United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania
N. Bloch United States District Judge
NOW, this 23rd day of August, 2019, upon consideration of the
parties' cross-motions for summary judgment, the Court,
upon review of the Commissioner of Social Security's
final decision denying Plaintiff's claim for disability
insurance benefits under Subchapter II of the Social Security
Act, 42 U.S.C. § 401 et seq., and denying
Plaintiff's claim for supplemental security income
benefits under Subchapter XVI of the Social Security Act, 42
U.S.C. § 1381 et seq., finds that the
Commissioner's findings are supported by substantial
evidence and, accordingly, affirms. See 42 U.S.C.
§ 405(g); Jesurum v. Secretary of U.S. Department of
Health & Human Services, 48 F.3d 114, 117 (3d Cir.
1995); Williams v. Sullivan, 970 F.2d 1178, 1182 (3d
Cir. 1992), cert. denied sub nom., 507 U.S. 924
(1993); Brown v. Bowen, 845 F.2d 1211, 1213 (3d Cir.
1988). See also Berry v. Sullivan, 738 F.Supp. 942,
944 (W.D. Pa. 1990) (if supported by substantial evidence,
the Commissioner's decision must be affirmed, as a
federal court may neither reweigh the evidence, nor reverse,
merely because it would have decided the claim differently)
(citing Cotter v. Harris, 642 F.2d 700, 705 (3d Cir.
IT IS HEREBY ORDERED that Plaintiff's Motion for Summary
Judgment (document No. 11) is DENIED and that Defendant's
Motion for Summary Judgment (document No. 13) is GRANTED.
 Plaintiff argues that the
Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) erred in finding
her to be not disabled under the Social Security Act based on
two grounds. First, she contends that the ALJ failed to
properly evaluate the medical opinion evidence in this
matter. Next, she argues that the ALJ's assessment of her
credibility was defective. The Court finds no merit in either
of these positions and instead finds that substantial
evidence supports the ALJ's decision that Plaintiff is
Plaintiff first asserts that the ALJ erred in giving
“not great weight” to the opinions of her
treating psychiatrist, Mary Anne Galonski, M.D. (R. 485-96,
497-99, 549) in finding that she did not meet the
requirements of Listings 12.04 and/or 12.06, 20 C.F.R. Part
404, Subpart P, Appendix 1, at Step Three of the sequential
analysis, as well as in formulating her residual functional
capacity (“RFC”). Plaintiff contends that the
ALJ's rejection of Dr. Galonski's opinion was not
adequately explained and not supported by substantial
evidence. The Court disagrees.
Plaintiff is, of course, correct that when assessing a
claimant's application for benefits, the opinion of the
claimant's treating physician generally is to be afforded
significant weight. See Fargnoli v. Massanari, 247
F.3d 34, 43 (3d Cir. 2001); Plummer v. Apfel, 186
F.3d 422, 429 (3d Cir. 1999). In fact, the regulations
provide that for claims, such as this one, filed before March
27, 2017, a treating physician's opinion is to be given
“controlling weight” so long as the opinion is
well-supported by medically acceptable clinical and
laboratory diagnostic techniques and not inconsistent with
other substantial evidence in the record. 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.1527(c)(2), 416.927(c)(2);
Fargnoli, 247 F.3d at 43; Plummer, 186 F.3d
at 429. As a result, the ALJ may reject a treating
physician's opinion outright only on the basis of
contradictory medical evidence, and not on the basis of the
ALJ's own judgment or speculation, although he may afford
a treating physician's opinion more or less weight
depending upon the extent to which supporting explanations
are provided. See Plummer, 186 F.3d at 429. However,
it is also important to remember that:
The ALJ -- not treating or examining physicians or
State agency consultants -- must make the ultimate disability
and RFC determinations. Although treating and examining
physician opinions often deserve more weight than the
opinions of doctors who review records, “[t]he law is
clear . . . that the opinion of a treating physician does not
bind the ALJ on the issue of functional capacity[.]”
Brown v. Astrue, 649 F.3d 193, 197 n. 2 (3d
Cir.2011). State agent opinions merit significant
consideration as well.
Chandler v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 667 F.3d
356, 361 (3d Cir. 2011) (internal citations omitted in
Here, Plaintiff argues that the limitations to which
Dr. Galonski opined were substantially more restrictive than
those included in the RFC and that the ALJ lacked a
sufficient basis for rejecting these more onerous
limitations. However, in so doing, Plaintiff essentially just
disagrees with the ALJ's assessment of the record,
arguing that “there is ample support for Dr.
