United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania
REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION
E. SCHWAB, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
plaintiff, Kelly Sue Dowd (“Ms. Dowd”), seeks
judicial review of the final decision of the Commissioner of
Social Security denying her claim for Disability Insurance
Benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act. This
matter has been referred to the undersigned United States
Chief Magistrate Judge to prepare a report and recommended
disposition pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b) and Fed R.
Civ. P. 72(b). We have jurisdiction pursuant to 42 U.S.C.
§ 405(g). Because the final decision of the Commissioner
of Social Security is supported by substantial evidence, we
recommend that the Court affirm the decision of the
Commissioner denying Ms. Dowd's claim.
Court refers to the transcript provided by the Commissioner.
See doc. 11-1 through doc.
11-14. In October 2014, Ms. Dowd applied for
Disability Insurance Benefits alleging disability beginning
March 31, 2014. Admin. Tr. at 17. The Commissioner
denied Ms. Dowd's claim at the initial level of
administrative review, and Ms. Dowd requested an
administrative hearing. Id. Ms. Dowd then testified
at a hearing before Administrative Law Judge
(“ALJ”) Edward L. Brady on September 27, 2016.
Id. at 17, 31-55. The ALJ determined that Ms. Dowd
was not disabled within the meaning of the Social Security
Act between March 31, 2014, and the date of his decision.
Id. at 26. Ms. Dowd appealed the ALJ's decision
to the Appeals Council, which denied her request in a notice
dated July 17, 2017. Id. at 1-3. Thus, the ALJ's
decision is the final decision of the Commissioner and is
subject to judicial review by this Court.
Dowd initiated this action on September 7, 2017, by filing a
complaint seeking judicial review of the ALJ's final
adverse decision pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).
Doc. 1. Ms. Dowd asks that the ALJ's decision be
reversed and this case be remanded for further administrative
proceedings. Doc. 12 at 19. The issues have been
fully briefed, and this matter is ripe for decision.
Docs. 12, 15, 16.
Substantial Evidence Review-The Role of This Court.
reviewing the Commissioner's final decision denying a
claimant's application for benefits, this Court's
review is limited to the question of whether substantial
evidence supports the findings of the final decision-maker.
See 42 U.S.C. § 405(g); Johnson v.
Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 529 F.3d 198, 200 (3d Cir.
2008); Ficca v. Astrue, 901 F.Supp.2d 533, 536 (M.D.
Pa. 2012). Substantial evidence “does not mean a large
or considerable amount of evidence, but rather ‘such
relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as
adequate to support a conclusion.'” Pierce v.
Underwood, 487 U.S. 552, 565 (1988) (quoting Consol.
Edison Co. of New York v. N.L.R.B., 305 U.S. 197, 229
(1938)). Substantial evidence is less than a preponderance of
the evidence but more than a mere scintilla. Richardson
v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971). A single piece of
evidence is not substantial evidence if the ALJ ignores
countervailing evidence or fails to resolve a conflict
created by the evidence. Mason v. Shalala, 994 F.2d
1058, 1064 (3d Cir. 1993). But in an adequately developed
factual record, substantial evidence may be “something
less than the weight of the evidence, and the possibility of
drawing two inconsistent conclusions from the evidence does
not prevent [the ALJ's] finding from being supported by
substantial evidence.” Consolo v. Fed. Maritime
Comm'n, 383 U.S. 607, 620 (1966). “In
determining if the Commissioner's decision is supported
by substantial evidence the court must scrutinize the record
as a whole.” Leslie v. Barnhart, 304 F.Supp.2d
623, 627 (M.D. Pa. 2003).
question before this Court, therefore, is not whether Ms.
Dowd was disabled, but whether substantial evidence supports
the Commissioner's finding that she was not
disabled and whether the Commissioner correctly applied the
relevant law. See Arnold v. Colvin, No.
