United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania
N. Bloch, United States District Judge.
NOW, this 30th day of September, 2019, upon
consideration of Defendant’s Motion for Summary
Judgment (Doc. No. 14), filed in the above-captioned matter
on August 14, 2019, IT IS HEREBY ORDERED that said Motion is
further, upon consideration of Plaintiff’s Motion for
Summary Judgment (Doc. No. 12), filed in the above-captioned
matter on July 12, 2019, IT IS HEREBY ORDERED that said
Motion is GRANTED IN PART and DENIED IN PART. Specifically,
Plaintiff’s Motion is granted to the extent that it
seeks remand to the Commissioner of Social Security
(“Commissioner”) for further evaluation as set
forth below, and denied in all other respects. Accordingly,
this matter is hereby remanded to the Commissioner for
further evaluation under sentence four of 42 U.S.C. §
405(g) in light of this Order.
October 19, 2015, Glenda Lee Shaffer protectively filed a
claim for disability insurance benefits under Title II of the
Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 401 et
seq., and on September 21, 2015, she protectively filed
a claim for supplemental security income under Title XVI of
the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 1381 et
seq. Specifically, Plaintiff claimed that she became
disabled on July 22, 2015, due to vertigo, migraines,
diabetes, hernia, ulcers, depression, ADHD, sciatic nerve
problems, arthritis, thyroid problems, high blood pressure,
neuropathy, and seizures. (R. 71-72, 81-82).
being denied initially on December 3, 2015, Plaintiff sought,
and obtained, a hearing on October 31, 2017, before an
Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”). (R. 34-70). In
a decision dated February 7, 2018, the ALJ denied
Plaintiff’s request for benefits. (R. 17-28). The
Appeals Council declined to review the ALJ’s decision
on December 6, 2018. (R. 1-6). Plaintiff filed a timely
appeal with this Court, and the parties have filed
cross-motions for summary judgment.
Standard of Review
review of a social security case is based upon the pleadings
and the transcript of the record. See 42 U.S.C.
§ 405(g). The scope of review is limited to determining
whether the Commissioner applied the correct legal standards
and whether the record, as a whole, contains substantial
evidence to support the Commissioner's findings of fact.
See Matthews v. Apfel, 239 F.3d 589, 592 (3d Cir.
2001) (noting that “‘[t]he findings of the
Commissioner of Social Security as to any fact, if supported
by substantial evidence, shall be conclusive’”
(quoting 42 U.S.C. § 405(g))); Schaudeck v.
Comm’r of Soc. Sec. Admin., 181 F.3d 429, 431 (3d
Cir. 1999) (stating that the court has plenary review of all
legal issues, and reviews the administrative law judge's
findings of fact to determine whether they are supported by
evidence” is defined as “‘more than a mere
scintilla. It means such relevant evidence as a reasonable
mind might accept as adequate’” to support a
conclusion. Plummer v. Apfel, 186 F.3d 422, 427 (3d
Cir. 1999) (quoting Ventura v. Shalala, 55 F.3d 900,
901 (3d Cir. 1995)). However, a “‘single piece of
evidence will not satisfy the substantiality test if the
[Commissioner] ignores, or fails to resolve, a conflict
created by countervailing evidence.’” Morales
v. Apfel, 225 F.3d 310, 317 (3d Cir. 2000) (quoting
Kent v. Schweiker, 710 F.2d 110, 114 (3d Cir.
1983)). “‘Nor is evidence substantial if it is
overwhelmed by other evidence- particularly certain types of
evidence (e.g., that offered by treating physicians)-or if it
really constitutes not evidence but mere
disability is established when the claimant can demonstrate
“some ‘medically determinable basis for an
impairment that prevents him [or her] from engaging in any
substantial gainful activity for a statutory twelve-month
period.’” Fargnoli v. Massanari, 247
F.3d 34, 38-39 (3d Cir. 2001) (quoting Plummer, 186
F.3d at 427 (internal citation omitted)). “A claimant
is considered unable to engage in any substantial gainful
activity ‘only if his physical or mental impairment or
impairments are of such severity that he is not only unable
to do his previous work but cannot, considering his age,
education, and work experience, engage in any other kind of
substantial gainful work which exists in the national economy
. . . .’” Id. at 39 (quoting 42 U.S.C.
Social Security Administration has promulgated regulations
incorporating a five-step sequential evaluation process for
determining whether a claimant is under a disability as
defined by the Act. See 20 C.F.R. §§
404.1520, 416.920. In Step One, the Commissioner must
determine whether the claimant is currently engaging in
substantial gainful activity. See 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.1520(a)(4)(i), 416.920(a)(4)(i). If so, the
disability claim will be denied. See Bowen v.
Yuckert, 482 U.S. 137, 140 (1987). If not, the second
step of the process is to determine whether the claimant is
suffering from a severe impairment. See 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.1520(a)(4)(ii), 416.920(a)(4)(ii). “An
impairment or combination of impairments is not severe if it
does not significantly limit [the claimant’s] physical
or mental ability to do basic work activities.” 20
C.F.R. §§ 404.1522(a), 416.922(a). If the claimant
fails to show that his or her impairments are “severe,
" he or she is ineligible for disability benefits. If
the claimant does have a severe impairment, however, the
Commissioner must proceed to Step Three and determine whether
the claimant’s impairment meets or equals the criteria
for a listed impairment. See 20 C.F.R. §§
404.1520(a)(4)(iii), 416.920(a)(4)(iii). If a claimant meets
a listing, a finding of disability is automatically directed.
If the claimant does not meet a listing, the analysis
proceeds to Steps Four and Five.
Four requires the ALJ to consider whether the claimant
retains the residual functional capacity (“RFC”)
to perform his or her past relevant work, see 20
C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(iv), 416.920(a)(4)(iv),
and the claimant bears the burden of demonstrating an
inability to return to this past relevant work, see
Adorno v. Shalala, 40 F.3d 43, 46 (3d Cir. 1994). If the
claimant is unable to resume his or her former occupation,
the evaluation then moves to the fifth and final step.
stage, the burden of production shifts to the Commissioner,
who must demonstrate that the claimant is capable of
performing other available work in the national economy in
order to deny a claim of disability. See 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.1520(a)(4)(v), 416.920(a)(4)(v). In making
this determination, the ALJ should consider the
claimant’s RFC, age, education, and past work
experience. See id. The ALJ must further analyze the
cumulative effect of all the claimant’s impairments in
determining whether he or she is capable of performing work
and is not disabled. See 20 C.F.R. §§