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 benefits,
and a protective application for supplemental social security
income. Plaintiff's application involved alleged
disability due to mental and physical impairments, including
obesity and anxiety. His application was denied initially,
and upon hearing by an administrative law judge
(“ALJ”). The Appeals Council denied his request
for review. Before the Court are the parties'
Cross-Motions for Summary Judgment. For the following
reasons, Plaintiff's Motion will be denied, and
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 390.
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).
challenges the ALJ's approach to counselor Patrick Damond
and state agency examiner Michelle Santilli, Psy. D. When
considering medical opinion, “the ALJ retains
significant discretion in deciding whom to credit.”
Czyzewski v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., No. 14-7255, 2015 U.S.
Dist. LEXIS 80369, at *15 (D.N.J. June 22, 2015). Thus, an
ALJ is entitled to weigh conflicting findings and choose one
over the other, as long as there is a “reasoned
basis” for doing so. Hall v. Astrue, No. 10-379, 2012
U.S. Dist. LEXIS 5674, at *59 (D. Del. Jan. 18, 2012).
Plaintiff asserts that the ALJ erred in his evaluation of
treating source Patrick Damond, who the ALJ noted was a
“licensed professional counselor.” A treating
therapist's opinion is not entitled to controlling weight
as an acceptable medical source. See Verrett-Briley v.
Berryhill, No. 17-2196, 2018 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 3895, at *14
(C.D. Cal. Jan. 9, 2018). No. matter, the ALJ discounted Mr.
Damond's opinion for several stated reasons: the
appearance that the letter was solicited by counsel for
litigation purposes; the fact that there are treatment
records for only two months in 2015, despite Mr. Damond's
representation that he had been treating claimaint twice a
week for two years; and because Mr. Damond's statements
were contradicted by Dr. Scrimenti's treatment records.
The ALJ adequately explained his reasoning, and was entitled
to assign Mr. Damond's opinion little weight on these
grounds. I find no error.
Plaintiff argues that the ALJ erred in his consideration of
the opinion of the state agency examiner, Michelle R.
Santilli, Psy. D. Essentially, Plaintiff contends that the
lack of more than a one-time examination, along with Dr.
Santilli's lack of specialization and the fact that she
didn't review records after March, 2014, mandate against
affording weight to her opinion. The ALJ assessed Dr.
Santilli's opinion along with the evidence of record, and
determined that it merited significant weight as consistent
with the record. Plaintiff points to weaknesses in Dr
Santilli's opinion, such as the fact that she provides
little supporting explanation. Nonetheless, the ALJ was
entitled to consider that opinion along with the overall
record, and did so appropriately. I reject Plaintiff's
Residual Functional Capacity (“RFC”)
argues that the ALJ's medium duty RFC resulted from
“cherry picking” the evidence. In particular, he
states that the ALJ pointed to isolated instances of his
activities and interactions, to support the RFC.
“Medium work involves lifting no more than 50 pounds at
a time with frequent lifting or carrying of objects weighing
up to 25 pounds.” 20 CFR § 404.1567 (c). It is
unclear why Plaintiff believes that his activities and
interactions relate to the finding that he can perform medium
work. Plaintiff appears, instead, to take issue with the
ALJ's assumption that he is able to maintain regular
attendance, in part because Plaintiff testified that he could
not do so. It is apparent that the ALJ, in arriving at the
RFC, did not rely solely on isolated instances of
Plaintiff's activities and interactions. Instead, the ALJ
conducted a thorough review of the entire record. This
included an assessment of Plaintiff's credibility, which
Plaintiff does not now challenge. ...