United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania
OPINION AND ORDER OF COURT
Donetta W. Ambrose U.S. Senior District Judge
before the Court are Cross-Motions for Summary Judgment. [ECF
Nos. 9 and 13]. Both parties have filed Briefs in Support of
their Motions. [ECF Nos. 10 and 14]. After careful
consideration of the submissions of the parties, and based on
my Opinion set forth below, I am granting Plaintiff's
Motion for Summary Judgment [ECF No. 9] and denying
Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment. [ECF No. 13].
has brought this action for review of the final decision of
the Commissioner of Social Security
(“Commissioner”) denying her application for
Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”) and under
Title II of the Social Security Act (the “Act”)
and for Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”)
under Title XVI of the Act. Plaintiff applied for DIB and SSI
on or about September 17, 2013. [ECF No. 7-7 (Exs. B3D,
B4D)]. In her applications, she alleged that since November
5, 2012, she had been disabled due to depression, anxiety
disorder, sinus problems, back pain, pain in both hips, sleep
problems, fungus on toes, pollen/grass/weed allergies,
vitamin d deficiency, possible rheumatoid arthritis, and
problem with left arm. [ECF No. 7-8 (Ex. B3E)].
Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) Michael S.
Kaczmarek held a hearing on November 19, 2015, at which
Plaintiff was represented by counsel. [ECF No. 7-3, at
43-74]. Plaintiff appeared at the hearing and testified on
her own behalf. Id. A vocational expert also was
present at the hearing and testified. Id. at 71-74.
In a decision dated March 10, 2016, the ALJ found that jobs
existed in significant numbers in the national economy that
Plaintiff could perform and, therefore, that Plaintiff was
not disabled under the Act. [ECF No. 7-2, at 23-36].
Plaintiff requested review of the ALJ's determination by
the Appeals Council, and, on May 23, 2017, the Appeals
Council denied Plaintiff's request for review. [ECF No.
7-2, at 2-4]. Having exhausted all of her administrative
remedies, Plaintiff filed this action.
parties have filed Cross-Motions for Summary Judgment. [ECF
Nos. 9 and 13]. The issues are now ripe for my 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)). Determining whether substantial
evidence exists is “not merely a quantitative
exercise.” Gilliland v. Heckler, 786 F.2d 178,
183 (3d Cir. 1986) (citing Kent v. Schweiker, 710
F.2d 110, 114 (3d Cir. 1983)). “A single piece of
evidence will not satisfy the substantiality test if the
secretary ignores, or fails to resolve, a conflict created by
countervailing evidence. Nor is evidence substantial if it is
overwhelmed by other evidence - particularly certain types of
evidence (e.g., that offered by treating physicians).”
Id. 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, the
district court must review the record as a whole.
See 5 U.S.C. § 706.
eligible for social security benefits, the plaintiff must
demonstrate that she 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. § 1382(a)(3)(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, 416.920. 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, app. 1; (4) if the
impairment does not satisfy one of the impairment listings,
whether the claimant's impairments prevent her from
performing her past relevant work; and (5) if the claimant is
incapable of performing her past relevant work, whether she
can perform any other work which exists in the national
economy, in light of her age, education, work experience and
residual functional capacity. 20 C.F.R. §§
404.1520, 416.920. The claimant carries the initial burden of
demonstrating by medical evidence that she is unable to
return to her 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 IMPROPERLY DISREGARDED THE MEDICAL
OPINIONS OF PLAINTIFF'S TREATING AND EXAMINING
Two of his analysis, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had the
following severe impairments: depression, anxiety, and
bipolar disorder. [ECF No. 7-2, at 25-26]. The ALJ found that
Plaintiff had the residual functional capacity
(“RFC”) to perform light work as defined in 20
C.F.R. §§ 404.1567(b) and 416.967(b) except that
Plaintiff must avoid concentrated exposure to extremes of
heat and cold and all hazards such as inherently dangerous
moving machinery and unprotected heights; she is limited to
performing routine, repetitive tasks at the SVP 1 to 2 level;
she must work in a static low stress environment involving
only simple decisions and infrequent changes, and those
changes that did occur would be explained and/or demonstrated
and could be learned in 30 days or less; her work must be
fast paced or have strict production or time quotas; and she
can have only occasional interaction with ...