GALETTE v. COLVIN
MEMORANDUM AND/OR OPINION. SIGNED BY HONORABLE EDUARDO C. ROBRENO ON 03/24/2017. 03/24/2017 ENTERED AND COPIES MAILED TO PRO SE LITIGANT AND E-MAILED.(nds)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE EASTERN DISTRICT OF PENNSYLVANIA
CAROLYN W. COLVIN,
M E M O R A N D U M
EDUARDO C. ROBRENO, J.
March 24, 2017
Presently before the Court is the motion for summary
judgment filed by the Commissioner of Social Security asking for
dismissal of Cedric Galette’s pro se Complaint in which he seeks
review and reversal of the Commissioner’s final denial of his
disability insurance benefits (“DIB”) and supplemental security
income (“SSI” ) claims under Titles II and XVI of the Social
Security Act. 42 U.S.C. §§ 401-434, 1381-1383f. Upon
consideration of the parties’ submissions and the administrative
record, the Court will grant the Commissioner’s motion and enter
judgment in her favor.
FACTUAL BACKGROUND AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY1
On June 12, 2013, Galette protectively filed
applications for SSI and DIB, alleging that he had been disabled
since March 6, 2013. R. 203-15. The Social Security
Administration initially denied his claims on November 8, 2013.
R. 102-111. An administrative law judge (“ALJ”) held a hearing
regarding the claims on January 7, 2015, at which Galette was
represented by a non-attorney representative. R. 37-63. On
February 25, 2015, the ALJ issued an unfavorable decision,
finding that Galette was not disabled. R. 17-29. Galette
requested review by the Appeals Council, which denied his
request on April 30, 2015. R. 8-10.
Galette filed his Complaint in the present action on
October 26, 2015, seeking judicial review of the ALJ’s decision
pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). ECF No. 3. After failing to
comply with this Court’s procedural order requiring the filing
of a “Brief and Statement of Issues in Support of Request for
Review,” the Court issued a rule to show cause why the matter
should not be dismissed. ECF No. 10. Galette filed a handwritten statement on August 16, 2016, which the Court deemed a
response to the rule to show cause. ECF Nos. 11, 14. After a
September 23, 2016 rule to show cause hearing, the Court ordered
Citations to “R.” are citations to the administrative
record, which is located on the docket at ECF number 8.
the Commissioner to file a motion for summary judgment. ECF No.
14. The Commissioner filed her motion on November 14, 2016 and
Galette filed responses on December 14, 2016 and February 27,
2017. ECF Nos. 18-21.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
In reviewing the Commissioner’s final determination
that a person is not disabled and, therefore, not entitled to
Social Security benefits, the Court may not independently weigh
the evidence or substitute its own conclusions for those reached
by the ALJ. See Burns v. Barnhart, 312 F.3d 113, 118 (3d Cir.
2002). Instead, the Court must review the factual findings
presented in order to determine whether they are supported by
substantial evidence. See 42 U.S.C. § 405(g); Rutherford v.
Barnhart, 399 F.3d 546, 552 (3d Cir. 2005).
Substantial evidence is that which a “reasonable mind
might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.” Rutherford,
399 F.3d at 552 (quoting Reefer v. Barnhart, 326 F.3d 376, 379
(3d Cir. 2003)). “It is ‘more than a mere scintilla but may be
somewhat less than a preponderance of the evidence.’” Id.
(quoting Ginsburg v. Richardson, 436 F.2d 1146, 1148 (3d Cir.
1971)). If the ALJ’s decision is supported by substantial
evidence, the Court may not set it aside “even if [it] would
have decided the factual inquiry differently.” Hartranft v.
Apfel, 181 F.3d 358, 360 (3d Cir. 1999). “A single piece of
evidence will not satisfy the substantiality test if the
[Commissioner] ignores, or fails to resolve, a conflict created
by countervailing evidence. Nor is evidence substantial if it is
overwhelmed by other evidence . . . or if it really constitutes
not evidence but mere conclusion.” Kent v. Schweiker, 710 F.2d
110, 114 (3d Cir. 1983).
An ALJ uses a five-step inquiry to determine if a
plaintiff is entitled to benefits. A plaintiff must first
establish that (1) she is not engaged in any substantial gainful
activity, and (2) she suffers from a severe impairment. Jesurum
v. Sec’y of Health & Human Servs., 48 F.3d 114, 117 (3d Cir.
