United States District Court, D. New Jersey
RICHARD L. GROUP, LAW OFFICES OF RICHARD L. GROUP, On behalf
S. DRUM 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 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 since December 10, 2008. For the reasons stated
below, this Court will reverse the ALJ's decision and
remand the matter for further proceedings.
BACKGROUND AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
Adriana Morales, claims that she cannot work and is entitled
to SSI due to scoliosis, degenerative joint disease,
Chron's disease, colitis and irritable bowel
syndrome. On April 5, 2013, Plaintiff protectively
filed an application for SSI,  alleging that she became disabled
as of December 10, 2008.
Plaintiff's initial claim was denied on August 15, 2013,
and upon reconsideration on October 28, 2013, Plaintiff
requested a hearing before an ALJ, which was held on February
29, 2016. On August 3, 2016, the ALJ issued an unfavorable
decision. Plaintiff's Request for Review of Hearing
Decision was denied by the Appeals Council on November 30,
2017, making the ALJ's August 3, 2016 decision final.
Plaintiff brings this civil action for review of the
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
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).
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