United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania
JERRY L. NEISWONGER, Plaintiff,
ANDREW M. SAUL, COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.
Donetta W. Ambrose United States Senior District Judge
before the Court are Cross-Motions for Summary Judgment. (ECF
Nos. 10 and 13). Both parties have filed briefs in support of
their motions. (ECF Nos. 11 and 14). After careful
consideration of the submissions of the parties, and based on
my Opinion set forth below, I am denying Plaintiff's
Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 10) and granting
Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment. (ECF No. 13).
brought this action for review of the final decision of the
Commissioner of Social Security denying his application for
disability insurance benefits (“DIB”) pursuant to
the Social Security Act. Plaintiff filed his application
alleging he has been disabled since March 15, 2010.
Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”), Daniel F.
Cusick, held a hearing on June 25, 2014. (ECF No. 6-2, pp.
34-76). On July 25, 2014, the ALJ found that Plaintiff was
not disabled under the Act. (ECF No. 6-2, pp. 18-29). On
appeal, this Court issued a decision remanding the case on
August 22, 2016. On remand in this case, the Appeals Council
vacated the prior order and remanded the case further
proceedings. (ECF No. 8-19, p. 40).
13, 2017, the ALJ held a second hearing. (ECF No. 8-18). On
October, 25, 2017, the ALJ issued a second decision finding
that Plaintiff was not disabled under the Act. (ECF No. 8-17,
pp. 19-30). After exhausting all administrative remedies,
Plaintiff filed the instant action with this court. The
parties have filed Cross-Motions for Summary Judgment. (ECF
Nos. 10 and 13). The issues are now ripe for review.
Standard of Review
standard of review in social security cases is whether
substantial evidence exists in the record to support the
Commissioner's decision. Allen v. Bowen, 881
F.2d 37, 39 (3d Cir. 1989). 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). Additionally, 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). A district court cannot conduct a de novo
review of the Commissioner's decision or re-weigh the
evidence of record. Palmer v. Apfel, 995 F.Supp.
549, 552 (E.D. Pa. 1998). Where the ALJ's findings of
fact are supported by substantial evidence, a court is bound
by those findings, even if the court would have decided the
factual inquiry differently. Hartranft v. Apfel, 181
F.3d 358, 360 (3d Cir. 1999). To determine whether a finding
is supported by substantial evidence, however, the district
court must review the record as a whole. See, 5
eligible for social security benefits, the plaintiff must
demonstrate that he cannot engage in substantial gainful
activity because of a 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 at least 12 months. 42 U.S.C. §423(d)(1)(A);
Brewster v. Heckler, 786 F.2d 581, 583 (3d Cir.
Commissioner has provided the ALJ with a five-step sequential
analysis to use when evaluating the disabled status of each
claimant. 20 C.F.R. §404.1520(a). The ALJ must
determine: (1) whether the claimant is currently engaged in
substantial gainful activity; (2) if not, whether the
claimant has a severe impairment; (3) if the claimant has a
severe impairment, whether it meets or equals the criteria
listed in 20 C.F.R., pt. 404, subpt. P., appx. 1; (4) if the
impairment does not satisfy one of the impairment listings,
whether the claimant's impairments prevent him from
performing his past relevant work; and (5) if the claimant is
incapable of performing his past relevant work, whether he
can perform any other work which exists in the national
economy, in light of his age, education, work experience and
residual functional capacity. 20 C.F.R. §404.1520. The
claimant carries the initial burden of demonstrating by
medical evidence that he is unable to return to his previous
employment (steps 1-4). Dobrowolsky, 606 F.2d at
406. Once the claimant meets this burden, the burden of proof
shifts to the Commissioner to show that the claimant can
engage in alternative substantial gainful activity (step 5).
district court, after reviewing the entire record may affirm,
modify, or reverse the decision with or without remand to the
Commissioner for rehearing. Podedworny v. Harris,
745 F.2d 210, 221 (3d Cir. 1984).
Scope of Review on Remand
first argues that the ALJ exceeded the scope of this
Court's August 22, 2016, order remanding the case. (ECF
No. 11, pp. 13-16). To that end, Plaintiff suggests that the
ALJ was limited to addressing the single issue on which the
case was remanded and nothing more. (ECF No. 11, p. 14).
Contrary to Plaintiff's position, such is not the case.
According to the Hearings, Appeals, and Litigation Law Manual
(HALLEX), “[i]f the Appeals Council (AC) remands the
case to the hearing level after a court remand, it generally
vacates the entire administrate law judge (ALJ) decision, and
the ALJ must consider all pertinent issues de novo.”
HALLEX I-2-8-18(A). On remand in this case, the Appeals
Council vacated the prior order and remanded the case for
further proceedings. (ECF No. 8-19, p. 40). Additionally, the
regulations provide that on remand from a federal court,
“[a]ny issues relating to your claim may be considered
by the administrative law judge whether or not they were
raised in the administrative proceedings leading to the final
decision in you case.” 20 C.F.R. §404.983. In this
case the ALJ properly took new evidence and reexamined all of
the evidence de novo and made new findings as it
related to Plaintiff's application. (ECF No.
8-17, pp. 19-30). In doing so, the new ALJ was required to
reweigh all of the opinion evidence in accordance with the
rules and regulations. The ALJ did exactly that. Id.
Thus, I find the new ALJ's decision did not exceed its
scope of review in reviewing, de novo, Dr.
Guie's opinion evidence. Therefore, remand is not
warranted on this basis.
further argues that there is no medical evidence to support a
new finding that Plaintiff had the ability to lift, carry,
and stand/walk. (ECF No. 11, p. 15). That that end, Plaintiff
specifically submits that there were no additional medical
records offered into evidence after the July 25, 2014
hearing. Id. As discussed above, regardless of the
date of the medical evidence, the ALJ was required to review
all of the evidence de novo. In so doing, the ALJ
properly considered the opinion evidence of Dr. Leong dated
December 19, 2016,  which supports a finding that Plaintiff
had the ability to lift, ...