United States District Court, D. New Jersey
FISHMAN On behalf of Plaintiff.
MATTHEW JARED LITTMAN MELISSA KAY CURRY 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, August 1, 2009.
For the reasons stated below, this Court will reverse the
ALJ's decision and remand the matter for further
BACKGROUND AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
January 5, 2012, Plaintiff, Dana Lynn Cole, filed an
application for disability benefits, claiming that since
August 1, 2009, when she was 34 years old, her severe
impairments of fibromyalgia, arthritis, learning disorder,
post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, depression and
personality disorder have rendered her completely disabled
and unable to work. Prior to her claimed disability,
Plaintiff worked as a mail handler.
her claim was denied at the administrative levels, Plaintiff
appeared before an ALJ for a hearing on February 24, 2014. On
December 2, 2014, the ALJ held a supplemental
hearing.The ALJ determined that Plaintiff was not
disabled because she retained the ability to perform light
work. Plaintiff appealed the decision. The Appeals Council
reviewed the ALJ's decision, and upheld it, thus
rendering it as final. Plaintiff now seeks this Court's
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 essential to a meaningful court review:
Unless the [Commissioner] has analyzed all evidence and has
sufficiently explained the weight he has given to 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.
Gober v. Matthews, 574 F.2d 772, 776 (3d Cir. 1978).
Although an ALJ, as the fact finder, must consider and
evaluate the medical evidence presented, Fargnoli,
247 F.3d at 42, “[t]here is no requirement that the ALJ
discuss in its opinion every tidbit of evidence included in
the record, ” Hur v. Barnhart, 94 F. App'x
130, 133 (3d Cir. 2004). In terms of judicial review, a
district court is not “empowered to weigh the evidence
or substitute its conclusions for those of the
fact-finder.” Williams, 970 F.2d at 1182.
However, apart from the substantial evidence inquiry, a
reviewing court is entitled to satisfy itself that the
Commissioner arrived at his decision by application of the
proper legal standards. Sykes, 228 F.3d at 262;
Friedberg v. Schweiker, 721 F.2d 445, 447 (3d Cir.
1983); Curtin v. Harris, 508 F.Supp. 791, 793
Standard for Disability Insurance Benefits
Social Security Act defines “disability” for
purposes of an entitlement to a period of disability and
disability insurance benefits as the 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. See 42 U.S.C. § 1382c(a)(3)(A). Under
this definition, a Plaintiff qualifies as disabled only if
his physical or mental impairments are of such severity that
he is not only unable to perform his past relevant work, but
cannot, given his age, education, and work experience, engage
in any other type of substantial gainful work which exists in
the national economy, regardless of whether ...