United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania
ANTIONETTE T. BRYANT, Plaintiff,
ANDREW M. SAUL, COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.
Donetta W. Ambrose United States Senior District Judge.
before the Court are Cross-Motions for Summary Judgment. (ECF
Nos. 12 and 15). Both parties have filed Briefs in Support of
their Motions. (ECF Nos.14 and 16). After careful
consideration of the submissions of the parties, and based on
my Opinion set forth below, I am granting Plaintiff's
Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 12) and denying
Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment. (ECF No. 15).
brought this action for review of the final decision of the
Commissioner of Social Security denying her application for
supplemental security income pursuant to the Social Security
Act. Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”), Helen
Valkavich, held a hearing on February 1, 2017. (ECF No. 8-3).
On March 24, 2017, the ALJ found that Plaintiff was not
disabled under the Social Security Act. (ECF No. 8-2, pp.
exhausting administrative remedies thereafter, Plaintiff
filed this action. The parties have filed Cross-Motions for
Summary Judgment. (ECF Nos. 12 and 15). The issues are now
ripe for review.
Standard of Review
standard of review in social security cases is whether
substantial evidence exists in the record to support the
Commissioner's decision. Allen v. Bowen, 881
F.2d 37, 39 (3d Cir. 1989). Substantial evidence has been
defined as “more than a mere scintilla. It means such
relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as
adequate.” Ventura v. Shalala, 55 F.3d 900,
901 (3d Cir. 1995), quoting Richardson v. Perales,
402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971). Additionally, the
Commissioner's findings of fact, if supported by
substantial evidence, are conclusive. 42 U.S.C. §405(g);
Dobrowolsky v. Califano, 606 F.2d 403, 406 (3d Cir.
1979). A district court cannot conduct a de novo
review of the Commissioner's decision or re-weigh the
evidence of record. Palmer v. Apfel, 995 F.Supp.
549, 552 (E.D. Pa. 1998). Where the ALJ's findings of
fact are supported by substantial evidence, a court is bound
by those findings, even if the court would have decided the
factual inquiry differently. Hartranft v. Apfel, 181
F.3d 358, 360 (3d Cir. 1999). To determine whether a finding
is supported by substantial evidence, however, the district
court must review the record as a whole. See, 5
eligible for social security benefits, the plaintiff must
demonstrate that he cannot engage in substantial gainful
activity because of a medically determinable physical or
mental impairment which can be expected to result in death or
which has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous
period of at least 12 months. 42 U.S.C. §423(d)(1)(A);
Brewster v. Heckler, 786 F.2d 581, 583 (3d Cir.
Commissioner has provided the ALJ with a five-step sequential
analysis to use when evaluating the disabled status of each
claimant. 20 C.F.R. §404.1520(a). The ALJ must
determine: (1) whether the claimant is currently engaged in
substantial gainful activity; (2) if not, whether the
claimant has a severe impairment; (3) if the claimant has a
severe impairment, whether it meets or equals the criteria
listed in 20 C.F.R., pt. 404, subpt. P., appx. 1; (4) if the
impairment does not satisfy one of the impairment listings,
whether the claimant's impairments prevent him from
performing his past relevant work; and (5) if the claimant is
incapable of performing his past relevant work, whether he
can perform any other work which exists in the national
economy, in light of his age, education, work experience and
residual functional capacity
(“RFC”). 20 C.F.R. §404.1520. The claimant
carries the initial burden of demonstrating by medical
evidence that he is unable to return to his previous
employment (steps 1-4). Dobrowolsky, 606 F.2d at
406. Once the claimant meets this burden, the burden of proof
shifts to the Commissioner to show that the claimant can
engage in alternative substantial gainful activity (step 5).
district court, after reviewing the entire record may affirm,
modify, or reverse the decision with or without remand to the
Commissioner for rehearing. Podedworny v. Harris,
745 F.2d 210, 221 (3d Cir. 1984).
Record not discussed
amended brief, Plaintiff argues that this case should be
remanded because the ALJ failed to mention, discuss or
analyze a CT scan that indicates Plaintiff suffers from
chiari malformation of the brainstem. (ECF No. 14, p. 1,
n.1). Plaintiff submits that symptoms associated with chiari
malformation of the brainstem are consistent with her
testimony. Id. Along those same lines, Plaintiff
argues that limitations associated therewith should have been
included with the hypothetical questions posed to the
vocational expert (“VE”). Id. Therefore,
Plaintiff seeks remand on this basis. Id. After a
review of the record, I agree.
hearing in this matter on February 1, 2017, the ALJ and
counsel discussed the documents that comprised the record
evidence in the case. (ECF No. 8-3). Clearly, there was
confusion as to which documents had been filed. Id.
After resolution, the ALJ asked counsel if he was aware of
any other evidence that was not currently in the file.
Id. at p. 7. Counsel responded that
“[e]verything that has been submitted is everything
that I'm aware of….And to my understanding the
record is complete.” Id. Then, at the end of
the hearing, the ALJ closed the record and counsel did not
object or ask that the record be held open for the submission
of additional evidence. Id. at p. 67. Nonetheless,
on February 21, 2017, the medical record containing the CT
was filed as part of the record evidence at Exhibit B11F.
(ECF No. 8-1, p. 2; No. 8-14, pp. 19-24). Thereafter, on