United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania
RICHARD A. MCCURDY, Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, COMMISSIONER, SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION Defendant.
N. BLOCH, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
NOW, this 26th day of September, 2019, upon
consideration of Plaintiff’s Motion 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., and denying Plaintiff’s
claim for supplemental security income benefits under
Subchapter XVI of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §
1381 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. Sec’y of U.S. Dep’t of Health
& Human Servs., 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 (Doc. No. 10) is DENIED and
Defendant’s Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. No. 12)
 Plaintiff argues that the
Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) erred by: (1)
failing to consider properly the medical opinion evidence of
Plaintiff’s treating physician in making
Plaintiff’s residual functional capacity assessment
(“RFC”); and (2) failing to discuss sufficiently
certain medical records in his decision. The Court disagrees
and finds that substantial evidence supports the ALJ’s
findings as well as her ultimate determination, based on all
the evidence presented, of Plaintiff’s
First, the Court finds no merit in Plaintiff’s
contention regarding the ALJ’s decision not to give
great weight to the opinion rendered by treating physician
Louis W. Catalano, M.D. in formulating Plaintiff’s RFC.
(R. 651-53). A claimant’s RFC is the most that a
claimant can do despite his or her limitations. See
20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1545(a), 416.945(a). In
formulating a claimant’s RFC, the ALJ must weigh the
evidence as a whole, including medical records, medical
source opinions, a claimant’s subjective complaints,
and descriptions of his or her own limitations. See
20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1527, 404.1529, 404.1545, 416.927,
416.929, 416.945. It is well-established that “[t]he
ALJ-not treating or examining physicians or State agency
consultants-must make the ultimate disability and RFC
determinations.” Chandler v. Comm’r of Soc.
Sec., 667 F.3d 356, 361 (3d Cir. 2011) (citing 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.1527(e)(1), 404.1546(c)).
Moreover, “[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). A treating
physician’s opinion is only entitled to controlling
weight if it is “well-supported by medically acceptable
clinical and laboratory diagnostic techniques and is not
inconsistent with the other substantial evidence in [the
claimant’s] case record.” Fargnoli v.
Massanari, 247 F.3d 34, 43 (3d Cir. 2001) (quoting 20
C.F.R. § 404.1527(c)(2)). “If, however, the
treating physician's opinion conflicts with other medical
evidence, then the ALJ is free to give that opinion less than
controlling weight or even reject it, so long as the ALJ
clearly explains [his or] her reasons and makes a clear
record.” Salles v. Comm’r of Soc. Sec.,
229 Fed.Appx. 140, 148 (3d Cir. 2007). A treating
physician’s opinion on the ultimate issue of disability
is not entitled to any “special significance, ”
and an ALJ is not required to accept it since the
determination of whether an individual is disabled “is
an ultimate issue reserved to the Commissioner.”
Smith v. Comm’r of Social Sec., 178 Fed.Appx.
106, 112 (3d Cir. 2006).
In the present case, the Court finds that the ALJ did
not fail to provide sufficient reasons for discounting Dr.
Catalano’s opinion, nor did she substitute her own lay
analysis for the judgment of Dr. Catalano in formulating
Plaintiff’s RFC. Rather, the ALJ fulfilled her duty as
fact-finder to evaluate Dr. Catalano’s opinion,
considering a number of factors, and in light of all the
evidence presented in the record. See 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.1527, 416.927. In fact, the ALJ specified
that she was giving Dr. Catalano’s opinion little
weight only after extensively discussing Plaintiff’s
treatment and examination records and his relatively full and
independent activities of daily living (including working
side jobs three days a week), and while also weighing the
other opinion evidence in the record. (R. 15-19). In the end,
the ALJ ultimately found that Dr. Catalano’s statement
should be given little weight because it is inconsistent with
the record. (R. 19).
Moreover, the Court notes that the medical source
statement of Dr. Catalano that Plaintiff is discussing here
consists of a simple form evaluation that was filled out by
the doctor. (R. 651-53). The form largely consists of options
to circle or check and blanks to be filled in by hand. The
Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit has stated that
“[f]orm reports in which a physician’s obligation
is only to check a box or fill in a blank are weak evidence
at best.” Mason v. Shalala, 994 F.2d 1058,
1065 (3d Cir. 1993). Thus, the Court notes that, on its face,
Dr. Catalano’s medical source statement alone lacks
significant discussion, explanation, or details to justify
his findings contained therein. To the extent the limitations
that Dr. Catalano found can be justified by referring to his
treatment records, the ALJ sufficiently explained why he
found such justification to be lacking.
