy Paragraph B of that
Listing, a claimant's mental impairment must result in at
least two of marked restrictions of activities of daily
living, marked difficulties in social functioning, marked
difficulties in maintaining concentration, persistence, or
pace, or repeated episodes of decompensation, of extended
duration. The ALJ determined that Plaintiff had only mild
restrictions or difficulties in daily living and social
functioning, and moderate difficulties with concentration,
persistence, or pace; she did not have qualifying episodes of
decompensation. In challenging these findings, Plaintiff
refers to her diagnoses of anxiety and severe depression and
her subjective complaints, but does not explain exactly how
the ALJ's analysis - which was thorough and supported by
citations to the medical record - was improper. I reject
Residual Functional Capacity ...