United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania
Donetta W. Ambrose, United States Senior District Judge
before the court are Cross-Motions for Summary Judgment. (ECF
Nos. 9 and 11). Both parties have filed Briefs in Support of
their Motions. (ECF Nos. 10 and 12). After careful
consideration of the submissions of the parties, and based on
my Opinion set forth below, I am denying Plaintiff's
Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 9) and granting
Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment. (ECF No. 11).
brought this action for review of the final decision of the
Commissioner of Social Security finding her no longer
disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act.
Initially, Plaintiff was found to be disabled as of August
31, 1998. (ECF No. 7-2, p. 10). On October 5, 2005,
Plaintiff's disability was determined to have continued.
Id. On June 25, 2015, Plaintiff was found to no
longer be disabled as of July 1, 2014. Id. Plaintiff
requested a hearing. Id. Administrative Law Judge
(“ALJ”), Alma S. de Leon, held a hearing on
February 4, 2016. (ECF No. 7-3). On March 29, 2016, the ALJ
found that Plaintiff's disability ended on July 1, 2014.
(ECF No. 7-2, pp. 11-36).
exhausting all administrative remedies, Plaintiff filed the
instant action with this court. The parties have filed
Cross-Motions for Summary Judgment. (ECF Nos. 9 and 11). The
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.
1986). In cases involving a continuing disability review
(“CDR”), entitlement to benefits will be reviewed
periodically. 20 C.F.R. §§404.1594, 416.994. A
beneficiary is no longer entitled to benefits where his/her
medical condition improves to the extent that he/she can
engage in substantial gainful activity. Id. Medical
improvement is defined as “any decrease in the medical
severity of your impairment(s) which was present at the time
of the most recent favorable medical decision that you were
disabled or continued to be disabled. A determination that
there has been a decrease in medical severity must be based
on improvement in the symptoms, signs, and/or laboratory
findings associated with your impairment(s).”
Id. At §§404.1594(b)(1); 416.994(b)(1)(i).
“When new evidence showing a change in signs, symptoms
and laboratory findings establishes that both medical
improvement has occurred and your functional capacity to
perform basic work activities, or residual functional
capacity, has increased, we say that medical improvement
which is related to your ability to do work has
occurred.” Id. at
§§404.1594(b)(4)(i); 416.994(b)(iv)(A). Finally,
the ALJ will consider whether the beneficiary is able to
engage in substantial gainful activity.
all of Plaintiff's brief maintains that “there is
substantial evidence that Plaintiff is unable to perform any
work.” (ECF No. 11, p. 7). To be clear, the standard is
not whether there is evidence to establish Plaintiff's
position but, rather, is whether there is substantial
evidence to support the ALJ's finding. Allen v.
Bowen, 881 F.2d 37, 39 (3d Cir. 1989). Thus, this
argument is entirely misplaced.
very end of her brief, in the penultimate sentence, Plaintiff
suggests that the ALJ should have given great weight to the
medical records of her treating doctors, Drs. Kreinbrook and
Wentworth. (ECF No. 10, p. 13). This bold conclusion falls
woefully short. Plaintiff provides no further argument and
does not address the reason given by the ALJ. Id.
Nevertheless, I will consider the same. 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 diagnostic techniques and
is not inconsistent with the other substantial evidence [of]
record, ” must he give that opinion controlling weight.
Id. “[T]he more consistent an opinion is with
the record as a whole, the more weight [the ALJ generally]
will give to that opinion.” Id. §
event of conflicting medical evidence, the Court of Appeals
for the Third Circuit has explained:
“A cardinal principle guiding disability determinations
is that the ALJ accord treating physicians' reports great
weight, especially ‘when their opinions reflect expert
judgment based on continuing observation of the patient's
condition over a prolonged period of time.'”
Morales v. Apfel, 225 F.3d 310, 317 (3d Cir. 2000)
(quoting Plummer v. Apfel, 186 F.3d 422, 429 (3d
Cir. 1999)). However, “where . . . the opinion of a
treating physician conflicts with that of a non-treating,
non-examining physician, the ALJ may choose whom to
credit” and may reject the treating physician's
assessment if such rejection is based on contradictory
medical evidence. Id. Similarly, under 20 C.F.R.