The opinion of the court was delivered by: Sheridan, U.S.D.J.
This matter comes before the Court on the appeal of Carmen Rodriguez from the Commissioner of Social Security's denial of her application for disability insurance benefits. The Court has reviewed the briefs of the parties, the issues presented by Rodriguez's attorney, and conducted a hearing.
Plaintiff is a 63 year old Spanish-speaking woman born in Puerto Rico. She is 5'2 and weighs approximately 122 pounds. Her highest level of education completed is the 5th or 6th grade.
(R. 112,193). She has no vocational or special job training. Plaintiff lives alone and has two daughters. (R.112) She worked at D. E. Jones as a cashier from November 1989 to May 2005. (R. 95, 155). According to Plaintiff, her duties included work as a cashier, answering the phone and other tasks. (R. 108). During Plaintiff's time as a cashier, she stood approximately four hours a day.
(R.108). She also lifted boxes containing clothing. She reported that she frequently lifted 25 pounds.
(R.109; but see R.122,128). In May 2005, Plaintiff stated that she stopped working because her employer went bankrupt. (R.29, 95,107,113).
Plaintiff alleges that her disability began on January 1, 2006, approximately 8 months after she stopped work at D. E. Jones. At Plaintiff's hearing before the Administrative Law Judge on November 7, 2008, she stated that she did not know what happened that caused the pain in her leg and low back and that she had no special accident while working as a cashier. (R. 30-31). She complains of chronic lower back pain, osteoarthritis, and arthritis. (R. 157, 196).
In reviewing a decision of an ALJ, the Court reviews whether the findings and decision are based on substantial evidence in the record. That is, whether the findings and decision are supported by substantial evidence in the record. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). See Morales v. Apfel, 225 F.3d 310, 316 (3d Cir. 2000); Hartranft v. Apfel, 181 F.3d 358, 360 (3d Cir. 1999); Doak v. Heckler, 790 F.2d 26, , 28 (3d Cir. 1986). Substantial evidence has been defined as "such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Hartranft, 181 F.3d at 360 (quoting Pierce v. Underwood, 487 U.S. 552, 565 (1988) (citation omitted)); see also Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971). Substantial evidence is less than a preponderance of the evidence, but more than a mere scintilla. Richardson, 402 U.S. at 401; Morales, 225 F.3d at 316. Likewise, the ALJ's decision is not supported by substantial evidence where there is "competent evidence" to support the alternative and the ALJ does not "explicitly explain all the evidence" or "adequately explain his reasons for rejecting or discrediting competent evidence." Sykes v. Apfel, 228 F.3d 259, 266 (3d Cir. 2000). "An ALJ may reject a treating physician's opinion outright only on the basis of contradictory evidence, but may afford a treating physician's opinion more or less weight depending on the extent to which supporting explanations are provided." Plummer v. Apfel, 186 F.3d 422, 429 (3rd Cir. 1999).
The reviewing court must view the evidence in its totality. Daring v. Heckler, 727 F.2d 64, 70 (3d Cir. 1984).
A single piece of evidence will not satisfy the substantiality test if the [Commissioner] 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) - - or if it really constitutes not evidence but mere conclusion.
Morales, 225 F.3d at 316 (citing Kent v. Schweiker, 710 F.2d 110, 114 (3d Cir.1983)); see also Benton v. Bowen, 820 F.2d 85, 88 (3d Cir. 1987). Nevertheless, the district court's review is deferential to the ALJ's factual determinations. Williams v. Sullivan, 970 F.2d 1178, 1182 (3d Cir. 1992) (en banc) (stating district court is not "empowered to weigh the evidence or substitute its conclusions for those of the factfinder"). A reviewing court will not set a Commissioner's decision aside even if it "would have decided the factual inquiry differently." Hartranft, 181 F.3d at 360. But despite the deference due the Commissioner, "appellate courts retain a responsibility to scrutinize the entire record and to ...