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Miller v. Berryhill

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

August 12, 2019

NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant




         Before the court for disposition is Magistrate Judge William I. Arbuckle's report and recommendation (hereinafter “R&R”) which proposes affirming the decision of the Commissioner of Social Security denying plaintiff's claim for supplemental security income (“SSI”) benefits under Title XVI of the Social Security Act. (Doc. 13). Plaintiff's action is brought under Sections 205(g), 42 U.S.C. § 405, and 1631(c)(3) of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. § 1383(c)(3). The matter is fully briefed and ripe for disposition.


         Plaintiff Jean Yvonne Miller began her quest for benefits under Titles II and XVI of the Social Security Act on May 19, 2014, when she filed applications for disability insurance benefits, disabled widow's benefits, and supplemental security income due to physical disabilities. (Doc. 19, R&R at 2). Plaintiff alleges that her disability began on February 11, 2014, after she slipped and fell at a convenience store. (Id.) At that time, the plaintiff was forty-eight years old. (Id. at 3). After the Social Security Administration (hereinafter “SSA”) denied plaintiff's application on October 10, 2014, plaintiff, through her counsel, requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (hereinafter “ALJ”). (Id.)

         At the hearing on June 6, 2016, Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) Stephen Cordovani heard from both the plaintiff and Adolph W. Cwik, an impartial vocational expert. (Id. at 3-4). The ALJ ultimately found that plaintiff was not disabled under the Social Security Act. (Id. at 4). Plaintiff sought further review of her claims by the Appeals Council of the Office of Disability Adjudication and Review, but her request was denied on December 27, 2016. (Id.) Thus, the ALJ's decision is the final decision of the Commissioner.

         Plaintiff initiated the instant action on August 15, 2017, asking us to reverse the decision of the ALJ and award benefits, or remand for a new hearing. (Doc. 1). Plaintiff seeks this reversal on the grounds that the ALJ's decision to deny his claim for benefits was not supported by substantial evidence and contains errors of law.

         Magistrate Judge Arbuckle reviewed the record in this case and recommends that the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security denying plaintiff's benefits be affirmed. (Doc. 19). The plaintiff filed objections to the magistrate judge's R&R. (Doc. 22). On April 4, 2019, the Commissioner filed a response. (Doc. 25). The plaintiff replied on April 16, 2019, bringing the case to its present posture. (Doc. 26).


         The court has federal question jurisdiction over this SSA appeal. See 42 U.S.C. § 1383(c)(3) (“The final determination of the Commissioner of Social Security after a hearing under paragraph (1) shall be subject to judicial review as provided in section 405(g) of this title to the same extent as the Commissioner's final determinations under section 405 of this title.”); see also 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) (“Any individual, after any final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security made after a hearing to which he was a party, irrespective of the amount in controversy, may obtain a review of such decision by a civil action commenced within sixty days after the mailing to him of notice of such decision or within such further time as the Commissioner of Social Security may allow. Such action shall be brought in the district court of the United States for the judicial district in which the plaintiff resides, or has his principal place of business....”).

         Legal Standard

         In disposing of objections to a magistrate judge's R&R, the district court must make a de novo determination of those portions of the report against which objections are made. 28 U.S.C.A. § 636(b)(1)(c); see also Sullivan v. Cuyler, 723 F.2d 1077, 1085 (3d Cir. 1983). The court may accept, reject, or modify, in whole or in part, the findings or recommendations made by the magistrate judge. 28 U.S.C.A. § 636(b)(1)(c). The district court judge may also receive further evidence or recommit the matter to the magistrate judge with instructions. Id.

         In reviewing a Social Security appeal, the court must determine whether “substantial evidence” supports the ALJ's decision. See 42 U.S.C.A. § 405(g); Hagans v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 694 F.3d 287, 292 (3d Cir. 2012); Plummer v. Apfel, 186 F.3d 422, 427 (3d Cir. 1999). “[S]ubstantial evidence has been defined as ‘more than a mere scintilla.' ” Hagans, 694 F.3d at 292 (quoting Plummer, 186 F.3d at 427). It means “such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.” Consolo v. Fed. Mar. Comm'n, 383 U.S. 607, 620 (1966).

         The court should not reverse the Commissioner's findings merely because evidence may exist to support the opposite conclusion. See 42 U.S.C. § 405(g); Rutherford v. Barnhart, 399 F.3d 546, 552 (3d Cir. 2005) (stating that courts may not weigh the evidence or substitute their own conclusions for those of the fact-finder); Fargnoli v. Massanari, 247 F.3d 34, 38 (3d Cir. 2001) (indicating that when the ALJ's findings of fact are supported by substantial evidence, courts are bound by those findings, even if they would have decided the factual inquiry differently). In an adequately developed factual record, substantial 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 finding from being supported by substantial evidence.” Consolo, 383 U.S. at 620.

         Substantial evidence exists only “in relationship to all the other evidence in the record, ” Cotter v. Harris, 642 F.2d 700, 706 (3d Cir. 1981), and “must take into account whatever in the record fairly detracts from its weight.” Universal Camera Corp. v. N.L.R.B., 340 U.S. 474, 488 (1971). “When a conflict in the evidence exists, the ALJ may choose whom to credit but ‘cannot reject evidence for no reason or for the wrong reason.' ” Plummer, 186 F.3d at 429 (quoting Mason v. Shalala, 994 F.2d 1058, 1066 (3d Cir. 1993)). The Commissioner must indicate which evidence was accepted, which evidence was rejected, and the reasons for rejecting certain ...

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