United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania
M. MUNLEY, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
the court for disposition is Magistrate Judge Gerald B.
Cohnâs report and recommendation (hereinafter âR&Râ)
which proposes affirming the decision of the Commissioner of
Social Security denying plaintiffâs claim for disability
insurance benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act.
(Doc. 21). The matter is fully briefed and ripe for
Amandio Ferreira Dias (hereinafter “plaintiff”)
began his quest for benefits under Title II of the Social
Security Act in May of 2014, when he filed an application for
disability insurance benefits. (Doc. 21, R&R at 3).
Plaintiff alleges that his disability began on January 3,
2012, in connection with his lower back conditions, right eye
blindness, and right hand pain. (Id.) The plaintiff
was forty-seven (47) years old on September 30, 2012, the
date he was last insured for the purposes of insurance
benefits. (Id.) After the Social Security
Administration (hereinafter “SSA”) denied
plaintiff’s application, he requested a hearing before
an Administrative Law Judge (hereinafter “ALJ”).
November of 2015, the ALJ held a hearing where both the
plaintiff and a vocational expert testified. (Id.)
In May of 2016, the ALJ ultimately found that plaintiff was
not disabled under the Social Security Act. (Id. at
4). The plaintiff sought further review of his claims in
August of 2017, which the Appeals Council of the Office of
Disability Adjudication and Review denied. (Id.)
Thus, the ALJ’s May 2016 decision is the final decision
of the Commissioner for the purposes of judicial review.
initiated the instant action on October 4, 2017, asking us to
reverse the decision of the ALJ and award benefits, or remand
for a new hearing. (Doc. 1). Specifically, plaintiff seeks
reversal on the grounds that the ALJ’s decision to deny
his claim for benefits was not supported by substantial
evidence and contains errors of law. (Doc. 11). Magistrate
Judge Cohn reviewed the record in this case and, on July 8,
2019, filed an R&R recommending that the final decision
of the Commissioner of Social Security denying
plaintiff’s benefits be affirmed. (Doc. 21). The
plaintiff filed objections to the magistrate judge’s
R&R on July 22, 2019. (Doc. 22). On August 5, 2019, the
Commissioner filed a response, (Doc. 23), bringing the case
to its present posture.
court has federal question jurisdiction over this SSA appeal.
See 42 U.S.C. § 1383(c)(3) (“The final
determination of the Commissioner of Social Security after a
hearing under paragraph (1) shall be subject to judicial
review as provided in section 405(g) of this title to the
same extent as the Commissioner's final determinations
under section 405 of this title.”); see also
42 U.S.C. § 405(g) (“Any individual, after any
final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security made
after a hearing to which he was a party, irrespective of the
amount in controversy, may obtain a review of such decision
by a civil action commenced within sixty days after the
mailing to him of notice of such decision or within such
further time as the Commissioner of Social Security may
allow. Such action shall be brought in the district court of
the United States for the judicial district in which the
plaintiff resides, or has his principal place of business . .
disposing of objections to a magistrate judge’s
R&R, the district court must make a de novo
determination of those portions of the report against which
objections are made. 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(c); see
also Sullivan v. Cuyler, 723 F.2d 1077, 1085 (3d Cir.
1983). The court may accept, reject, or modify, in whole or
in part, the findings or recommendations made by the
magistrate judge. 28 U.S.C.A. § 636(b)(1)(c). The
district court judge may also receive further evidence or
recommit the matter to the magistrate judge with
reviewing a Social Security appeal, the court must determine
whether “substantial evidence” supports the
ALJ’s decision. See 42 U.S.C.A. § 405(g);
Hagans v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 694 F.3d 287, 292
(3d Cir. 2012); Plummer v. Apfel, 186 F.3d 422, 427
(3d Cir. 1999). “[S]ubstantial evidence has been
defined as ‘more than a mere scintilla.’”
