United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania
OPINION AND ORDER SYNOPSIS
Donetta W. Ambrose Senior Judge.
October 28, 2016, Plaintiff filed an application for
supplemental security income and disability benefits,
alleging mental and physical impairments, including chronic
pain syndrome, headaches, anxiety, and depression. Her
application was denied initially, and by an Administrative
Law Judge (“ALJ”) upon hearing. The Appeals
Council denied Plaintiff's request for review. Before the
Court are the parties' Cross-Motions for Summary
Judgment. For the following reasons, Plaintiff's Motion
will be granted and Defendant's denied.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
review of the Commissioner's final decisions on
disability claims is provided by statute. 42 U.S.C.
§§ 405(g) 6 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 is defined as
"such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might
accept as adequate" to support a conclusion. Ventura
v. Shalala, 55 F.3d 900, 901 (3d Cir. 1995) (quoting
Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401, 91 S.Ct.
1420, 28 L.Ed.2d 842 (1971)). 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 [the ALJ's decision] from being
supported by substantial evidence." Consolo v. Fed.
Maritime Comm'n, 383 U.S. 607, 620, 86 S.Ct. 1018,
16 L.Ed.2d 131 (1966). If the ALJ's findings of fact are
supported by substantial evidence, they are conclusive. 42
U.S.C. § 405(g); Richardson, 402 U.S. at 390.
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 - 97, 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, No. No. 10-6540, 2011 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 55457
(E.D. Pa. Apr. 14, 2011) (citations omitted).
argues that the ALJ improperly failed to assign controlling
weight to the opinion of her primary care physician since
April, 2016, Dr. Bonacorsi, and instead gave greater weight
to the opinion of Meghan Brunnet, PA-C.
[Treating physician] reports will be given controlling weight
where a treating source's opinion on the nature and
severity of a claimant's impairments is well supported by
medically acceptable clinical and laboratory diagnostic
techniques, and is not inconsistent with the other
substantial evidence in the record.
The ALJ must consider medical findings supporting the
treating physician's opinion that the claimant is
disabled. If the ALJ rejects the treating physician's
assessment, he may not make "speculative inferences from
medical reports," and may reject "a treating
physician's opinion outright only on the basis of
contradictory medical evidence."
Whaley v. Berryhill, No. 18-720, 2019 U.S. Dist.
LEXIS 70424, at *21-22 (D. Del. Apr. 26, 2019)
Bonacorsi completed a medical source statement form
indicating that Plaintiff could walk zero city blocks without
resting or severe pain; sit for one hour, stand for ten
minutes, sit and stand/walk a total of two hours in an 8-hour
workday. He opined that she could never twist, stoop,
crouch/squat, climb stairs, or climb ladders. He further
indicated that she would be off task 25 percent or more of
the workday, and was incapable of even low stress work. Ms.
Burnett wrote a short letter in 2016, stating that due to
Plaintiff's “moderately severe bilateral knee
DJD” she was limited to “[s]edentary/desk-type
work with the ability to stand/move legs when needed, ”
no standing/walking more than ten minutes at a time, and no
Rabinovich, the consulting physician who examined Plaintiff
in 2015, also opined that Plaintiff could never stoop, kneel,
crouch, climb ladders, or crawl, but that she could
occasionally climb stairs and ramps, and sit for two hours at
a time, and four hours total in an eight-hour workday. Dr.
Rabinovich also noted that Plaintiff had the ability to
perform activities like shopping, and prepare a simple meal
and feed herself. He also opined that Plaintiff could not
“walk a block at a reasonable pace on rough or uneven
assigned Dr. Bonacorsi's opinion “little
weight.” The ALJ explained that the record did not
support the extreme limitiations opined to - for example, the
ALJ stated, the limitations that Plaintiff “can walk 0
blocks, ” and sit for one hour, and stand for ten
minutes. The ALJ rejected Dr. Bonacorsi's opinion that
claimant could “never climb stairs, crouch, twist, or
stoop” because “a stooping action is needed just
to sit, and nothing in the record supports that the claimant
cannot sit.” She explained that his opinions were
“overall” inconsistent with and not supported by
his own treatment records, and inconsistent with
Plaintiff's testimony regarding her activities, such as
her ability to drive, cook, shop, and do some cleaning. As
regards Ms. Brunnet, the ALJ noted that Ms. Brunnet was a
physician's assistant and not a physician or nurse, but
assigned “some weight to her assessments, given the
treating relationship she had with the claimant.” The
ALJ further gave “some weight” to the 2015
opinion of Dr. Rabinovich, As with the opinion of Dr.
Bonacorsi, however, the ALJ rejected certain specific
limitations opined to by Dr. Rabinovich. She rejected his
opinion of “no stooping” because it “is
contradicted by the claimant's ability to sit, which
requires a stooping motion.” Other than the specific
limitations addressed, the ALJ did not note any overarching
or underlying reason for rejecting Dr. Rabinovich's
opinion. Indeed, she observed that “[Other than the
specifically rejected limitations], the majority of Dr.
Rabinovich's assessments are consistent with and
supported by his own exam findings as well as the cumulative
ALJ's decision raises several concerns. Both Dr.
Bonacorsi and Dr. Rabinovich opined that Plaintiff could
never stoop. The ALJ, however, rejected the stooping
limitation imposed by Drs. Bonacorsi and Rabinovich
specifically because ...