United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania
N. Bloch United States District Judge.
NOW, this 29th 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., 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. 7) 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
formulating her residual functional capacity
(“RFC”) because he failed to properly evaluate
the medical opinion evidence in this matter. In the
alternative, Plaintiff argues that the case should be
remanded to the Commissioner on the basis of new evidence
pursuant to sentence six of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). The
Court disagrees and finds that substantial evidence supports
the ALJ's decision that Plaintiff is not disabled and
that remand is not warranted on the basis of the proffered
Plaintiff first asserts that the ALJ erred in not
giving sufficient weight to the opinions of her treating
physician, Uma Purighalla, M.D. (R. 342, 344, 476-78, 480-83,
504, 512, 519-20, 533-34) in formulating her RFC. 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); 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 ALJ erred in not
adopting the limitations to which Dr. Purighalla opined at
various points in the record, which were substantially more
restrictive than those included in the RFC. However, the ALJ
discussed Dr. Purighalla's opinions in substantial detail
and provided a sufficient basis for giving the opinions
little weight. Specifically, he discussed Dr.
Purighalla's lack of expertise, inconsistencies between
Dr. Purighalla's opinions and the medical record,
internal inconsistencies among the opinions, and the fact
that Dr. Purighalla had included a number of serious
restrictions that had no record support whatsoever. (R.
36-37). The ALJ also pointed out that Dr Purighalla's
opinions were inconsistent with those of Dr. Alexander
Kandabarow (R. 780) and Paul Fox, M.D. (R. 91-103, 104-16),
the state reviewing agent. In fact, the ALJ assigned only
partial weight to these opinions, finding Plaintiff to be
more limited than opined by Drs. Kandabarow and Fox. (R.
36-37). In essence, then, the ALJ did precisely what he was
supposed to do - weigh and consider the various opinions, in
light of the evidence, in determining Plaintiff's RFC.
The Court notes that the ALJ also discussed Plaintiff's
inconsistent treatment, her lack of compliance with
treatment, and her activities of daily living, supporting his
findings with citations to the record. (R. 36-37). In light
of all of this, the Court finds the ALJ's consideration
of the medical opinions and his formulation of the RFC to be
supported by substantial evidence.
As noted, Plaintiff alternatively argues that the case
should be remanded to the Commissioner for further
consideration in light of new evidence - specifically a
Functional Capacity Evaluation completed by NovaCare on May
8, 2018. (R. 7-20). The Appeals Council declined to consider
this evidence in reviewing the ALJ's decision (R. 2),
which Plaintiff contends was in error.
It is well-established that evidence that was not
before the ALJ cannot be considered by a district court in
its determination of whether or not the ALJ's decision
was supported by substantial evidence. See Matthews v.
Apfel, 239 F.3d 589, 594 (3d Cir. 2001); Chandler v.
Commissioner of Soc. Sec., 667 F.3d 356, 360 (3d Cir.
2011). Accordingly, the Court cannot rely on any records not
submitted to the ALJ in making its determination here. As
discussed herein, based on the record before the ALJ at the
time he issued his decision, substantial evidence supported
his finding that Plaintiff was not disabled.
However, a district court can remand a case on the
basis of new evidence under sentence six of 42 U.S.C. §
405(g). Section 405(g) provides, in relevant part:
[The court] may at any time order additional evidence
to be taken before the Commissioner of Social Security, but
only upon a showing that there is new evidence which is
material and that there is good cause for failure to
incorporate such ...