United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania
E. Schwab Chief United States Magistrate Judge.
a social security action brought under 42 U.S.C. §§
405(g) and 1383(c)(3). The plaintiff, Kellie Cole
(“Cole”), seeks judicial review of the final
decision of the Acting Commissioner of Social Security
(“Commissioner”) denying her claim for disability
benefits and supplemental security income. We conclude that
the Commissioner's decision is not supported by
substantial evidence and accordingly recommend that the court
vacate and remand the decision on that basis.
Background and Procedural History.
refer to the transcript provided by the Commissioner. See
docs. 8-1 to 8-13. On January 15, 2015, Cole
applied for disability insurance benefits and supplemental
security income, alleging that she has been disabled since
October 27, 2014. Admin. Tr. at 166. The Social
Security Administration denied Cole's claim initially on
June 25, 2015. Id. at 86. Following the initial
denial of Cole's claim, the case went before
Administrative Law Judge Richard E. Guida
(“ALJ”), who concluded, on June 7, 2017, that
Cole was not disabled and denied her benefits on that basis.
Id. at 19. Cole requested review of the ALJ's
decision before the Social Security Administration's
Appeals Council, which denied her request for review on May
2, 2018. Id. at 2. Cole then filed a complaint with
this Court on June 4, 2018, seeking judicial review of the
Commissioner's final decision to deny her benefits.
Doc. 1. On August 27, 2018, the Commissioner filed
an answer to the complaint and a transcript of the
proceedings before the Social Security Administration.
Docs. 7-8. Cole filed a brief in support of her
complaint on October 11, 2018, the Commissioner filed a brief
in opposition on November 7, 2018, and Cole filed a reply on
November 19, 2018. Docs. 9-11.
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) (2018); 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 is “more than a mere
scintilla.” Smith v. Califano, 637 F.2d 968,
970 (3d Cir. 1981) (quoting Richardson v. Perales,
402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971)). “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.'” Hartranft v. Apfel, 181 F.3d
358, 360 (3d Cir. 1999) (quoting Pierce v.
Underwood, 487 U.S. 552, 565 (1988)). “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.” Mason v.
Shalala, 994 F.2d 1058, 1064 (3d Cir. 1994) (quoting
Kent v. Schweiker, 710 F.2d 110, 114 (3d Cir.
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 an
administrative agency's findings from being supported by
substantial evidence.” Port Norris Express Co. v.
Interstate Commerce Comm'n, 697 F.2d 497, 502 (3d
Cir. 1982) (quoting Consolo v. Fed. Mar. 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) (citing Smith, 637 F.2d at 970).
question before this court, therefore, is not whether Cole
was disabled, but whether substantial evidence supports the
Commissioner's finding that she was not disabled
and whether the Commissioner correctly applied the relevant
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), 1382c(a)(3)(A) (2018); see
also 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1505(a), 416.905(a)
(2018). 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), 1382c(a)(3)(B); see
also 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1505(a), 416.905(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).
follows a five-step sequential-evaluation process to
determine whether a claimant is disabled. 20 C.F.R. §
404.1520(a); 20 C.F.R. §416.920(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 ...