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. 8 and 10). Both parties have filed Briefs in Support of
their Motions. (ECF Nos. 9 and 11). 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. 8) and granting
Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment. (ECF No. 10).
brought this action for review of the final decision of the
Commissioner of Social Security denying her application for
disability insurance benefits pursuant to the Social Security
Act. Plaintiff filed her application alleging she has been
disabled since January 31, 2013. (ECF No. 6-6, p. 2).
Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”), Kathleen
McDade, held a hearing on September 2, 2015. (ECF No. 6-3,
pp. 2-36). On December 3, 2015, the ALJ found that Plaintiff
was not disabled under the Act. (ECF No. 6-2, pp. 15-24).
exhausting all administrative remedies, Plaintiff filed the
instant action with this court. The parties have filed
Cross-Motions for Summary Judgment. (ECF Nos. 8 and 10). 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.
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).
Whether the ALJ's Opinion is Supported by Substantial
argues that the ALJ's residual functional capacity
(“RFC”) is not supported by substantial evidence.
(ECF No. 9, pp. 7-10). To that end, Plaintiff first argues
that the ALJ erred in rejecting the opinion of Dr. Nesbitt,
the consultative examiner. Id., at pp. 7-9. 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. § 416.927(c)(4).
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,
” he must give that opinion controlling weight.
Id. Also, “the more consistent an opinion is
with the ...