United States District Court, D. New Jersey
KENNETH M. SEEWAGEN, III, Plaintiff,
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.
A. OHLERT BROSS & FRANKEL, P.A. ON BEHALF OF PLAINTIFF
CHARLES LYNCH SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION 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”) 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 his alleged onset date of
disability, March 27, 2011. For the reasons stated below,
this Court will affirm that decision.
BACKGROUND AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
April 23, 2013, Plaintiff, Kenneth M. Seewagen, III,
protectively filed an application for DIB,  alleging that he
became disabled on March 27, 2011. Plaintiff claims that he
can no longer work in his prior jobs in the food, retail, and
warehouse industries because of his various severe mental and
physical impairments, including a left knee impairment and
depression, anxiety, and PTSD.
initial claim was denied on August 9, 2013 and upon
reconsideration on January 24, 2014. Plaintiff requested a
hearing before an ALJ, which was held on March 31, 2016.
After Plaintiff submitted supplemental medical records in May
2016, the ALJ issued an unfavorable decision on September 16,
2016. Plaintiff's Request for Review of Hearing Decision
was denied by the Appeals Council on December 5, 2017, making
the ALJ's September 16, 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
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 ...