United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania
OPINION AND ORDER
DONETTA W. AMBROSE UNITED STATES SENIOR DISTRICT JUDGE
Casey Kaye Schmader (“Schmader”) filed an
application for a period of disability and disability
insurance benefits in May of 2015. (R. 20) She alleged
disability based upon both physical and mental impairments
beginning in February of 2015. (R. 20) She was represented by
counsel at a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge
(“ALJ”), during which both she and a vocational
expert (“VE”) appeared and testified. (R. 20)
Ultimately, the ALJ denied benefits and the Appeals Council
denied Schmader’s request for review. She then filed
this appeal. The parties have filed Cross-Motions for Summary
Judgment. See ECF Docket Nos. 14 and 18. For the reasons set
forth below, the ALJ’s decision is affirmed.
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).
stated above, the ALJ denied Schmader’s claim for
benefits. More specifically, at step one, the ALJ found that
Schmader has not engaged in substantial gainful activity
since the alleged onset date. (R. 22) At step two, the ALJ
concluded that Schmader suffers from the following severe
impairments: inflammatory arthritis, fibromyalgia,
degenerative disc disease, bilateral carpal tunnel syndrome,
obstructive sleep apnea, anxiety, and depression. (R. 22-23)
At step three, the ALJ determined that Schmader 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.23-24) Between steps
three and four, the ALJ decided that Schmader has the
residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform
sedentary work with certain restrictions. (R. 24-29) At step
four, the ALJ found that Schmader is unable to perform her
past relevant work. (R. 29) At the fifth step of the
analysis, the ALJ concluded that, considering
Schmader’s age, education, work experience, and RFC,
there are jobs that exist in significant numbers in the
national economy that she can perform. (R. 29-30)
takes issue with the weight the ALJ accorded to the opinion
proffered by Dr. Newsome, her rheumatologist. According to
Schmader, the ALJ should have given Newsome’s opinion
“controlling weight.” As a colleague of mine
recently observed, for claims filed before March 27, 2017,
such as this one, the regulations provide that a treating
physician’s opinion be given controlling weight
provided that the opinion is well-supported by
“medically acceptable clinical and laboratory
diagnostic techniques and is not inconsistent with other
substantial evidence in the record.” Lyons v.
Berryhill, Civ. No. 18-1106, 2019 WL 4094701, at * 1 n.
1 (Aug. 29, 2019), citing, 20 C.F.R. § 404.1527(c)(2);
Fargnoli v. Massanari, 247 F.3d 34, 43 (3d Cir.
2001) and Plummer v. Apfel, 186 F.3d 422, 429 (3d
Cir. 1999). Consequently, “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.” Lyons, 2019 WL
4094701, at * 1 n. 1, citing, Plummer, 186 F.3d at
gave Newsome’s opinion “partial” weight.
(R. 28) Specifically, she gave Newsome’s
findings as to lifting, carrying, standing and walking
partial weight because she found those conclusions to be
“generally consistent with [Newsome’s]
longitudinal clinical findings, which support an ability to
perform a range of sedentary work.” (R.
28)In contrast, she rejected Newsome’s
remaining findings as “not entirely consistent with the
objective and subjective evidence of record.” (R.
Inconsistency with other evidence is a valid reason for
discounting opinion evidence. See 20 C.F.R. §§
404.1527; 416.927. Further, subjective evidence supports the
ALJ’s conclusion in this regard. For instance, as the
ALJ noted, Newsome opined that Schmader could never operate
foot controls or ambulate effectively over rough or uneven
terrain. (R. 524) Yet Schmader reported an ability to perform
other tasks which require her to use her feet, ambulate and
balance – such as regularly walking for exercise,
gardening, cleaning her home and driving for sixty minutes at
a time. (R. 28) Because the ALJ provided “good
reasons” for giving Newsome’s opinion only
partial weight, and because substantial record evidence
supports the ALJ’s decision in this regard, there is no
basis for remand.
this 24th of September, 2019, it is hereby ORDERED
that the Plaintiff’s Motion for Summary Judgment
(Docket No. 14) is DENIED and the Defendant’s Motion
for Summary Judgment (Docket No. 18) is GRANTED. It is