1995) (citing Bowen v. Yuckert, 482 U.S. 137, 140-41 (1987)). If
the plaintiff satisfies these two elements, the ALJ determines
(3) whether the impairment is equivalent to an impairment listed
in 20 C.F.R. pt. 404, Subpt. P, App. 1, which creates a
presumption of disability. Id. If not, the plaintiff must prove
that (4) the impairment nonetheless prevents her from performing
work that she has performed in the past. Id. The relevant
inquiry is “whether the claimant retains the residual functional
capacity to perform her past relevant work.” Fargnoli v.
Massanari, 247 F.3d 34, 39 (3d Cir. 2001). If the plaintiff
proves she does not, the ALJ must grant her benefits unless the
ALJ can demonstrate that (5) considering plaintiff’s residual
functional capacity (“RFC”), age, education, and work
experience, there are jobs available in significant numbers in
the national economy that the plaintiff can perform. Jesurum, 48
F.3d at 117 (citing Ferguson v. Schweiker, 765 F.2d 31, 37 (3d
III. THE ALJ’S DECISION
Using the five-step inquiry described above, the ALJ
determined that Galette was not disabled.
At step one, the ALJ found that Galette had not
engaged in substantial gainful activity since March 6, 2016. R.
At step two, the ALJ found that Galette suffered from
the following severe impairments: severe right upper extremity
disorders including degenerative joint disease, disorders of the
back, affective disorders, anxiety disorders, a chronic pain
disorder, a personality disorder with cluster B traits, and
polysubstance abuse. R. 20.
At step three, the ALJ found that Galette’s
impairments did not meet or medically equal the severity of one
of the impairments listed in 20 C.F.R. pt. 404, Subpt. P, App.
At step four, the ALJ found that Galette had the RFC
to perform a limited range of sedentary work. R. 24. The ALJ
concluded that, while performing this work, Galette could
“frequently but not constantly reach, handle, finger, use foot
controls, climb ramps and stairs, balance and stoop,” “only
occasionally reach overhead, feel, push, pull, kneel, crouch,
and crawl, but can never climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds,”
“must avoid more than frequent exposure to humidity and wetness
and more than occasional exposure to dust, odors, fumes, gas,
extreme cold, extreme heat, vibration, and hazards including
moving machinery and unprotected heights,” “cannot perform work
in a very loud environment and is limited to routine, repetitive
tasks with no frequent changes in the work setting, no public
interaction, and only occasional interaction with coworkers and
At step five, relying on the testimony of a vocational
expert (“VE”), the ALJ found that, considering Galette’s age,
education, work experience, and RFC, he could not perform his
previous work, but could perform several jobs available in
significant numbers in the national economy, including
addresser, sorter, and stuffer. R. 27-28. As a result, the ALJ
found that Galette was not disabled. Id.
Galette filed three documents in support of his
Complaint. See ECF Nos. 11, 20, 21. These submissions do not
allege any specific errors made by the ALJ but instead detail
Galette’s poor financial wellbeing, personal history, the
general poor condition of his physical and mental health, and
his alleged mistreatment by the mothers of his children. Given
the lack of any specific allegation of error, the Court will
analyze in general whether the ALJ’s decision was supported by
As discussed below, the Court concludes that the ALJ’s
decision is supported by substantial evidence. Thus, it will
grant the Commissioner’s motion for summary judgment and dismiss
First, the ALJ reasonably described Galette’s physical
limitations and the notes associated with them. She indicated
that there had been some issues with his jaw, right elbow, hand,
and foot, and headaches, but considered that there was little
evidence of ongoing symptoms. R. 20-21, 25-26; see e.g., R. 40608, 420, 437-44, 450-58, 468, 494-96, 536-41, 547-56, 564-73,
583-96, 658-60. She also noted that, at the time of the
September 2013 consultative exam, Galette had normal range of
motion in both hands and elbows, but reduced grip strength. R.
Attached to some of these submissions is evidence that
was not before the ALJ. Such evidence may not be considered by
this Court in making its determination. Jones v. Sullivan, 954
F.2d 125, 128 (3d Cir. 1991).
The ALJ also indicated that Galette had been in
several auto accidents, had complained of cervical and lumbar
pain therefrom, and that objective testing showed some mild
right S1 radiculopathy and mild disc bulging. R. 21, 26,378-94,
493, 684-86. However, she further noted that at the 2013
consultative exam, Galette had full cervical and lumbar range of
motion and denied back pain in October 2013. R. 21, 583-96, 62327.