3:12-CV-02417, 2014 WL 940205, at *1 (M.D. Pa. Mar. 11, 2014)
(“[I]t has been held that an ALJ's errors of law
denote a lack of substantial evidence.”) (alterations
omitted); see also Wright v. Sullivan, 900 F.2d 675
(3d Cir. 1990) (noting that the scope of review on legal
matters is plenary).
Initial Burdens of Proof, Persuasion, and
receive disability insurance benefits pursuant to Title II of
the Social Security Act, a claimant must demonstrate an
inability to “engage in any substantial gainful
activity by reason of any 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 not less than 12 months.” 42 U.S.C. §
423(d)(1)(A); see also 20 C.F.R. § 404.1505(a).
To satisfy this requirement, a claimant must have a severe
physical or mental impairment that makes it impossible to do
his or her previous work or any other substantial gainful
activity that exists in the national economy. 42 U.S.C.
§ 423(d)(2)(A); 20 C.F.R. § 404.1505(a). In
addition, a claimant must show that he or she contributed to
the insurance program, is under retirement age, and became
disabled prior to the date on which he or she was last
insured. 42 U.S.C. § 423(a); 20 C.F.R. §
follows a five-step sequential evaluation process to
determine whether the claimant is disabled. 20 C.F.R. §
404.1520(a). Under this process, the ALJ must sequentially
determine: (1) whether the claimant is engaged in substantial
gainful activity; (2) whether the claimant has a severe
impairment; (3) whether the claimant's impairment meets
or equals a listed impairment; (4) whether the claimant is
able to do his or her past relevant work; and (5) whether the
claimant is able to do any other work, considering his or her
age, education, work experience, and residual functional
capacity (“RFC”). 20 C.F.R. §
must also assess a claimant's RFC between steps three and
four. RFC is “that which an individual is still able to
do despite the limitations caused by his or her
impairment(s).” Burnett v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec.
Admin., 220 F.3d 112, 121 (3d Cir. 2000) (citations
omitted); see also 20 C.F.R. §§
404.1520(e), 404.1545(a)(1). In making this assessment, the
ALJ considers all of the claimant's medically
determinable impairments, including any non-severe impairment
identified by the ALJ at step two of his or her analysis. 20
C.F.R. § 404.1545(a)(2).
the analysis proceed to step five, the ALJ must produce
evidence to show that a significant number of jobs exist in
the national economy, each consistent with the claimant's
age, education, work experience, and RFC, that the claimant
could perform. See Fargnoli v. Halter, 247 F.3d 34,
39 (3d Cir. 2001) (citing Plummer v. Apfel, 186 F.3d
422, 428 (3d Cir. 1999)). But the burden of proving
disability rests on the claimant, who in the earlier steps
must show the existence of a medically determinable
impairment that prevents him or her from engaging in any of
his or her past relevant work. See id.; see also
Mason, 994 F.2d at 1064; 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(5)(A);
20 C.F.R. § 404.1512(a).
ALJ's disability determination must also meet certain
basic substantive requirements. Most significant is the
requirement that the ALJ adequately explain the legal and
factual basis for the disability determination. Thus, in
order to facilitate review of the decision under the
substantial evidence standard, the ALJ's decision must
provide “a clear and satisfactory explication of the
basis on which” his or her decision rests. Cotter
v. Harris, 642 F.2d 700, 704 (3d Cir. 1981). Conflicts
in the evidence must be resolved, and the ALJ must indicate
which evidence was accepted, which evidence was rejected, and
the reasons for rejecting certain evidence. Id. at
706-07. In other words, “[t]he ALJ must indicate in his
decision which evidence he has rejected and which he is
relying on as the basis for his finding.” Schaudeck
v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec. Admin., 181 F.3d 429, 433 (3d
The ALJ's Decision Denying Ms. Dowd's Claim.
January 11, 2017, the ALJ denied Ms. Dowd's claim for
benefits. Applying the sequential-evaluation process, the ALJ
determined that Ms. Dowd was not disabled within the meaning
of the Social Security Act from the alleged onset date, ...