United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania
N. Bloch United States District Judge.
NOW, this 28th day of August, 2019, upon
consideration of Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment
(Doc. No. 8), filed in the above-captioned matter on December
4, 2018, IT IS HEREBY ORDERED that said Motion is DENIED.
further, upon consideration of Plaintiff's Motion for
Summary Judgment (Doc. No. 6), filed in the above-captioned
matter on October 26, 2018, IT IS HEREBY ORDERED that said
Motion is GRANTED IN PART and DENIED IN PART. Specifically,
Plaintiff's Motion is granted to the extent that it seeks
remand to the Commissioner of Social Security
(“Commissioner”) for further evaluation as set
forth below, and denied in all other respects. Accordingly,
this matter is hereby remanded to the Commissioner for
further evaluation under sentence four of 42 U.S.C. §
405(g) in light of this Order.
March 16, 2015, Michael Reynolds protectively filed a claim
for supplemental security income under Title XVI of the
Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 1381 et
seq. Specifically, Plaintiff claimed that he became
disabled on September 7, 2012, due to fluid on lungs, hernia,
sleep apnea, ADHD, depression, anger issues, stress, and
history of alcoholism. (R. 235).
being denied initially on April 28, 2015, Plaintiff sought,
and obtained, a hearing on May 22, 2017, before an
Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”). (R. 9-51). In a
decision dated August 16, 2017, the ALJ denied
Plaintiff's request for benefits. (R. 105-115). The
Appeals Council declined to review the ALJ's decision on
July 19, 2018. (R. 1-5). Plaintiff filed a timely appeal with
this Court, and the parties have filed cross-motions for
Standard of Review
review of a social security case is based upon the pleadings
and the transcript of the record. See 42 U.S.C.
§ 405(g). The scope of review is limited to determining
whether the Commissioner applied the correct legal standards
and whether the record, as a whole, contains substantial
evidence to support the Commissioner's findings of fact.
See Matthews v. Apfel, 239 F.3d 589, 592 (3d Cir.
2001) (noting that “‘[t]he findings of the
Commissioner of Social Security as to any fact, if supported
by substantial evidence, shall be conclusive'”
(quoting 42 U.S.C. § 405(g))); Schaudeck v.
Comm'r of Soc. Sec. Admin., 181 F.3d 429, 431 (3d
Cir. 1999) (stating that the court has plenary review of all
legal issues, and reviews the administrative law judge's
findings of fact to determine whether they are supported by
evidence” is defined as “‘more than a mere
scintilla. It means such relevant evidence as a reasonable
mind might accept as adequate'” to support a
conclusion. Plummer v. Apfel, 186 F.3d 422, 427 (3d
Cir. 1999) (quoting Ventura v. Shalala, 55 F.3d 900,
901 (3d Cir. 1995)). However, a “‘single piece of
evidence will not satisfy the substantiality test if the
[Commissioner] ignores, or fails to resolve, a conflict
created by countervailing evidence.'” Morales
v. Apfel, 225 F.3d 310, 317 (3d Cir. 2000) (quoting
Kent v. Schweiker, 710 F.2d 110, 114 (3d Cir.
1983)). “'Nor is evidence substantial if it is
overwhelmed by other evidence- particularly certain types of
evidence (e.g., that offered by treating physicians)-or if it
really constitutes not evidence but mere
disability is established when the claimant can demonstrate
“some ‘medically determinable basis for an
impairment that prevents him [or her] from engaging in any
substantial gainful activity for a statutory twelve-month
period.'” Fargnoli v. Massanari, 247 F.3d
34, 38-39 (3d Cir. 2001) (quoting Plummer, 186 F.3d
at 427 (internal citation omitted)). “A claimant is
considered unable to engage in any substantial gainful
activity ‘only if his physical or mental impairment or
impairments are of such severity that he is not only unable
to do his previous work but cannot, considering his age,
education, and work experience, engage in any other kind of
substantial gainful work which exists in the national economy
. . . .'” Id. at 39 (quoting 42 U.S.C.
Social Security Administration has promulgated regulations
incorporating a five-step sequential evaluation process for
determining whether a claimant is under a disability as
defined by the Act. See 20 C.F.R. § 416.920. In
Step One, the Commissioner must determine whether the
claimant is currently engaging in substantial gainful
activity. See 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(a)(4)(i). If
so, the disability claim will be denied. See Bowen v.
Yuckert, 482 U.S. 137, 140 (1987). If not, the second
step of the process is to determine whether the claimant is
suffering from a severe impairment. See 20 C.F.R.
§ 416.920(a)(4)(ii). “An impairment or combination
of impairments is not severe if it does not significantly
limit [the claimant's] physical or mental ability to do
basic work activities.” 20 C.F.R. § 416.922(a). If
the claimant fails to show that his or her impairments are
“severe," he or she is ineligible for disability
benefits. If the claimant does have a severe impairment,
however, the Commissioner must proceed to Step Three and
determine whether the claimant's impairment meets or
equals the criteria for a listed impairment. See 20
C.F.R. § 416.920(a)(4)(iii). If a claimant meets a
listing, a finding of disability is automatically directed.
If the claimant does not meet a listing, the analysis
proceeds to Steps Four and Five.
Four requires the ALJ to consider whether the claimant
retains the residual functional capacity (“RFC”)
to perform his or her past relevant work, see 20
C.F.R. § 416.920(a)(4)(iv), and the claimant bears the
burden of demonstrating an inability to return to this past
relevant work, see Adorno v. Shalala, 40 F.3d 43, 46
(3d Cir. 1994). If the claimant is unable to resume his or
her former occupation, the evaluation then moves to the fifth
and final step.
stage, the burden of production shifts to the Commissioner,
who must demonstrate that the claimant is capable of
performing other available work in the national economy in
order to deny a claim of disability. See 20 C.F.R.
§ 416.920(a)(4)(v). In making this determination, the
ALJ should consider the claimant's RFC, age, education,
and past work experience. See Id. The ALJ must
further analyze the cumulative effect of all the
claimant's impairments in determining whether he or she
is capable of performing work and is not disabled.
See 20 C.F.R. § 416.923.