Galonski's opinion” in the records. (Doc. No. 12 at
15). To the extent that Plaintiff invites the Court to adopt
her own analysis as to how consistent Dr. Galonski's
opinions is with the record as a whole, the Court emphasizes
that, if supported by substantial evidence, the
Commissioner's decision must be affirmed, as a federal
court may neither reweigh the evidence, nor reverse, merely
because it would have decided the claim differently. See
Monsour Med. Ctr. v. Heckler, 806 F.2d 1185, 1190-91 (3d
Cir. 1986); Berry, 738 F.Supp. at 944 (citing
Cotter, 642 F.2d at 705). Likewise, it is not enough
that Plaintiff offers her own analysis as to how she believes
the record supports Dr. Galonski's opinion. “The
presence of evidence in the record that supports a contrary
conclusion does not undermine the [ALJ'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). The ALJ discussed Dr.
Galonski's opinion in significant detail and provided a
sufficient basis for his analysis, pointing out
inconsistencies between Dr. Galonski's rather extreme
opinions and the medical record, including Dr. Galonski's
own treatment notes, Plaintiff's moderate Global
Assessment of Functioning scores, and several relatively
unremarkable mental status examinations. The ALJ also noted
that Plaintiff's activities of daily living, including
volunteer work and some part-time work, did not support the
severity of the limitations included in Dr. Galonski's
opinion. (R. 20-21). Moreover, although Plaintiff suggests
that the ALJ gave short shrift to the fact that Dr. Galonski
was Plaintiff's long-term treating psychiatrist, the ALJ
clearly acknowledged and considered this fact. (R.
The ALJ also pointed out that Dr. Galonski's
opinion was inconsistent with that of Shelley Ross, Ph.D. (R.
91-103, 104-16), the state reviewing agent. (R. 21).
Plaintiff argues, though, that giving more weight to the
opinion of Dr. Ross than to that of the treating psychiatrist
was improper. However, although “the opinions of a
doctor who has never examined a patient have less probative
force as a general matter, than they would have had if the
doctor had treated or examined him, ” Morales v.
Apfel, 225 F.3d 310, 320 (3d Cir. 2000) (internal
quotations omitted), where “the opinion of a treating
physician conflicts with that of a non-treating,
non-examining physician, the ALJ may choose whom to
credit.” Id. at 317. See also Dula v.
Barnhart, 129 Fed.Appx. 715, 718-19 (3d Cir. 2005). The
ALJ, of course, “‘cannot reject evidence for no
reason or for the wrong reason, '”
Morales, 225 F.3d at 317 (quoting Plummer,
186 F.3d at 429), and can only give the opinion of a
non-treating, non-examining physician weight insofar as it is
supported by evidence in the case record, considering such
factors as the supportability of the opinion in the evidence,
the consistency of the opinion with the record as a whole,
including other medical opinions, and any explanation
provided for the opinion. See Social Security Ruling
96-6p, 1996 WL 374180 (S.S.A.), at *2 (1996). In certain
cases, it would not be unwarranted to give more weight to the
non-examining professional's opinion. See Salerno v.
Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 152 Fed.Appx. 208 (3d Cir.
2005) (affirming an ALJ's decision to credit the opinion
of the non-examining state agency reviewing psychologist
because his opinion was more supported by the record than the
opinions of the treating physician and the consultative
Here, the ALJ thoroughly discussed the record and its
consistency with the opinion of the state reviewing agent.
Plaintiff objects, however, due to the fact that Dr. Ross,
who rendered her opinion on June 19, 2015, did not have
access to later record evidence, including Dr. Galonski's
opinions. It is not unexpected for the record to contain
evidence postdating the state reviewing agent's opinion.
Generally speaking, “there is always a time lapse
between the consultant's report and the ALJ hearing and
decision.” Chandler, 667 F.3d at 361. The ALJ
acknowledged the time gap and considered it in rendering his
decision. The Court further notes that Dr. Galonski gave no
indication that she was familiar with Dr. Ross' opinion,
nor does her opinion purport to address any changed condition
from the date on which Dr. Ross rendered her opinion.
Moreover, while there is in fact evidence to which Dr. Ross
had no access, the ALJ was aware of and considered and
discussed said evidence in weighing the opinions.
Plaintiff next argues that the ALJ incorrectly
assessed the credibility of her testimony because he
neglected to consider her substantial work history. The ALJ
did find that Plaintiff's statements concerning the
intensity, persistence, and limiting effects of her symptoms
were not entirely consistent with the medical evidence and
other evidence of record. (R. 18). In so doing, the ALJ cited
to the medical evidence of record and reported daily
activities, which he found supported a finding that
Plaintiff's impairments reasonably may be expected to
produce some limitations, but not to the extent claimed by
Plaintiff. (R 17-20). While ...