United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania
YVONNE C. PERSCHKA, Plaintiff,
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.
N. Bloch United States District Judge
NOW, this 11th day of September, 2019, upon consideration of
the parties' cross-motions for summary judgment, the
Court, upon review of the Commissioner of Social
Security's final decision that Plaintiff's
eligibility for disability insurance benefits under
Subchapter II of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §
401 et seq., ended on September 22, 2014, finds that
the Commissioner's findings are supported by substantial
evidence and, accordingly, affirms. See 42 U.S.C.
§ 405(g); 20 C.F.R. § 404.1594; 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. 10) is GRANTED.
 Plaintiff raises three primary
arguments in regard to her claim that the Administrative Law
Judge (“ALJ”) erred in finding that she was no
longer disabled under the Social Security Act as of September
22, 2014 because of medical improvements in her impairments.
She first asserts that the ALJ failed adequately to identify
a decrease in the medical severity of her impairments based
on improved symptoms, signs, or laboratory findings. She
further argues that the ALJ failed to properly evaluate the
medical opinion evidence in the record in formulating her
residual functional capacity (“RFC”). Finally,
she alleges that the ALJ did not properly address her mental
impairments of anxiety and depression. The Court finds no
merit in these various arguments and instead finds that
substantial evidence supports the ALJ's decision that
Plaintiff is not disabled.
Plaintiff had previously been found to be disabled due
to fibromyalgia and neck disorder with an onset date of
January 1, 2006. However, pursuant to 20 C.F.R. §
404.1594, the Social Security Administration
(“SSA”) is required to review a claimant's
continued entitlement to benefits periodically. Among the
factors considered by the SSA in determining whether the
claimant's disability continues is whether “there
has been any medical improvement in [the claimant's]
impairment(s) and, if so, whether this medical improvement is
related to [the claimant's] ability to work.” 20
C.F.R. § 404.1594(a).
Medical improvement is any decrease in the medical
severity of [the claimant's] impairment(s) which was
present at the time of the most favorable medical decision
that [the claimant was] disabled or continued to be disabled.
A determination that there has been a decrease in medical
severity must be based on improvement in the symptoms, signs,
and/or laboratory findings associated with [the
Id. at § 404.1594(b)(1). Plaintiff
contends that the ALJ failed to base her finding that there
had been sufficient medical improvement in Plaintiff's
impairments of fibromyalgia and neck disorder on specific
evidence of improvement in her symptoms, signs, and/or
laboratory findings. She also argues that the ALJ over-relied
on the findings of the consultative examiner in rendering her
decision. The Court disagrees.
Contrary to Plaintiff's claims, the ALJ expressly
relied on the signs demonstrated by the clinical findings of
Hua Yang, M.D., the consultative examiner, from August 27,
2014. (R. 62-65, 366-378). Dr. Yang's findings were based
on a physical examination of Plaintiff employing medically
acceptable clinical diagnostic techniques and clearly showed
less limitation than had been found in 2009. These clinical
findings, therefore, were sufficient to establish improvement
in the signs associated with Plaintiff's disability.
See 20 C.F.R. § 404.1528(b). While Plaintiff
alleges that the ALJ over-relied on these findings, the ALJ
actually examined the record as a whole, including the
opinions of the state reviewing agents, in holding that there
was sufficient evidence of medical improvement in
Plaintiff's symptoms. (R. 62-65). Indeed, she found the
longitudinal treatment records to be supportive of the
findings or Dr. Yang, as well as the opinions of the state
reviewing agents. (R. 63). The ALJ also, contrary to
Plaintiff's position, pointed to evidence that Plaintiff
was able to perform her activities of daily living after
September 22, 2014. (R. 64, 589). Given the ALJ's
thorough consideration and analysis of the record evidence,
the Court finds that her determination of medical improvement
is supported by substantial evidence.
Plaintiff next argues that, even if there was
sufficient medical improvement in her impairments, the ALJ
failed to formulate an accurate RFC because she gave too
little weight to the opinions of John Kalata, D.O.,
Plaintiff's treating physician (R. 431, 620-25) and too
much to those of the consultative examiner, Dr. Yang (R.
366-378), and state reviewing agents (R. 379-91, 392-98,
399-406, 412-24). Plaintiff is correct, of course, 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
she 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 part).
Here, the ALJ included in her decision a substantial
discussion as to why she weighed the medical opinions as to
Plaintiff's functional limitations as she did and as to
how she formulated Plaintiff's RFC.
The ALJ discussed at significant length how Dr.
Kalata's opinions were inconsistent with the medical
record, Plaintiff's treatment history, and the other
medical opinions. (R. 71-72). Indeed, the ALJ provided very
specific examples of ways in which the record was
inconsistent with Dr. Kalata's opinion, such as the lack
of any evidence of her need to lie down unpredictably. (R.
71). She also noted that Dr. Kalata opined that Plaintiff had
marked limitations in daily activities despite having
previously noted in his records that she could perform her
activities of daily living. (R. 71, 589, 625). The ALJ
further noted that Dr. ...