United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania
N. Bloch United States District Judge.
NOW, this 28th 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 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. 1981)).
IT IS HEREBY ORDERED that Plaintiff's Motion for Summary
Judgment (document No. 12) is DENIED and that Defendant's
Motion for Summary Judgment (document No. 14) is GRANTED.
 Plaintiff argues that the
Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) erred in not
ordering a consultative examination to be performed, in
finding that her back and shoulder pain and carpal tunnel
syndrome did not constitute severe impairments at Step Two of
the sequential analysis, and in formulating her residual
functional capacity (“RFC”). The Court finds no
merit in Plaintiff's contentions and finds that
substantial evidence supports the ALJ's decision.
Plaintiff's first argument is that the ALJ
improperly declined to order mental and physical consultative
examinations. Her attorney had requested that such
examinations be ordered at the hearing, but the ALJ issued no
such order. The Court finds, however, that the ALJ did not
err in declining to order such an exam. While an ALJ
may order a consultative
examination if the record is insufficient to render a
decision, he or she is generally not required to do so.
See 20 C.F.R. §§ 416.919a, 416.920b;
Thompson v. Halter, 45 Fed.Appx. 146, 149 (3d Cir.
2002). Generally, an ALJ is authorized to obtain a
consultative examination “if the information needed to
make a disability determination, ‘such as clinical
findings, laboratory tests, a diagnosis or a prognosis'
cannot be obtained from the claimant's medical
sources.” Tuulaupua v. Colvin, Civ. No.
14-1121, 2015 WL 5769984, at *6 (W.D. Pa. Sept. 30, 2015)
(quoting 20 C.F.R. §§ 416.919a(a) and (b)). Such an
examination may be ordered “to try to resolve an
inconsistency in the evidence or when the evidence as a whole
is insufficient to support a determination or decision on
your claim.” 20 C.F.R. § 416.919a(b). The decision
whether to order such an examination is within the sound
discretion of the ALJ. See Thompson, 45 Fed.Appx. at
149. This decision “should be firmly rooted in an
assessment of the evidence as a whole.” Woodman v.
Berryhill, Civ. No. 3:17-cv-151, 2018 WL 1056401, at *5
(M.D. Pa. Jan. 30, 2018).
The Court here finds that the ALJ did not abuse her
discretion in not obtaining a consultative examination. As
noted, at the administrative hearing in this matter,
Plaintiff's counsel requested that the ALJ obtain a
consultative mental examination, or at the very least a
physical one, and set forth the basis for her request. (R.
83-88). While the ALJ agreed with counsel that
Plaintiff's medical record was “sparse, ” she
at no time indicated that the record was insufficient to
render a decision. (R. 85). Rather, she seems to have been
indicating that there simply was not much evidence
establishing a disability, not that more evidence was needed
to render a decision. Indeed, the record contained a good
deal of medical evidence, but that evidence did not
demonstrate that Plaintiff was disabled. The Court further
notes that the state reviewing agents also did not deem a
consultative examination to be needed. (R. 100. 109). Under
these circumstances, the Court finds that substantial
evidence supports the ALJ's exercise of her
Plaintiff next argues that the ALJ erred in finding
that her back and shoulder pain were not medically
determinable impairments and that her carpal tunnel syndrome
constituted a non-severe impairment at Step Two. However, the
Step Two determination as to whether a claimant is suffering
from a severe impairment is a threshold analysis requiring
the showing of only one severe impairment. See Bradley v.
Barnhart, 175 Fed.Appx. 87, 90 (7th Cir.
2006). In other words, as long as a claim is not denied at
Step Two, it is not generally necessary for the ALJ
specifically to have found any additional alleged impairment
to be severe. See Salles v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec.,
229 Fed.Appx. 140, 145 n.2 (3d Cir. 2007); Lee v.
Astrue, Civ. No. 06-5167, 2007 WL 1101281, at *3 n.5
(E.D. Pa. Apr. 12, 2007); Lyons v. Barnhart, Civ.
No. 05-104, 2006 WL 1073076, at *3 (W.D. Pa. March 27, 2006).
Since Plaintiff's claim was not denied at Step Two, it
does not matter whether the ALJ correctly or incorrectly
found that Plaintiff's alleged back and shoulder
condition and carpal tunnel syndrome were not severe
Of course, even if an impairment is non-severe, it may
still affect a claimant's RFC. In assessing a
claimant's RFC, the ALJ “must consider limitations
and restrictions imposed by all of an individual's
impairments, even those that are not
‘severe.'” SSR 96-8p, 1996 WL 374184
(S.S.A.), at *5 (July 2, 1996). See also 20 C.F.R.
§ 416.945(a)(2). “While a ‘not severe'
impairment(s) standing alone may not significantly limit an
individual's ability to do basic work activities, it may
- when considered with limitations or restrictions due to
other impairments - be critical to the outcome of a
claim.” SSR 96-8p at *5. Accordingly, merely because
the ALJ did not find Plaintiff's back and shoulder pain
and carpal tunnel syndrome to be severe impairments does not
mean that these conditions could not still have affected
Here, however, the ALJ emphasized that she was
considering the effects of Plaintiff's non-severe
impairments, including her carpal tunnel syndrome and back
and shoulder pain, in determining Plaintiff's RFC, in
accordance with Section 416.945(a)(2). (R. 16, 17). Indeed,
the ALJ expressly noted that the RFC adequately accounted for
Plaintiff's back condition (R. 17), and included specific
upper extremity limitations to account for Plaintiff's
carpal tunnel syndrome in formulating the RFC. (R. 17, 19).
To the extent that Plaintiff argues that the RFC was
insufficient, or that the ALJ erred in failing to incorporate
the weight lifting limitations to which consultative examiner
Semon Bader, M.D., opined, the Court finds that substantial
evidence supports the ALJ's findings. The ALJ explained
at great length how she formulated the RFC, discussing
Plaintiff's relatively unremarkable physical exams, her
modest treatment history, her activities of daily living,
including the fact that she hand-made jewelry despite her
carpal tunnel syndrome, her poor work history, and the fact
that the state reviewing agents actually found Plaintiff to
be significantly less limited in her ability to work. (R.
18-19, 98-104, 106-112). The Court further notes that Dr.
Bader, a consultant from a prior SSI application, issued his
opinion well prior to the amended onset date (R. 84, 567),
and, in any event, the limitations to which he opined would
not have precluded Plaintiff from working. (R.
The issue is not whether Plaintiff did, in fact,
suffer from lower back and shoulder pain and/or carpal tunnel
syndrome, but whether these conditions “caused
functional limitations that precluded [her] from engaging in
any substantial gainful activity.” Walker v.
Barnhart, 172 Fed.Appx. 423, 426 (3d Cir. 2006). The ALJ
explained how she formulated Plaintiff's RFC in
significant detail, and the Court finds her determination to