United States District Court, D. New Jersey
S. TOVINSKY JACOBS SCHWABLE & PETRUZELLI PC On behalf of
STEPHEN M. BALL 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”) and Supplemental
Security Income (“SSI”) 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 between January 8, 2010 through June 30,
2010 for DIB, and between September 14, 2012 through October
13, 2013 for SSI. For the reasons stated below, this Court
will affirm that decision.
BACKGROUND AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
George Cox, Jr., protectively filed for DIB and SSI on
September 14, 2012. Plaintiff claims that he is entitled to
these benefits due to the following impairments: status-post
multiple fall injuries (including distal radius fracture of
his right wrist), radial neuropathy of the left wrist,
osteoarthrosis of the dorsal spine, cervical radiculopathy,
and depressive disorder.
had previously filed for DIB and SSI on February 8, 2007,
claiming a disability onset date of June 6, 2005. On January
7, 2010, the Commissioner issued a final decision denying
those prior claims.
of that prior adjudicated period, Plaintiff's earliest
possible onset date for DIB in this case is January 8,
2010. To be entitled to DIB, therefore, he had
to show he was disabled on or after January 8, 2010, and on
or before June 30, 2010, which is the date Plaintiff was last
insured for DIB. For SSI, because Plaintiff returned to
work on October 13, 2013,  Plaintiff must demonstrate that he was
disabled on or after September 14, 2012, and on or before
October 13, 2013.
though Plaintiff's claims for DIB and SSI presented two
separate periods of disability, the ALJ considered whether
Plaintiff was totally disabled between January 8, 2010 and
October 13, 2013. On August 2, 2016, the ALJ determined that
Plaintiff was not totally disabled during this period. The
Appeals Council affirmed that decision on September 11, 2017,
thus rendering the ALJ's 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
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).
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 and SSI 
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).
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 such work exists
in the immediate area in which he lives, or whether a
specific job vacancy exists for him, or whether he would be
hired if he applied for work. 42 U.S.C. § 1382c(a)(3)(B)
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, he will be found ...