Hagans, 694 F.3d at 292 (quoting Plummer,
186 F.3d at 427). It means “such relevant evidence as a
reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a
conclusion.” Consolo v. Fed. Mar. Comm'n,
383 U.S. 607, 620 (1966).
court should not reverse the Commissioner's findings
merely because evidence may exist to support the opposite
conclusion. See 42 U.S.C. § 405(g);
Rutherford v. Barnhart, 399 F.3d 546, 552 (3d Cir.
2005) (stating that courts may not weigh the evidence or
substitute their own conclusions for those of the fact-
finder); Fargnoli v. Massanari, 247 F.3d 34, 38 (3d
Cir. 2001) (indicating that when the ALJ's findings of
fact are supported by substantial evidence, courts are bound
by those findings, even if they would have decided the
factual inquiry differently). In an adequately developed
factual record, substantial evidence may be “something
less than the weight of the evidence, and the possibility of
drawing two inconsistent conclusions from the evidence does
not prevent an administrative agency's finding from being
supported by substantial evidence.” Consolo,
383 U.S. at 620.
evidence exists only “in relationship to all the other
evidence in the record, ” Cotter v. Harris,
642 F.2d 700, 706 (3d Cir. 1981), and “must take into
account whatever in the record fairly detracts from its
weight.” Universal Camera Corp. v. N.L.R.B.,
340 U.S. 474, 488 (1971). “When a conflict in the
evidence exists, the ALJ may choose whom to credit but
‘cannot reject evidence for no reason or for the wrong
reason.’” Plummer, 186 F.3d at 429
(quoting Mason v. Shalala, 994 F.2d 1058, 1066 (3d
Cir. 1993)). The Commissioner must indicate which evidence
was accepted, which evidence was rejected, and the reasons
for rejecting certain evidence. Johnson v. Comm'r of
Soc. Sec., 529 F.3d 198, 204 (3d Cir. 2008). Thus, a
reviewing court must scrutinize the record as a whole.
Smith v. Califano, 637 F.2d 968, 970 (3d Cir. 1981).
receive disability benefits, the plaintiff must demonstrate
an “inability to engage in any substantial gainful
activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or
mental impairment which can be expected to result in death or
which has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous
period of not less than 12 months.” 42 U.S.C. §
423(d)(1)(A). An individual is incapable of engaging in
“substantial gainful activity” when “[his]
physical or mental impairment or impairments are of such
severity that [s]he is not only unable to do [her] 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[.]” 42 U.S.C.
evaluates disability benefits claims with a five-step
sequential analysis. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4). This
analysis requires the ALJ to consider, in sequence, whether a
claimant (1) is engaging in substantial gainful activity; (2)
has an impairment, or combination of impairments, that is
severe; (3) has an impairment or combination of impairments
that meets or equals the requirements of a “listed
impairment”; (4) has the “residual functional
capacity” (hereinafter “RFC”) to return to
his or her past work; and (5) if not, whether he or she can
perform other work in the national economy. 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.1520(a)(4)(i)-(v) and 416.920(a)(4).
the five-step sequential analysis for disability-related
findings, the ALJ found at Step 1 that plaintiff has not
engaged in substantial gainful activity during the period
from his alleged onset date of January 3, 2012 through his
date last insured of September 30, 2012. (Doc. 8-2, Trans. of
Proceed. at 13). At Step 2, the ALJ found that plaintiff had
the severe impairment of degenerative disc disease of the
lumbar spine. (Id.) The ALJ found that additional
impairments alleged by the plaintiff, specifically a
left-hand impairment and obesity, were non-severe.
(Id. at 13-14). At Step 3, the ALJ found that the
plaintiff does not have an impairment or combination of
impairments that meets or medically equals the severity of
one of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpt.
P, App. 1. (Id. at 14).
next determined that plaintiff, through the date last
insured, had the residual functional capacity to perform
light work as defined in 20 CFR § 404.1567(b)
“except that the claimant would have been able to only
occasionally balance, stoop, crouch, or crawl, and he ...