Notably, in his decision, the ALJ reviewed the
restrictions included in Dr. Catalano’s medical source
statement, including that Plaintiff would have significant
difficulties grasping, turning and twisting small objects and
using his fingers for fine manipulation with both hands; that
Plaintiff has severe pain that would prevent him from using
his hands on a routine and continuous basis for work-related
activities; and that he would need unscheduled breaks, would
be off-task 25% or more of the workday, and would be absent
from work more than 4 days per month. (R. 18-19). The ALJ
explained that he was giving Dr. Catalano’s opinion as
to Plaintiff’s restrictions little weight, however,
because it is inconsistent with the record, particularly his
deposition testimony. (R. 19). The ALJ noted that, in his
deposition, Dr. Catalano stated that Plaintiff could not go
back to his old job because of the heavy repetitive lifting
and repetitive work it involved, but he also explained that
Plaintiff could perform light duty work. (R. 19). The ALJ
further explained that Dr. Catalano stated in his deposition
that he generally agreed with the functional capacity
evaluation completed by Thomas Buches, P.T., D.P.T., which
found that Plaintiff may do better with a job that has a
short day or that consists of alternative work that does not
involve him handling heavy brick and block all day, and that
would include activities that are less repetitive and would
involve less weight, including sedentary work such as
writing, typing, and hand manipulation of smaller objects.
(R. 593, 616). Regardless of whether Dr. Catalano’s
deposition was given in the context of a workers’
compensation claim or a social security disability claim, the
ALJ clearly could find that such findings conflict with the
significant restrictions included in Dr. Catalano’s
medical source statement.
In continuing his discussion, the ALJ also explained
that the record contained complaints of hand pain, numbness,
and cold intolerance by Plaintiff. (R. 19). Finally, the ALJ
noted that, as the record includes multiple opinions relative
to Plaintiff’s ability to return to work in the context
of litigation and/or a workers’ compensation claim, he
gave such opinions some weight (including that of Dr.
Catalano who indicated that Plaintiff would be unable to
perform his job as a bricklayer) because they are consistent
with the overall record. (R. 19, 634). The ALJ then concluded
that he had accommodated Plaintiff’s limitations by
including appropriate manipulative, environmental, and mental
limitations in the RFC. (R. 19).
As the Court noted, supra, the ALJ reviewed
and discussed the evidence of record at length in his
decision. While some evidence supports Plaintiff’s
complaints, the Court finds that a great deal of evidence is
not consistent with the extreme limitations contained in Dr.
Catalano’s opinion. For instance, as the ALJ stated in
his review of the record, while there were complaints of pain
and sleep difficulties in the record, Plaintiff often
appeared alert and oriented and in no apparent distress upon
examination. (R. 17). Although there were complaints of
concentration and memory difficulties, examinations
documented intact memory and good attention span and
concentration. (R. 17). Although Plaintiff complained of
headaches, he did not report this consistently in medical
records. (R. 17). Moreover, the record shows that Plaintiff
received treatment including physical therapy, trigger point
injections, and medication including Oxycodone, Losartan, and
Topamax, and that such treatment resulted in at least partial
symptomatic improvement. (R. 17).
therefore concludes that the ALJ reasonably found that
discrepancies exist between the extensive limitations
suggested by Dr. Catalano in his statement and
Plaintiff’s treatment history, the physical examination
findings, and Plaintiff’s own statements to his care
providers. Although Plaintiff cites to various pieces of
evidence supporting his alleged limitations in his brief, the
job of the Court here is to determine whether substantial
evidence supports the ALJ’s findings. See 42
U.S.C. § 405(g); Hundley v. Colvin, No. 16-153,
2016 WL 6647913, at *1 (W.D. Pa. Nov. 10, 2016). Because
judicial review of the Commissioner’s decision is
expressly limited, even if the Court were to decide the case
differently upon a de novo review, it is not proper
for the Court to re-weigh the evidence at this juncture.
See id.; see also Weidow v. ...