United States District Court, D. New Jersey
JENNIFER S. COLCLASURE, Plaintiff,
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.
RICHARD LOWELL FRANKEL BROSS & FRANKEL, PA On behalf of
HEATHER ANNE BENDERSON SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION OFFICE
OF THE GENERAL COUNSEL On behalf of Defendant
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”) under Title II of
the Social Security Act. 42 U.S.C. § 423, 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, 2012. For the reasons stated below,
this Court will affirm that decision.
BACKGROUND AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
January 22, 2013, Plaintiff, Jennifer S. Colclasure,
protectively filed an application for DIB,  alleging that she
became disabled on August 1, 2012. Plaintiff claims that she
can no longer work as an interior designer, bartender, and
waitress because of the following impairments: small facture
or contusion of the left lower extremity with resulting
sympathetic dystrophy, generalized anxiety disorder with
panic attacks, dysthymia, and attention deficit hyperactivity
initial claim was denied on May 22, 2013, and upon
reconsideration on October 29, 2013. Plaintiff requested a
hearing before an ALJ, which was held on September 9, 2015.
On February 3, 2016, the ALJ issued an unfavorable decision.
Plaintiff's Request for Review of Hearing Decision was
denied by the Appeals Council on May 26, 2017, making the
ALJ's February 3, 2016 decision final. Plaintiff brings
this civil action for review of the Commissioner'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 social security 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. 1988).
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 Cir. 1981).
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 Fed.Appx.
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 DIB
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
her physical or mental impairments are of such severity that
she is not only unable to perform her past relevant work, but
cannot, given her age, education, and work experience, engage
in any other type of substantial gainful work which exists in
the national economy, regardless of whether such work exists
in the immediate area in which she lives, or whether a
specific job vacancy exists for her, or whether she would be
hired if she applied for work. 42 U.S.C. §
1382c(a)(3)(B) (emphasis added).
Commissioner has promulgated regulations for determining
disability that require application of a five-step sequential
analysis. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520. This
five-step process is summarized as follows:
1. If the claimant currently is engaged in substantial
gainful employment, she will be found “not
2. If the claimant does not suffer from a “severe
impairment, ” she will be found “not
3. If the severe impairment meets or equals a listed
impairment in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1
and has lasted or is expected to last for a
continuous period of at least twelve months, the claimant
will be found “disabled.”
4. If the claimant can still perform work she has done in the
past (“past relevant work”) despite the severe
impairment, she will be found “not disabled.”
5. Finally, the Commissioner will consider the claimant's
ability to perform work (“residual functional
capacity”), age, education, and past work experience to
determine whether or not she is capable of performing other
work which exists in the national economy. If she is
incapable, she will be found “disabled.” If she
is capable, she will be found “not disabled.”
20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(b)-(f). Entitlement to benefits is
therefore dependent upon a finding that the claimant is
incapable of performing work in the national economy.
five-step process involves a shifting burden of proof.
See Wallace v. Secretary of Health & Human
Servs., 722 F.2d 1150, 1153 (3d Cir. 1983). In the first
four steps of the analysis, the burden is on the claimant to
prove every element of her claim by a preponderance of the
evidence. See id. In the final step, the
Commissioner bears the burden of proving that work is
available for the Plaintiff: “Once a claimant has
proved that he is unable to perform his former job, the
burden shifts to the Commissioner to prove that there is some
other kind of substantial gainful employment he is able to
perform.” Kangas v. Bowen, 823 F.2d 775, 777
(3d Cir. 1987); see Olsen v. Schweiker, 703 F.2d
751, 753 (3d Cir. 1983).
one, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had not engaged in
substantial gainful activity since the alleged onset of
disability. At step two, the ALJ found that Plaintiff's
impairments of small facture or contusion of the left lower
extremity with resulting sympathetic dystrophy, generalized
anxiety disorder with panic attacks, dysthymia, and attention
deficit hyperactivity disorder were severe. At step three,
the ALJ determined that Plaintiff's severe impairments or
her severe impairments in combination with her other
impairments did not equal the severity of one of the listed
impairments. The ALJ then determined that Plaintiff's
residual functional capacity (“RFC”) precluded
her from performing her past work as an interior designer,
bartender or waitress, but her RFC rendered her capable ...