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Wallace v. Saul

United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania

October 24, 2019

ANDREW M. SAUL, Defendant.


          Donetta W. Ambrose, United States Senior District Judge.


         Plaintiff Rianna Wallace (“Wallace”) filed an application for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits on February 19, 2015, alleging disability beginning on February 20, 2015. (R. 13).[1] She was represented by counsel at a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”), during which both she and a vocational expert (“VE”) appeared and testified. (R. 13) Ultimately, the ALJ denied benefits and the Appeals Council denied Wallace's request for review. She then filed this appeal. The parties have filed Cross-Motions for Summary Judgment. See ECF Docket Nos. 6 and 10. For the reasons set forth below, the ALJ's decision is affirmed.


         1. Standard of Review

         Judicial review of the Commissioner's final decisions on disability claims is provided by statute. 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and 1383(c)(3)(7). Section 405(g) permits a district court to review the transcripts and records upon which a determination of the Commissioner is based, and the court will review the record as a whole. See 5 U.S.C. § 706. When reviewing a decision, the district court's role is limited to determining whether the record contains substantial evidence to support an ALJ's findings of fact. Burns v. Barnhart, 312 F.3d 113, 118 (3d Cir. 2002). Substantial evidence has been defined as “more than a mere scintilla. It means such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate.” Ventura v. Shalala, 55 F.3d 900, 901 (3d Cir. 1995), quoting Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971). Determining whether substantial evidence exists is “not merely a quantitative exercise.” Gilliland v. Heckler, 786 F.2d 178, 183 (3d Cir. 1986) (citing Kent v. Schweiker, 710 F.2d 110, 114 (3d Cir. 1983)). “A single piece of evidence will not satisfy the substantiality test if the secretary ignores, or fails to resolve, a conflict created by countervailing evidence. Nor is evidence substantial if it is overwhelmed by other evidence - particularly certain types of evidence (e.g., that offered by treating physicians).” Id. The Commissioner's findings of fact, if supported by substantial evidence, are conclusive. 42 U.S.C. §405(g); Dobrowolsky v. Califano, 606 F.2d 403, 406 (3d Cir. 1979); Richardson, 402 U.S. at 390, 91 S.Ct. 1420.

         Importantly, a district court cannot conduct a de novo review of the Commissioner's decision, or re-weigh the evidence of record; the court can only judge the propriety of the decision with reference to the grounds invoked by the Commissioner when the decision was rendered. Palmer v. Apfel, 995 F.Supp. 549, 552 (E.D. Pa. 1998); S.E.C. v. Chenery Corp., 332 U.S. 194, 196-7, 67 S.Ct. 1575, 91 L.Ed. 1995 (1947). Otherwise stated, “I may not weigh the evidence or substitute my own conclusion for that of the ALJ. I must defer to the ALJ's evaluation of evidence, assessment of the credibility of witnesses, and reconciliation of conflicting expert opinions. If the ALJ's findings of fact are supported by substantial evidence, I am bound by those findings, even if I would have decided the factual inquiry differently.” Brunson v. Astrue, 2011 WL 2036692, 2011 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 55457 (E.D. Pa. Apr. 14, 2011) (citations omitted).

         II. The ALJ's Decision

         As stated above, the ALJ denied Wallace's claim for benefits. More specifically, at step one, the ALJ found that Wallace has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since the alleged onset date. (R. 15)[2] At step two, the ALJ concluded that Wallace suffers from the following severe impairments: epilepsy; major depressive disorder; bipolar disorder; schizoaffective disorder; anxiety disorder; panic disorder with agoraphobia; personality disorder; attention deficit hyperactivity disorder; and post-traumatic stress disorder. (R. 16) At step three, the ALJ determined that Wallace does not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals one of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. (R. 16-18) Between steps three and four, the ALJ decided that Wallace has the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform medium work with certain restrictions. (R. 18-21) At step four, the ALJ found that Wallace is unable to perform her past relevant work. (R. 21-22) At the fifth step of the analysis, the ALJ concluded that, considering Wallace's age, education, work experience, and RFC, there are jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy that she can perform. (R. 22-23)

         III. Discussion

         I. Daily Activities

         Wallace takes issue with the ALJ's assessment of her ability to perform daily activities. See ECF Docket No. 7, p. 7-9. The ALJ found that Wallace's description of daily activities “are inconsistent with her complaints of disabling symptoms and limitations.” (R. 20) Specifically, he noted that:

The claimant is a mother of four children. While she testified that only two children are currently living with her, during the period at issue, she was living with and taking care of all four children. The claimant indicated in her function report that she would prepare meals, help with hygiene, assist with homework, and play games with her family. The claimant noted that she shopped for groceries and clothes on a weekly basis and performed household chores (Ex. 5E). These activities are not limited to the extent one would expect, given the complaints of disabling symptoms and limitations the claimant alleged.

(R. 20) The ALJ's consideration of these activities are totally appropriate and are consistent with the regulations. See Simington v. Colvin, Civ. No. 13-178, 2014 WL 4829031, at * 5 (W.D. Pa. Sept. 29, 2014), citing, 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1529(c) and 416.929(c). Additionally, substantial evidence of record supports the ALJ's conclusions in this regard. (R. 192-198) Further, although Wallace faults the ALJ for failing to mention what Wallace insists were difficulties she encounters when shopping, preparing meals, and doing chores, the ALJ did in fact acknowledge that, “[i]n her Function Report, the claimant indicated difficulties with walking, talking, memory, completing tasks, concentration, understanding, following instructions, and getting along with others (Ex. 5E).” (R. 19) Indeed, “[t]here is no requirement that the ALJ discuss in its opinion every tidbit of evidence included in the record.” Hur v. Barnhart, 94 Fed.Appx. 130, 133 (3d Cir. 2004). While I agree with Wallace that activities of daily living cannot be used to show an ability to engage in substantial gainful activity, [3] the ALJ did not do so here. ...

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