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Carmona v. Berryhill

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

October 11, 2019



          Paul S. Diamond, J.

         Plaintiff Quetcy Y. Carmona, through counsel, challenges the denial of disability insurance benefits and supplemental security income. (Pl.'s Req. for Review, Doc. No. 13.) Magistrate Judge Timothy R. Rice has recommended that I uphold the Commissioner's decision and enter Judgment in favor of the Commissioner. (R & R 1, Doc. No. 23.) Plaintiff has objected and the Commissioner has responded. (Objs., Doc. No. 26; Gov't Resp., Doc. No. 28.) I will overrule Plaintiff's objections and adopt Judge Rice's Report and Recommendation.


         On September 24, 2014, Plaintiff filed her supplemental security income application and her disability insurance benefits application. (R. 19, Doc. No. 6-2.) She alleges that, beginning November 30, 2013, she became disabled and completely unable to work. (Id.) Her applications were first denied on February 4, 2015. (Id.) On March 5, 2015, Plaintiff filed a written request for a hearing, which the ALJ conducted on August 31, 2016. (Id.) The ALJ denied Plaintiffs claims, finding that Plaintiff was not disabled, and that although she is unable to resume her prior employment, she is “capable of making a successful adjustment to other work that exists in significant numbers in the national economy.” (R. 29-30.) Plaintiff's request for review by the Appeals Committee was denied. (R. 1-3.) On April 2, 2019, Judge Rice submitted his Report and Recommendation. (R & R, Doc. No. 23.)


         I must affirm the ALJ's decision if it is supported by substantial evidence. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g); Monsour Med. Ctr. v. Heckler, 806 F.2d 1185, 1190 (3d Cir. 1986). “Substantial evidence ‘does not mean a large or considerable amount of evidence, but rather such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.'” Hartranft v. Apfel, 181 F.3d 358, 360 (3d Cir. 1999) (quoting Pierce v. Underwood, 487 U.S. 552, 565 (1988)). “The presence of evidence in the record that supports a contrary conclusion does not undermine the Commissioner'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).

         I review de novo those portions of the Report and Recommendation or specific factual findings to which objection is made. 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1); Brown v. Astrue, 649 F.3d 193, 195 (3d Cir. 2011). I may “accept, reject, or modify, in whole or in part, [the Magistrate Judge's] findings and recommendations.” 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1). It is also within my discretion to rely on the findings and conclusions of the Magistrate Judge to which no objection has been made. See United States v. Raddatz, 447 U.S. 667, 676 (1980).


         Plaintiff argues that Judge Rice should have ruled that the ALJ erred in: (1) improperly reaching his finding as to plaintiff's RFC based solely on his lay interpretation of medical evidence; (2) rejecting the severity of Plaintiff's disability based upon the “conservative” nature of her treatment; and (3) failing to weigh the testimony of Plaintiff's daughter. (Objs. 1, 5, 7.)

         Residual Function Capacity

         Plaintiff first argues that Judge Rice should have rejected the ALJ's finding that she had the RFC to perform sedentary work because the ALJ relied only on his “own lay interpretation of the medical evidence.” (Objs. 1.) Plaintiff contends that without medical opinion evidence, the ALJ could not have made the RFC finding. (Objs. 1-5.) I disagree.

         The ALJ “is responsible for assessing [the claimant's] residual functional capacity.” 20 C.F.R. § 404.1546(c). The RFC assessment is a function-by-function determination based upon all the relevant evidence of the claimant's ability to do work related activities despite the limitations caused by her impairments. See id.; Burnett v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 220 F.3d 112, 121 (3d Cir. 2000). The ALJ must support his findings with medical evidence. Doak v. Heckler, 790 F.2d 26, 29 (3d Cir. 1986). The ALJ is not bound by a treating physician's RFC opinion; rather, he may reject the opinion if there is a lack of supporting data in the record, or if the opinion is contrary to the medical evidence. See Chandler v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 667 F.3d 356, 361 (3d Cir. 2011); Mays v. Barhart, 78 Fed. App'x 808, 813 (3d Cir. 2003) (no requirement that the ALJ must seek a separate expert opinion).

         The ALJ's findings here are amply supported by the record. In finding that Plaintiff has the RFC to perform sedentary work, the ALJ: considered the entire record, including dozens of pages of medical records and Plaintiff's entire medical history; described Plaintiff's statements regarding her symptoms, past treatment, diagnoses, and medical visits; and explicitly stated that, in considering all the evidence, he found Plaintiff's complaints were disproportionate to the medical evidence in the record. (R. 24-29.) The ALJ thus found that, despite Plaintiff's impairments, she could perform work at the sedentary exertional level with some adjustments. (R. 23, 29); 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1568(a), 416.967(a). Nowhere in the ALJ's opinion did he contradict medical evidence regarding Plaintiff's RFC; indeed, his determination includes his explicit consideration of the medical evidence. Accordingly, I will overrule Plaintiff's objection on this issue.

         Severity ...

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