United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania
OPINION AND ORDER
Donetta W. Ambrose United States Senior District Judge
Dorian Leroy Butler ("Butler") seeks judicial
review of the Social Security Administration's denial of
his claim for supplemental security income ("SSI").
Butler alleges a disability onset date of June 27, 2013. (R.
18). (R. 15) Butler testified by telephone during a hearing
in which a vocational expert ("VE") was present but
did not testify. (R. 18) Thereafter Butler attended a
consultative administrative examination regarding his
intellectual functioning. Following the submission of a
report regarding the results of the testing, the ALJ tendered
a Request for Vocational Interrogatory to a VE. The VE
thereafter forwarded responses and the ALJ issued a decision
denying Butler's claim. Butler then appealed. Before the
Court are the parties' cross-motions for summary
judgment. See ECF Docket Nos. 12 and 15. For the
reasons set forth below, the ALJ's decision is affirmed.
Standard of Review
review of the Commissioner's final decisions on
disability claims is provided by statute. 42 U.S.C.
§§ 405(g) and I383(c)(3)(7). Section 405(g) permits
a district court to review the transcripts and records upon
which a determination of the Commissioner is based, and the
court will review the record as a whole. See 5 U.S.C. §
706. When reviewing a decision, the district court's role
is limited to determining whether the record contains
substantial evidence to support an ALJ's findings of
fact. Burns v. Bamhart, 312 F.3d 113, 118 (3d Cir.
2002). 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); Richardson, 402 U.S. at 390, 91 S.Ct. 1420.
a district court cannot conduct a de novo review of
the Commissioner's decision, or re-weigh the evidence of
record; the court can only judge the propriety of the
decision with reference to the grounds invoked by the
Commissioner when the decision was rendered. Palmer v.
Apfel, 995 F.Supp. 549, 552 (E.D. Pa. 1998); S.E.C.
v. Chenery Corp., 332 U.S. 194, 196-7, 67 S.Ct. 1575, 91
L.Ed. 1995 (1947). Otherwise stated, "I may not weigh
the evidence or substitute my own conclusion for that of the
ALJ. I must defer to the ALJ's evaluation of evidence,
assessment of the credibility of witnesses, and
reconciliation of conflicting expert opinions. If the
ALJ's findings of fact are supported by substantial
evidence, I am bound by those findings, even if I would have
decided the factual inquiry differently." Brunson v.
Astrue, 2011 WL 2036692, 2011 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 55457
(E.D. Pa. Apr. 14, 2011) (citations omitted).
The ALJ's Decision
stated above, the ALJ denied Butler's claim for benefits.
More specifically, at step one of the five step analysis, the
ALJ found that Butler had not engaged in substantial gainful
activity since the application date. (R. 20) At step two, the
ALJ concluded that Butler suffers from the following severe
impairments: major depression with psychotic features; mood
disorder; bipolar disorder; schizoaffective disorder;
borderline intellectual functioning; and obesity. (R. 21) At
step three, the ALJ concluded that Butler does not have an
impairment or combination of impairments that meets or
medically equals one of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R.
Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. (R. 23-27) Between steps
three and four, the ALJ found that Butler has the residual
functional capacity ("RFC") to perform work at all
exertional levels with certain restrictions. (R. 28-39) At
step four, the ALJ found that Butler has no past relevant
work. (R. 39-40) At the fifth step of the analysis, the ALJ
concluded that, considering Butler's age, education, work
experience, and RFC, there are jobs that exist in significant
numbers in the national economy that he can perform. (R.
40-41) As such, the ALJ concluded that Butler was not under a
disability during the relevant period of time. (R. 41)
limits his appeal to a single issue - the ALJ's
assessment of his intellectual functioning. He contends that
the ALJ erred in the evaluation of the consultative
examiner's opinion regarding his intellectual functioning
and, as a result, the denial of benefits was erroneous. His
argument rests, in large part, upon the evaluation of Dr.
Pacella,  the consultative examiner, diagnosed
Butler, in part, with borderline intellectual functioning.
(R. 1022) The ALJ gave this diagnosis significant
weight but gave Pacella's conclusions regarding
functional limitations only partial weight. (R. 38)
Specifically, the ALJ accepted Pacella's findings such
that Butler satisfied the requirements of Listing 12.05B(1)
and (3) and 12.11 A. Nevertheless, the ALJ rejected
Pacella's findings to the extent that they supported the
conclusion that Butler satisfied the requirements of
12.05B(2) and 12.11B. (R. 24-26)
points to several of Pacella's findings which he contends
support a conclusion that he does, in fact, satisfy these
requirements. See ECF Docket No. 13, p. 13. Yet this
is the wrong standard. The question before me is not:
whether substantial evidence supports Plaintiff's claims
or whether there is evidence that is inconsistent with the
ALJ's findings.... Substantial evidence could support
both Plaintiff's claims and the ALJ's findings
because substantial evidence is less than a preponderance.
Jesurum v. Sec'y. of U.S. Dept. of Health & Human
Servs.,48 F.3d 114, 117 (3d Cir. 1995) (citing,
Richardson v. Perales,402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971)). If
substantial evidence supports the ALJ's findings, it does