United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania
F. KENNEY, J.
Adriana Risser appeals the decision of the administrative law
judge ("ALJ") denying Plaintiffs claim for
disability insurance benefits. ECF No. 2. The Appeals Council
denied Plaintiffs request for review, making the ALJ's
decision the final decision of the Commissioner. Before the
Court are Plaintiffs Complaint, Defendant's Answer, and
the parties' respective briefs in support of and in
opposition thereto. ECF Nos. 2, 11, 12 & 16.
February 29, 2016, Plaintiff filed a Title II application for
a period of disability and disability insurance benefits,
alleging disability beginning September 26, 2015. ECF No.
10-2 at p. 14. Plaintiffs claim was initially denied on June
17, 2016, and she thereafter filed a request for a hearing
before an ALJ on July 8, 2016. Id. The ALJ convened
a hearing on October 4, 2017. Id. In a written
decision dated December 21, 2017, the ALJ denied Plaintiffs
application for benefits. Id. at p. 11. Plaintiff
requested review of the ALJ's decision to the Appeals
Counsel on February 20, 2018. ECF No. 10-2 at p. 6. The
Appeals Council denied Plaintiffs request for review on
September 19, 2018. ECF No. 10-2 at p. 2. The ALJ's
decision accordingly stands as the "final decision"
of the Commissioner for purposes of judicial review.
See 42 U.S.C. § 405(g); 20 C.F.R. §
404.981; see also, ECF No. 10-2 at p. 2.
commenced this action on November 2, 2018, seeking review of
the Commissioner's decision pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §
405(g). ECF No. 2. Specifically, Plaintiff contends the
following: 1) the case was improperly adjudicated by an ALJ
who was not constitutionally appointed; 2) the ALJ did not
reasonably explain his assessment of Plaintiff s residual
functional capacity; 3) the ALJ did not reasonably explain
his rejection of Plaintiff s testimony; and 4) the ALJ did
not provide a legally acceptable rationale for finding
Plaintiff not disabled.
following reasons, the Commissioner's decision will be
vacated, and this matter will be remanded to the Commissioner
with instructions to issue a new decision in accordance with
the accompanying Order. The new decision shall be conducted
by an ALJ who has been properly appointed in accordance with
the Appointments Clause of the United States Constitution.
Standard of Review
reviewing the ALJ's decision to deny benefits, the Court
is bound by the ALJ's factual determinations, if they are
supported by substantial evidence. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).
"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)). "The presence
of evidence in the record that supports a contrary conclusion
does not undermine the Commissioner's decision so long as
the record provides substantial support for that
decision." Malloy v. Comm 'r of Soc. Sec,
306 Fed.Appx. 761, 764 (3d Cir. 2009).
Court shall review de novo the ALJ's rulings of
law. Gonzalez v. Berryhill, 340 F.Supp.3d 424, 427
(E.D. Pa. 2018) (citing Krysztoforski v. Chater, 55
F.3d 857, 858 (3d Cir. 1995)).
upon the Supreme Court's decision in Lucia v.
S.E.C., 138 S.Ct. 2044, 2049 (2018), Plaintiff seeks a
remand of her case to the Social Security Administration for
a new hearing on the ground that the ALJ who presided over
her claim is an inferior officer under the Appointments
Clause and was not constitutionally appointed consistent with
that provision. ECF No. 12 at p. 2-3. The plaintiff in
Lucia argued that his administrative proceedings
before the Securities and Exchange Commission were invalid
because the presiding ALJ was not appointed in accordance
with the Appointments Clause. The Supreme Court agreed with
the plaintiff, concluding that the SEC's ALJs are
"inferior officers" of the United States who must
be properly appointed. Lucia, 138 S.Ct. at 2049,
2051-54. In determining a remedy, the Court relied on
Ryder v. United States, 515 U.S. 177 (1995):
'"one who makes a timely challenge to the
constitutional validity of the appointment of an officer who
adjudicates his case' is entitled to relief."
Lucia, 138 S.Ct. at 2055 (quoting Ryder,
515 U.S. at 182-83). The Court noted that the plaintiff,
having raised the Appointments Clause objections before the
SEC and having reasserted it before the court of appeals and
the Supreme Court, had made "just such a timely
challenge," and remanded the matter for a rehearing
before a new, constitutionally appointed ALJ. Id.
Lucia, the President signed an executive order that
amended the process of future ALJ appointments. Exec. Order
No. 13, 843, 83 Fed. Reg. 32755 (July 10, 2018). On July 16,
2018, the Acting Commissioner of the SSA ratified the
appointments of the SSA ALJs and approved their appointments.
Soc. Sec. Admin., EM-18003 REV 2, Important Information
Regarding Possible Challenges to the Appointment of
Administrative Law Judges in SSA 's Administrative
Process-Update (effective date 8/6/18).
case, the Commissioner does not dispute that the SSA's
ALJs are inferior officers or that the ALJ in this case was
not appointed in accordance with the Appointments Clause. ECF
No. 16 at p. 4, n.l. Rather, the Commissioner argues that
Plaintiffs failure to assert a challenge to the ALJ's
appointment before the SSA at any point in the administrative
proceedings, whether before the ALJ or the Appeals Council,
forfeited her Appointments Clause claim, thus barring its
consideration by this Court. ECF No. 16 at p. 3. In other