United States District Court, D. New Jersey
LANGTON LANGTON & ALTER, ESQS. 1600 ST. GEORGES AVENUE PO
BOX 1798 RAHWAY, N.J. 07065 ON BEHALF OF PLAINTIFF
E.N. DOGGETT SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION OFFICE OF THE
GENERAL COUNSEL 300 SPRING GARDEN STREET - SIXTH FLOOR
PHILADELPHIA, PA 19123 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 Supplemental
Security Income (“SSI”) under 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 June 17, 2009 and April 16,
2013. For the reasons stated below, this Court will affirm
BACKGROUND AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
Elizabeth Guzman, claims that she is entitled to SSI due to
cervical and lumbar degenerative disc disease with
radiculopathy, diabetes mellitus, carpal tunnel syndrome,
asthma, depression, and anxiety. Plaintiff had previously
filed for SSI claiming a disability onset date on June 17,
2009. The Commissioner denied that claim on
August 4, 2011, a decision the Appeals Council upheld on
February 21, 2013. Plaintiff appealed to the District Court
on May 2, 2013. The court issued its decision on June 30,
2015 reversing and remanding the matter for further
the Appeals Council upheld the denial of her SSI claim for
the alleged onset of disability of June 17, 2009, but before
she appealed the decision to the District Court, Plaintiff
filed a second application for SSI on April 17, 2013 alleging
that date as her onset of disability. While her appeal before
the District Court was pending, the Commissioner granted her
second SSI disability claim on November 10, 2014.
of the approval of her second SSI claim for disability
beginning on April 17, 2013, the issue before the ALJ on
remand from the District Court for Plaintiff's first
claim became whether Plaintiff was disabled from June 17,
2009 through April 16, 2013. A hearing was held on May 26,
2016, and the ALJ issued his decision on May 10, 2017 denying
Plaintiff's claim for disability between June 17, 2009
and April 16, 2013. The ALJ's decision became final on
July 10, 2017. Plaintiff brings this civil action for review
of the Commissioner's decision.
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 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. § 416.920. This
five-step process is summarized as follows:
1. If the claimant currently is engaged in substantial
gainful employment, he will be found ...