Second, the ALJ adequately considered Galette’s mental
limitations and the associated records. She noted that he was
diagnosed in July 2013 at the University of Pennsylvania
psychiatric practice with a mood disorder, a personality
disorder with cluster B traits, and polysubstance abuse. R. 21,
508-18. She also recorded that several times Galette appeared
focused on obtaining Xanax and either left treatment if the drug
was not prescribed or left after it was prescribed and did not
attend follow up treatments. R. 21, 429-32, 508-09, 516. She
also provided that Galette’s treatment notes indicated possible
malingering and that he appeared motivated by a desire to
receive disability benefits. R. 21, 26, 508-09, 516.
The ALJ recounted that, during an August 2013 initial
evaluation at the Multicultural Wellness Center, Galette was
fully oriented and cooperative, denied psychotic symptoms, had
fair memory but poor judgment, was diagnosed with bipolar
disorder and impulse control disorder, and was prescribed
medication, including Xanax. R. 22, 673-78. She also noted that
Galette apparently received psychotherapy through June 2014. R.
The ALJ reasonably explained that she did not place
significant weight on Galette’s 45-55 Global Assessment of
Functioning (“GAF”) score in light of its inherent subjectivity,
lack of clarity, and questionable psychometrics. R. 22, 676.
Indeed, as she mentioned, it is for these reasons that the use
of the GAF scale has been eliminated in the DSM-V.
Third, the ALJ adequately explained the weight she
gave to the opinions of physicians in the record. For example,
she gave the reviewing state agency psychologist who assessed
Galette with no more than moderate psychological limitations
great weight because he provided specific reasons for his
opinions, showing that they were well grounded in the evidence
of record. R. 22, 27, 71-77, 88-93.
The ALJ also reasonably gave limited weight to the
opinion of Galette’s treating psychiatrist, Dr. Kasmani. She
concluded that his assessment that Galette had marked
limitations in every area noted on the form was unsupported by
and inconsistent with Galette’s recent treatment notes and the
record. R. 22-23, 27, 803-06. The ALJ also noted that Dr.
Kasmani included impairments on the form which were not found in
the treatment records or in Galette’s testimony. R. 23.
Similarly, the ALJ reasonably gave no weight to a
check-box form indicating marked and extreme limitations signed
by therapist Alexis Jean Jude because she did not appear to be
Galette’s therapist and the record did not contain any of her
records. R. 23, 27, 597-99; see Mason v. Shalala, 994 F.2d 1058,
1065 (3d Cir. 1993) (providing that “[f]orm reports in which a
physician’s obligation is only to check a box or fill in a blank
are weak evidence at best,” and that “where these so-called
reports are unaccompanied by thorough written reports, their
reliability is suspect”) (internal quotation marks omitted).
The ALJ also appropriately gave little weight to a
welfare form apparently signed by a treating physician in June
2013, indicating that Galette was “permanently disabled.” R. 26,
492. No specific work limitations were provided on the form, and
the finding of disability is an issue reserved to the
Commissioner. Id.; see 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1527(d)(3),
Finally, the ALJ adequately examined Galette’s ability
to function, noting, inter alia, that he lives alone but has
many friends, cares for his personal needs and finances,
prepares simple meals, takes public transportation, and has been
able to travel to New York three or four times since his
disability onset date. R. 23, 25; see e.g. R. 44-45, 48-52.
While acknowledging that Galette had severe
impairments, the ALJ justifiably had reservations regarding the
credibility of his assertions in light of the limited findings
in the objective record. R. 25. She concluded that the record
failed to document an impairment that would cause disabling
pain. Id. She again recounted the relevant medical evidence, as
well as the fact that Galette’s treatment had been sporadic,
reciting specific examples. R. 25-26. Likewise, the ALJ fairly
asserted that the evidence failed to support the existence of
any significant pathology capable of producing debilitating
mental limitations. Id.
After independently reviewing the record evidence, the
Court concludes that the ALJ’s RFC assessment and reliance on
the VE’s testimony in finding that Galette was not disabled was
adequately supported by substantial evidence in the record.
For the reasons provided above, the Court will grant
the Commissioner’s motion for summary judgment and enter
judgment in her favor.
An appropriate order follows.
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