United States District Court, D. New Jersey
RICHARD LOWELL FRANKEL BROSS & FRANKEL, PA, On behalf of
WHITE GRIFFIN, RACHEL E. LICAUSI, SOCIAL SECURITY
ADMINISTRATION, OFFICE OF THE GENERAL COUNSEL, On behalf of
L. HILLMAN, U.S.D.J.
matter comes before the Court pursuant to Section 205(g) of
the Social Security Act, as amended, 42 U.S.C. § 405(g),
regarding Plaintiff's application for Disability
Insurance Benefits (“DIB”) and Supplemental
Security Income (“Social Security benefits”)
under Title II and Title XVI of the Social Security Act. 42
U.S.C. § 401, et seq. The issue before the Court is
whether the Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”)
erred in finding that there was “substantial
evidence” that Plaintiff was not disabled at any time
since her alleged onset date of disability, originally
October 1, 2002, but amended during the administrative
process to July 27, 2006. For the reasons stated below, this
Court will reverse that decision and remand the matter for
BACKGROUND AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
Harriett Curry, protectively filed an application for
benefits pursuant to Titles II and XVI, of the Social
Security Act on April 20, 2010, alleging an onset date of
disability beginning October 1, 2002. The claim was denied on
October 6, 2010. A Request for Reconsideration was timely
submitted on December 4, 2010, and the claim was denied again
January 3, 2011.
written Request for Hearing before an Administrative Law
Judge (“ALJ”) was filed on March 9, 2011.
Plaintiff, represented by different counsel, appeared at the
Pennsauken hearing office for a hearing that was held before
an ALJ on March 2, 2012. At the hearing, Plaintiff amended
her onset date to July 27, 2006.
March 19, 2012, the ALJ issued an unfavorable decision. The
ALJ determined that despite Plaintiff's severe
impairments of disorders of the cervical and lumbar spine and
allergic rhinitis, Plaintiff retained the residual functional
capacity to perform her past work as an administrative
assistant. Thereafter, Plaintiff filed a Request for Review
of hearing Decision with the Appeals Council, which
subsequently issued an order remanding the case to the ALJ.
Represented by her current counsel, Plaintiff appeared and
testified at a second hearing before ALJ Mandry on March 28,
27, 2014, the ALJ issued a second unfavorable decision. The
ALJ came to the same ultimate conclusion as her previous
decision. Plaintiff filed a request for review with the
Appeals Council on July 31, 2014. The Appeals Council issued
an Order, dated August 11, 2015, wherein the Request for
Review was denied. The ALJ's decision became the final
decision of the Commissioner of Social Security when the
Appeals Council denied the Plaintiff's Request for Review
on August 11, 2015. Plaintiff thereafter commenced the
present action, requesting judicial review pursuant to 42
U.S.C. § 405(g).
Standard of Review
42 U.S.C. § 405(g), Congress provided for judicial
review of the Commissioner's decision to deny a
complainant's application for Disability Insurance
Benefits. Ventura v. Shalala, 55 F.3d 900, 901 (3d
Cir. 1995). A reviewing court must uphold the
Commissioner's factual decisions where they are supported
by “substantial evidence.” 42 U.S.C. §§
405(g), 1383(c)(3); Fargnoli v. Massanari, 247 F.3d
34, 38 (3d Cir. 2001); Sykes v. Apfel, 228 F.3d 259,
262 (3d Cir. 2000); Williams v. Sullivan, 970 F.2d
1178, 1182 (3d Cir. 1992). Substantial evidence means more
than “a mere scintilla.” Richardson v.
Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971)(quoting
Consolidated Edison Co. V. NLRB, 305 U.S. 197, 229
(1938)). It means “such relevant evidence as a
reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a
conclusion.” Id. The inquiry is not whether
the reviewing court would have made the same determination,
but whether the Commissioner's conclusion was reasonable.
See Brown v. Bowen, 845 F.2d 1211, 1213 (3d Cir.
reviewing court has a duty to review the evidence in its
totality. See Daring v. Heckler, 727 F.2d 64, 70 (3d
Cir. 1984). “[A] court must ‘take into account
whatever in the record fairly detracts from its
weight.'” Schonewolf v. Callahan, 972
F.Supp. 277, 284 (D.N.J. 1997) (quoting Willbanks v.
Secretary of Health & Human Servs., 847 F.2d 301,
303 (6th Cir. 1988) (quoting Universal Camera Corp. V.
NLRB, 340 U.S. 474, 488 (1951)).
Commissioner “must adequately explain in the record his
reasons for rejecting or discrediting competent
evidence.” Ogden v. Bowen, 677 F.Supp. 273,
278 (M.D. Pa. 1987) (citing Brewster v. Heckler, 786
F.2d 581 (3d Cir. 1986)). The Third Circuit has held that an
“ALJ must review all pertinent medical evidence and
explain his conciliations and rejections.” Burnett
v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec. Admin., 220 F.3d 112, 122 (3d
Cir. 2000). Similarly, an ALJ must also consider and weigh
all of the non-medical evidence before him. Id.
(citing Van Horn v. Schweiker, 717 F.2d 871, 873 (3d
Cir. 1983)); Cotter v. Harris, 642 F.2d 700, 707 (3d
Third Circuit has held that access to the Commissioner's
reasoning is indeed ...