United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania
OPINION AND ORDER
DONETTA W. AMBROSE SENIOR JUDGE, U.S. DISTRICT COURT.
filed an application for supplemental security income
benefits, alleging mental and physical impairments. His
application was denied initially, and upon hearing by
Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) Wordsworth. The
Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review. On
appeal, this Court remanded the matter for further
proceedings, by Order dated May 5, 2015 at W.D.Pa. Docket
14-1464 (“May 14 Order”). A supplemental hearing
took place on January 14, 2016, and ALJ Kaczmarek denied
Plaintiff's application. The Appeals Council denied his
appeal, and the present action followed. Before the Court are
the parties' Cross-Motions for Summary Judgment. For the
following reasons, Plaintiff's Motion will be denied, and
STANDARD OF REVIEW
review of the Commissioner's final decisions on
disability claims is provided by statute. 42 U.S.C.
§§ 405(g) 6 and 1383(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. Barnhart, 312 F.3d 113, 118 (3d
Cir. 2002). Substantial evidence is defined as "such
relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as
adequate" to support a conclusion. Ventura v. Shalala,
55 F.3d 900, 901 (3d Cir. 1995) (quoting Richardson v.
Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401, 91 S.Ct. 1420, 28 L.Ed.2d 842
(1971)). 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 [the ALJ's decision] from being supported by
substantial evidence." Consolo v. Fed. Maritime
Comm'n, 383 U.S. 607, 620, 86 S.Ct. 1018, 16 L.Ed.2d 131
(1966). If the ALJ's findings of fact are supported by
substantial evidence, they are conclusive. 42 U.S.C. §
405(g); Richardson, 402 U.S. at 390.
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 - 97, 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, No. No.
10-6540, 2011 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 55457 (E.D. Pa. Apr. 14, 2011)
(citations omitted). Nonetheless, I am not required to read
the ALJ's opinion “in a vacuum.” Knox v.
Astrue, No. No. 9-1075, 2010 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 28978, at *22
(W.D. Pa. May 26, 2010).
lodges several overlapping challenges to the ALJ's
decision. He contends that the ALJ erred in failing to
consider Listing 12.02; failing to order a neuropsychological
consultative exam; omitting reference in the residual
functional capacity (“RFC”) or vocational expert
(“VE”) hypothetical to intellectual functioning,
moderate limitations opined to by Dr. Schiller, leg pain, and
migraines; relying on the VE testimony; and crafting the RFC.
terms of the Listings, this Court's May 14 Order remanded
the matter solely for the purpose of further consideration of
the limitations opined to by Dr. Schiller. As the ALJ stated,
no further evidence was offered regarding the Listings, and
the conclusions of ALJ Worsdworth regarding the Listings was
not a subject of remand that required reconsideration. The
ALJ did not err in failing to further consider the Listings.
While the ALJ noted two severe impairments not previously
found by the initial ALJ decision, that alone does not
obligate a consideration of particular Listings. See, e.g.,
Zerrilla v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., No.11-191, 2012 U.S.
Dist. LEXIS 109916, at *16 (D. Vt. July 6, 2012). As
Defendant notes, the paragraph B and C criteria of Listing
12.02 are identical to those of the Listings considered by
the first ALJ, and the present ALJ referred to those
criteria; no further consideration was required.
the failure to order additional consultative exams, and
Plaintiff's related contentions regarding the ALJ's
assessment of the opinion of one-time examiner Dr. Groves, I
find no error. A consultative examination is required when
the evidence as a whole is insufficient to support a
decision. Martinez v. Colvin, No. 13-5415, 2015 U.S. Dist.
LEXIS 106452 (E.D. Pa. Aug. 13, 2015). Plaintiff, who has
been represented by counsel at all pertinent times, fails to
adequately and specifically explain how the record was
deficient such that additional examination was required.
Moreover, the ALJ did not substitute a lay opinion for that
of Dr. Groves, in relation to the IQ testing performed by Dr.
Groves or otherwise. As stated in this Court's May 14
Order, the first ALJ did not err in assessing the IQ testing;
here, the ALJ looked to Plaintiff's other intellectual
ability testing, alongside the entire record, and also
carefully considered the IQ score arrived at by Dr. Groves.
He did not reject the IQ scores based on speculation or other
impermissible factors. The ALJ's approach was sufficient.
also challenges the ALJ's RFC. The ALJ arrived at an RFC
of light work, with many restrictions. Those restrictions
included, inter alia, the following: a static low stress
environment that involves only simple decisions and
infrequent changes, and where those changes that did occur
would be explained and/or demonstrated and could be learned
in thirty days or less; no fast paced, strict production, or
time quotas; and only occasional interaction with the public.
The RFC also states that Plaintiff cannot operate foot
controls or push/pull with lower extremities, cannot kneel,
crawl, or climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds, and can
occasionally balance, stoop, crouch, and climb ramps or
stairs. It further limits his exposure to environmental
conditions such as heights and extreme temperatures, and
exposure to factors such as fumes, odors, and dust.
is an administrative finding reserved for the ALJ, and is to
be based on all of the relevant evidence. See Cummings v.
Colvin, 129 F.Supp.3d 209, 214-15 (W.D. Pa. 2015). Here, the
ALJ carefully and adequately assessed Dr. Schiller's
opinion, and incorporated the credited limitations into the
RFC. He explained his interpretation of each limitation
opined to, and the manner in which it was translated into the
RFC and the hypothetical question posed to the VE. Further,
the RFC's limitations address Plaintiffs physical and
mental conditions and subjective complaints, based on the
ALJ's competent assessment of the record evidence and
Plaintiffs credibility. Non-exertional limitations of the
type present here have been found to accommodate borderline
intellectual functioning. E.g., Hewitt v. Colvin, No. 3-104,
2015 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 34889, at *25 (E.D. Mo. Mar. 20, 2015).
The hypothetical question posed to the VE, in turn, properly
addressed the RFC. Plaintiffs contentions to the contrary are
unpersuasive, and I find no error.
assessed all of Plaintiff s remaining contentions and
suggested challenges, alongside the ALJ's decision and
the parties' briefs. Under applicable standards, the