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Gostomski v. Saul

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

November 4, 2019

ANDREW M. SAUL[1], Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant



         Pending before the court is the report of Judge Cohn, (Doc. 10), recommending that plaintiff's appeal from the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security be granted, and that the decision of the Commissioner be reversed and the case be remanded for further proceedings. Judge Cohn reviewed the record in this case pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §405(g) to determine whether there is substantial evidence to support the Commissioner's decision denying the plaintiff's claim for Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”) under Title II of the Social Security Act, (“Act”). 42 U.S.C. §§401-433, 1381-1383f. The Commissioner has filed objections to the report. (Doc. 11). The plaintiff, James Charles Gostomski, responded to the Commissioner's objections.[2] (Doc. 12). For the following reasons, the report and recommendation will be ADOPTED and, plaintiff's appeal of the decision of the Commissioner, (Doc. 1), will be GRANTED. The Commissioner's decision will be REVERSED and, plaintiff's case will be REMANDED to the Commissioner.[3]


         When objections are timely filed to the report and recommendation of a magistrate judge, the district court must review de novo those portions of the report to which objections are made. 28 U.S.C. §636(b)(1); Brown v. Astrue, 649 F.3d 193, 195 (3d Cir. 2011). Although the standard is de novo, the extent of review is committed to the sound discretion of the district judge, and the court may rely on the recommendations of the magistrate judge to the extent it deems proper. Rieder v. Apfel, 115 F.Supp.2d 496, 499 (M.D.Pa. 2000) (citing United States v. Raddatz, 447 U.S. 667, 676 (1980)).

         For those sections of the report and recommendation to which no objection is made, the court should, as a matter of good practice, “satisfy itself that there is no clear error on the face of the record in order to accept the recommendation.” Fed. R. Civ. P. 72(b), advisory committee notes; see also Univac Dental Co. v. Dentsply Intern., Inc., 702 F.Supp.2d 465, 469 (M.D.Pa. 2010) (citing Henderson v. Carlson, 812 F.2d 874, 878 (3d Cir. 1987) (explaining judges should give some review to every report and recommendation)). Nevertheless, whether timely objections are made or not, the district court may accept, not accept, or modify, in whole or in part, the findings or recommendations made by the magistrate judge. 28 U.S.C. §636(b)(1); Local Rule 72.31.

         When reviewing the denial of disability benefits, the court must determine whether the denial is supported by substantial evidence. Brown v. Bowen, 845 F.2d 1211, 1213 (3d Cir. 1988); Johnson v. Commissioner of Social Sec., 529 F.3d 198, 200 (3d Cir. 2008). 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.” Pierce v. Underwood, 487 U.S. 552, 108 S.Ct. 2541, 101 L.Ed.2d 490 (1988); Hartranft v. Apfel, 181 F.3d 358, 360. (3d Cir. 1999), Johnson, 529 F.3d at 200. It is less than a preponderance of the evidence but more than a mere scintilla. Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401, 91 S.Ct. 1420, 28 L.Ed.2d 842 (1971). If the ALJ's decision is supported by substantial evidence, the court is “bound by those findings.” Fargnoli v. Massanari, 247 F.3d 34, 38 (3d Cir. 2001) (citation omitted). Furthermore, in determining if the ALJ's decision is supported by substantial evidence the court may not parse the record but rather must scrutinize the record as a whole. Smith v. Califano, 637 F.2d 968, 970 (3d Cir. 1981).

         To 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. §432(d)(1)(A). Furthermore,

[a]n individual shall be determined to be under a disability only if [her] physical or mental impairment or impairments are of such severity that [she] is not only unable to do [her] previous work but cannot, considering [her] age, education, and work experience, engage in any other kind of substantial gainful work which exists in the national economy, regardless of whether such work exists in the immediate area in which [she] lives, or whether a specific job vacancy exists for [her], or whether [she] would be hired if [she] applied for work. For purposes of the preceding sentence (with respect to any individual), ‘work which exists in the national economy' means work which exists in significant numbers either in the region where such individual lives or in several regions of the country.

42 U.S.C. §423(d)(2)(A).


         Judge Cohn's report and recommendation (“R&R”), as well as the initial briefs of the parties, contain a thorough review of the plaintiff's medical history. The parties did not file any objections to Judge Cohn's report with respect to his relevant medical history, so it will be adopted. See Butterfield v. Astrue, 2010 WL 4027768, *3 (E.D.Pa. Oct. 14, 2010) (“To obtain de novo determination of a magistrate [judge's] findings by a district court, 28 U.S.C. §636(b)(1) requires both timely and specific objections to the report.”) (quoting Goney v. Clark, 749 F.2d 5, 6 (3d Cir.1984)). Also, since the five-step legal framework for addressing a disability claim was properly stated in the decision of the Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) and the findings of each step is in the record, (Tr. 12-23), the court incorporates by reference these portions of the ALJ's decision.


         On April 22, 2015, the plaintiff filed an application for DIB and alleged an onset disability date of April 27, 2014. In an August 2, 2017 decision, the ALJ found that the plaintiff was not disabled from April 22, 2015, through the date of her decision.[4] (Tr. 23). The ALJ found that plaintiff had a severe back impairments, i.e., degenerative disc disease of the lumbar spine with radiculopathy, as well as mental impairments related to depressive disorder and anxiety. However, the ALJ determined that plaintiff did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that met or medically equaled the severity of one of the listed impairments, namely, Listing 1.04 (“disorders of the spine”), Listing 12.04 (“depressive, bipolar and related disorders”), and 12.06 (“anxiety and obsessive-compulsive disorders”).

         In relevant part, the plaintiff challenged the weight the ALJ gave his treating physician, Dr. Joshua Hottenstein, and the ALJ's RFC assessment and finding that he could perform light work, which was partly based on the ALJ's rejection of Dr. Hottenstein's opinion. In his report, Judge Cohn agrees with the plaintiff and recommends that the Commissioner's decision be vacated since there is no medical evidence of record which suggests that the plaintiff could perform all of the activities required for light work. Therefore, he finds that the ALJ's RFC determination was not supported by substantial evidence in the record. Judge Cohn determined that by rejecting the opinion of the ...

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