United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania
R. Sánchez, C.J.
Farencie Baucom seeks review of the denial of her application
for Social Security Disability Insurance Benefits and
Supplemental Security Income by the Commissioner of Social
Security. In a decision issued February 1, 2016, an
Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) concluded Baucom was not
disabled after applying the Social Security
Administration's five-step sequential evaluation process.
See 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520. Baucom now argues the
ALJ's decision was not supported by substantial evidence
and made several errors in denying Baucom's application.
Upon consideration of Baucom's request for review in this
Court, United States Magistrate Judge David R. Strawbridge
issued a Report and Recommendation (R&R) addressing the
alleged errors. He concluded the ALJ's decision was
supported by substantial evidence, and recommended this Court
affirm the Commissioner's denial of benefits. Baucom
filed objections to the R&R and asks this Court to remand
her case to the Commissioner or direct the Commissioner to
award her benefits. Because the Court agrees with the
R&R's determination that the ALJ's decision was
supported by substantial evidence, the Court will overrule
Baucom's objections, deny her request for review, and
enter judgment in favor of the Commissioner.
to the Administration's five-step sequential evaluation
process, the ALJ first found Baucom had not participated in
substantial gainful activity at the time since the alleged
onset date of her disability. Second, the ALJ found Baucom
properly demonstrated she suffered from a severe impairment,
one that had more than a de minimus effect on the
performance of her job duties. Third, the ALJ determined
Baucom's impairment did not equal the severity of one of
the listed impairments within the criteria enumerated in 20
C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. Fourth, the ALJ
concluded Baucom has the residual functional capacity (RFC)
to perform medium work as defined in 20 C.F.R. §
404.1567(c) and 416.967(c), except Baucom is limited to
simple repetitive tasks with only occasional changes in the
work setting and occasional contact with the public and
co-workers. Finally, the ALJ found Baucom was incapable of
performing her previous job duties, but that there were many
jobs within the national economy which Baucom could still
Request for Review, Baucom argued the ALJ's decision was
not supported by substantial evidence because it (1) failed
to fully consider the medical evidence; (2) did not offer
evidence for holding that Baucom suffered from a mood
impairment; (3) failed to fully consider Baucom's
anxiety-related symptoms; (4) did not adequately weigh the
medical opinion evidence; (5) erred in determining
Baucom's RFC status; and (6) improperly weighed
Baucom's credibility. On May 2, 2019, Judge Strawbridge
issued the R&R and addressed these alleged errors. He
concluded the ALJ's decision was supported by substantial
evidence, and recommended this Court affirm the
Commissioner's denial of benefits.
16, 2019, Baucom filed objections to the R&R, reiterating
arguments previously made in her request for review.
Additionally, Baucom makes two other objections in which she
argues (1) the R&R's citation to non-binding case law
was contrary to Third Circuit precedent requiring remand if
an ALJ does not explicitly weigh and explain relevant
evidence, and (2) Judge Strawbridge and the ALJ improperly
placed the burden upon her in the RFC assessment. The Court
now addresses Baucom's objections.
to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1), this Court reviews de novo
“those portions of the report or specified proposed
findings or recommendations to which objection is
made.” Upon de novo review of the record, and
considering Judge Strawbridge has already addressed most of
the arguments set forth in her objections, the Court will
overrule Baucom's objections for the reasons stated in
the R&R. The Court will, however, briefly address the
additional legal authority Baucom relies on in support of her
argument regarding the ALJ's failure to consider all of
her medical evidence. The Court will also briefly address
Baucom's objection to the ALJ and the R&R for placing
the burden of proof on her in the RFC assessment.
objects to the R&R's citation to Phillips v.
Barnhart, 91 Fed.Appx. 775 (3d Cir. 2004), arguing the
case is contrary to Third Circuit precedent which states an
ALJ's failure to properly articulate a reason for
rejecting relevant evidence requires remand. See
Objs. 3. In support, Baucom cites Dobrowolsky v.
Califano, 606 F.2d 403 (3d Cir. 1979), explaining unless
an ALJ “has analyzed all evidence and has sufficiently
explained the weight of obviously probative
exhibits, to say that his decision is supported by
substantial evidence approaches an abdication of the
court's ‘duty to scrutinize the record as a whole
to determine whether the conclusions reached are
rational.'” 606 F.2d at 407 (emphasis added).
Baucom's reliance on this case, however, is misplaced
because the evidence Baucom argues should have been
considered and explicitly rejected was not “obviously
probative.” As stated in the R&R, the treatment
notes Baucom cites were either unremarkable or repetitive of
the evidence the ALJ did explicitly cite. See
R&R 7-9. Baucom also fails to cite to any support for her
argument that “[t]o be ‘considered,' evidence
must at least be mentioned.” Objs. 7. Therefore,
Baucom's additional case law does not entitle her to
relief. See Reed v. Berryhill, 337 F.Supp.3d 525,
528 (E.D. Pa. 2018) (“There is no requirement that the
ALJ discuss in the decision every ‘tidbit' of
evidence included in the administrative record.”
(citing Hur v. Barnhart, 94 Fed.Appx. 130, 133 (3d
the R&R's citation to a non-precedential Third
Circuit case, the R&R also cited Burnett v.
Comm'r of Soc. Sec. Admin., 220 F.3d 112, 119-20 (3d
Cir. 2000) and Jones v. Barnhart, 364 F.3d 501, 505
(3d Cir. 2004). In these cases, the Third Circuit explains an
ALJ is required to set forth sufficient reasons for reliance
or rejection of relevant evidence, although an ALJ is not
required to use particular language or adhere to a specific
format when doing so. Although Baucom disagrees with the
format the ALJ used in considering the relevant treatment
notes, Judge Strawbridge reviewed the ALJ's analysis of
Baucom's medical evidence and found she properly reviewed
the relevant evidence and provided sufficient explanation for
her methodology. See R&R 8-9. After de novo
review, the Court agrees with this finding and will overrule
also objects to the R&R's finding that the ALJ's
RFC assessment was supported by substantial evidence. In her
objection, Baucom asserts the ALJ and R&R improperly
placed the burden on her in the RFC assessment to establish
any work-related limitations associated with her impairments.
See Objs. 9-13. This argument is without merit.
claimant bears the burden of proof at steps one through
four”-which includes the RFC assessment. Smith v.
Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 631 F.3d 632, 634 (3d Cir.
2010). Baucom incorrectly states the Commissioner bore the
burden of proof regarding the RFC assessment. See
Objs. 13. Although the burden did shift to the Commissioner
after the ALJ found Baucom did not have the RFC to perform
past relevant work, Baucom still bore the burden before the
ALJ made that finding. See Smith, 631 F.3d at 634.
As a result, at step four, where the RFC assessment occurred,
it was Baucom's burden to prove the additional
limitations that potentially affected her RFC assessment.
Neither the ALJ nor Judge Strawbridge in the R&R
improperly placed the burden on Baucom in the RFC assessment.
The Court will thus overrule this objection.
Court finds the ALJ's decision was supported by
substantial evidence. Accordingly, the Court will overrule
Baucom's objections, approve and adopt the R&R, ...