United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania
N. Bloch, United States District Judge.
NOW, this 30th 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 denying
Plaintiff’s claim for disability insurance benefits
under Subchapter II of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C.
§ 401 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. 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. 12) is DENIED and that
Defendant’s Motion for Summary Judgment (document No.
15) is GRANTED.
 Plaintiff argues that the
Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) failed to
properly consider her bilateral carpal tunnel related
symptoms in formulating her residual functional capacity
(“RFC”) and in finding her to be not disabled
under the Social Security Act. The Court disagrees and
instead finds that substantial evidence supports the
ALJ’s decision that Plaintiff is not disabled.
Plaintiff cites to various treatment records, from
both before and after her date last insured of December 31,
2015, which she maintains establish that her ability to
reach, handle, and finger objects was more limited than as
set forth in the RFC found by the ALJ. Specifically, she
claims that the ALJ did not discuss (1) the October 16, 2013
findings of Dr. Charles Spingola; (2) complaints of bilateral
hand pain made by Plaintiff to Lighthouse Medical, her pain
management provider, and (3) records from after her date last
insured documenting numbness of her hands and decreased
bilateral dexterity. However, particularly in a case with as
many issues and as extensive a medical record as this one, it
is important to remember that an ALJ need not discuss every
piece of evidence in the record as long as the reviewing
court can determine the basis for the decision. See
Fargnoli v. Massanari, 247 F.3d 34, 42 (3d Cir. 2001);
Tisoit v. Barnhart, 127 Fed.Appx. 572, 575 (3d Cir.
2005). In any event, the ALJ did, in fact, discuss Dr.
Spingola’s October 16, 2013 records (R. 22, 1060-65).
As to the records from Lighthouse Medical, while the ALJ
certainly did not discuss every page of Exhibit 3F, that was
probably to Plaintiff’s benefit. As Defendant points
out, Plaintiff’s record of treatment with Lighthouse
Medical includes numerous references to behavior indicative
of abusing her prescription narcotics (R. 497, 537, 544, 552,
584), and indeed, Plaintiff was ultimately discharged from
Lighthouse’s care for violating the “Informed
Consent to Using Opioids to Treat Pain” agreement she
had signed. (R. 494-95).
As for the later records, the Court notes that they
not only post-date Plaintiff’s date last insured, but
most do by a great deal. As Plaintiff understands, her last
date insured was December 31, 2015, and, to be eligible for
DIB benefits, she had to establish that she was disabled as
of that date. See 42 U.S.C. § 423(a)(1)(A).
Thus, Plaintiff must establish the existence of an impairment
“that precluded her from performing substantial gainful
activity for a continuous period of twelve months prior to
the expiration of her insured status.” Kelley v.
Barnhart, 138 Fed.Appx. 505, 507 (3d Cir. 2005).
Plaintiff acknowledges this requirement, but appears to argue
that since her issues with her hands began prior to the date
last insured, these later records somehow relate back to that
time. However, the mere existence of an underlying medical
condition prior to the date last insured is not enough; the
claimant must establish that the impairment was disabling as
of that date. See Perez v. Commissioner of Soc.
Sec., 521 Fed.Appx. 51, 54-55 (3d Cir. 2013). It is not
disputed that Plaintiff had carpal tunnel related issues
prior to December 31, 2015, but records from months, and in
some cases years, later are not probative as to the limiting
effects of her impairment while Plaintiff was still
Indeed, the issue is not whether Plaintiff did, in
fact, suffer from carpal tunnel related symptoms during the
relevant time (and, again, the ALJ found that she did), but
whether that condition “caused functional limitations
that precluded [her] from engaging in any substantial gainful
activity.” Walker v. Barnhart, 172 Fed.Appx.
423, 426 (3d Cir. 2006). The ALJ explained how she formulated
Plaintiff’s RFC in significant detail, and the Court
finds her determination to be supported by substantial
evidence. Plaintiff does not suggest how the evidence that
she asserts was overlooked by the ALJ would translate into
any specific functional limitations not already included in
the RFC. Indeed, the treatment records, which themselves do
not suggest any specific functional limitations, are not even
necessarily inconsistent with the RFC, which did include
limitations regarding handling, fingering, and feeling with
the bilateral upper extremities. (R. 20).
Plaintiff essentially is asking the Court to adopt her
own analysis of the evidence and how it relates to her
functional capacity. However, 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. See Monsour Med. Ctr. v. Heckler, 806
F.2d 1185, 1190-91 (3d Cir. 1986); Berry, 738
F.Supp. at 944 (citing Cotter, 642 F.2d at 705).
Likewise, it is not enough that Plaintiff offers her own
analysis of the evidence. “The presence of evidence in
the record that supports a contrary conclusion does not
undermine the [ALJ’s] decision so long as the record
provides substantial support for that decision.”
Malloy v. Comm’r of Soc. Sec., 306 Fed.Appx.
761, 764 (3d Cir. 2009). The ALJ’s consideration of the
matter was more than adequate, particularly in light of the
United States Supreme Court’s recent reminder that the
threshold for meeting the substantial evidence standard
“is not high.” Biestek v. Berryhill, 139
S.Ct. 1148, 1154 (2019).
Accordingly, for all of the reasons set forth herein,
the Court finds that substantial evidence supports the
ALJ’s decision ...