United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania
OPINION AND ORDER
Donetta W. Ambrose United States Senior District Judge.
Doina Liliana Grancea (“Grancea”) filed an
application for a period of disability and disability
insurance benefits in February of 2015. (R. 12) She alleged
disability based upon both physical and mental impairments.
Her application was denied. She was represented by counsel at
a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ)
during which both she and a vocational expert
(“VE”) testified. (R. 12) Ultimately, the ALJ
denied benefits and the Appeals Council denied Grancea's
request for review. Grancea then filed this appeal. The
parties have filed Cross-Motions for Summary Judgment.
See ECF Docket Nos. 8 and 14. For the reasons set
forth below, the ALJ's decision is vacated and the case
is remanded for further consideration.
Standard of Review
review of the Commissioner's final decisions on
disability claims is provided by statute. 42 U.S.C.
§§ 405(g) and 1383(c)(3)(7). Section 405(g) permits
a district court to review the transcripts and records upon
which a determination of the Commissioner is based, and the
court will review the record as a whole. See 5 U.S.C. §
706. When reviewing a decision, the district court's role
is limited to determining whether the record contains
substantial evidence to support an ALJ's findings of
fact. Burns v. Barnhart, 312 F.3d 113, 118 (3d Cir.
2002). 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). Determining whether substantial evidence
exists is “not merely a quantitative exercise.”
Gilliland v. Heckler, 786 F.2d 178, 183 (3d Cir.
1986) (citing Kent v. Schweiker, 710 F.2d 110, 114
(3d Cir. 1983)). “A single piece of evidence will not
satisfy the substantiality test if the secretary ignores, or
fails to resolve, a conflict created by countervailing
evidence. Nor is evidence substantial if it is overwhelmed by
other evidence - particularly certain types of evidence
(e.g., that offered by treating physicians).”
Id. 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); Richardson, 402 U.S. at 390, 91
a district court cannot conduct a de novo review of
the Commissioner's decision, or re-weigh the evidence of
record; the court can only judge the propriety of the
decision with reference to the grounds invoked by the
Commissioner when the decision was rendered. Palmer v.
Apfel, 995 F.Supp. 549, 552 (E.D. Pa. 1998); S.E.C.
v. Chenery Corp., 332 U.S. 194, 196-7, 67 S.Ct. 1575, 91
L.Ed. 1995 (1947). Otherwise stated, “I may not weigh
the evidence or substitute my own conclusion for that of the
ALJ. I must defer to the ALJ's evaluation of evidence,
assessment of the credibility of witnesses, and
reconciliation of conflicting expert opinions. If the
ALJ's findings of fact are supported by substantial
evidence, I am bound by those findings, even if I would have
decided the factual inquiry differently.” Brunson
v. Astrue, 2011 WL 2036692, 2011 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 55457
(E.D. Pa. Apr. 14, 2011) (citations omitted).
The ALJ's Decision
stated above, the ALJ denied Grancea's claim for
benefits. More specifically, at step one, the ALJ found that
Grancea has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since
the alleged onset date. (R. 15) At step two, the ALJ
concluded that Grancea suffers from the following severe
impairments: migraine headaches, depressive disorder,
adjustment disorder with mixed anxiety and depressed mood,
and fibromyalgia. (R. 15) At step three, the ALJ determined
that Grancea does not have an impairment or combination of
impairments that meets or medically equals one of the listed
impairments in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P,
Appendix 1. (R.15-17) Between steps three and four, the ALJ
decided that Grancea has the residual functional capacity
(“RFC”) to perform light work with certain
restrictions. (R. 17-23) At step four, the ALJ found that
Grancea is able to perform her past relevant work as a
janitor as it was actually performed. (R. 23) At the fifth
step of the analysis, the ALJ concluded that, considering
Grancea's age, education, work experience, and RFC, there
are jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national
economy that she can perform. (R. 23-4)
presents several issues on appeal, yet I only need to address
her concerns with the ALJ's assessment of her migraines.
Specifically, I limit my focus to her contention that the ALJ
erred in failing to conclude that her migraines equaled a
listed impairment at the third step of the sequential
parties agree that there is no Listing specifically for
migraines and that the most analogous Listing is 11.02
(Epilepsy). See ECF Docket No. 9, p. 9 and Docket
No. 15, p. 12. Listing 11.02 can be met “where the
claimant experiences generalized tonic-clonic seizures at
least once per month for three consecutive months, or where
the claimant experiences dyscognitive seizures at least once
per week for three consecutive months, despite adherence to
prescribed treatment.” Snow v. Berryhill, Civ.
No. 18-434, 2019 WL 1873551, at * 4 (N.D. Ind. April 26,
2019), citing, 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Supbpt. P, App. 1
(Listing 11.02(A) and (B)). Listing 11.02 can also
be met “where the claimant experiences less frequent
but more severe seizures that result in marked limitations in
the claimant's ability to function.” Id.,
at * 4, n. 2, citing, 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpt. P,
App. 1 (Listing 11.02(C) and (D)).
Grancea urges that she can demonstrate medical equivalence
under this alternate option - Listing 11.02(D). The Listing
provides, in relevant part:
D. Dyscognitive seizures …, occurring at least once
every 2 weeks for at least 3 consecutive months…
despite adherence to prescribed treatment…; and a