United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania
DAWN L. LOZADA, 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. 7 and 10). Both parties have filed Briefs in Support of
their Motions. (ECF Nos. 8 and 11). After careful
consideration of the submissions of the parties, and based on
my Opinion set forth below, I am granting Plaintiff's
Motion (ECF No. 7) and denying Defendant's Motion for
Summary Judgment. (ECF No. 10).
brought this action for review of the final decision of the
Commissioner of Social Security denying her applications for
supplemental security income and disability insurance
benefits pursuant to the Social Security Act. Administrative
Law Judge (“ALJ”), Stephen Cordovani, held a
video hearing on July 10, 2017. (ECF No. 7-6, p. 26-59). On
September 22, 2017, the ALJ issued an unfavorable decision.
(ECF No. 5-2, pp. 15-30).
exhausting all administrative remedies, Plaintiff filed the
instant action with this court. The parties have filed
Cross-Motions for Summary Judgment. (ECF Nos. 7 and 10). 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. 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).
Step 2 - Severe Impairment
Plaintiff first argues that the ALJ erred in his analysis of
her fibromyalgia when he stated that “there is no
definitive diagnosis of fibromyalgia.” (ECF No. 8, pp.
12-14, citing No. 5-2, p. 19). Continuing on, Plaintiff
essentially contends that the ALJ's failure to evaluate
her limitations infected the rest of the sequential
evaluation. Id. at pp. 12-14, 19-20. Therefore,
Plaintiff submits that remand is warranted. Id.
After a review of the record, I agree.
two of the analysis, an ALJ must determine whether the
claimant has a medically determinable impairment that is
severe or a combination of impairments that is severe. 20
C.F.R. §416.1420(a). Importantly, the mere existence of
a diagnosis or an abnormal reading does not equate to a
severe impairment. Phillips v. Barnhart, 91
Fed.Appx. 775, 780 (3d Cir. March 10, 2004). The question of
severity relies not on the particular condition, but on the
limitations stemming from that condition. Id. To be
clear, an impairment is not severe if it does not
significantly limit the physical or mental ability to do
basic work activities and/or does not last or is not expected
to last for a continuous period of at least 12 months. 20