CATHERS v. COLVIN
ORDER denying 7 Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment and granting 9 Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment. Signed by Judge Alan N. Bloch on 9/21/2017. (lwp)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE WESTERN DISTRICT OF PENNSYLVANIA
) Civil Action No. 16-113-E
CAROLYN W. COLVIN,
ACTING COMMISSIONER OF
AND NOW, this 21st day of September, 2017, upon consideration of the parties’
cross motions for summary judgment, the Court, upon review of the Acting Commissioner of
Social Security=s final decision, denying Plaintiff’s claim for disability insurance benefits under
Subchapter II of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. § 401 et seq., and denying Plaintiff’s claim
for supplemental security income benefits under Subchapter XVI of the Social Security Act, 42
U.S.C. § 1381, et seq., finds that the Acting Commissioner=s findings are supported by
substantial evidence and, accordingly, affirms. See 42 U.S.C. ' 405(g); Jesurum v. Sec’y of U.S.
Dep’t of Health & Human Servs., 48 F.3d 114, 117 (3d Cir. 1995); Williams v. Sullivan, 970
F.2d 1178, 1182 (3d Cir. 1992), cert. denied sub nom., 507 U.S. 924 (1993); Brown v. Bowen,
845 F.2d 1211, 1213 (3d Cir. 1988); see also Berry v. Sullivan, 738 F. Supp. 942, 944 (W.D. Pa.
1990) (if supported by substantial evidence, the Commissioner=s decision must be affirmed, as a
federal court may neither reweigh the evidence, nor reverse, merely because it would have
decided the claim differently) (citing Cotter v. Harris, 642 F.2d 700, 705 (3d Cir. 1981)).1
Plaintiff argues, in essence, that the Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) erred by failing
to adequately address the basis for his findings regarding Plaintiff’s limitations in his ability to
interact with supervisors, co-workers and the public, resulting in a residual functional capacity
assessment (“RFC”) that is not supported by substantial evidence. The Court disagrees and finds
that substantial evidence supports the ALJ’s findings as well as his ultimate determination, based
on all the evidence presented, of Plaintiff’s non-disability.
The Court notes at the outset that an RFC is properly based on all of the relevant
evidence in the case record. See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1545, 416.945. Moreover, “[t]he ALJ—not
treating or examining physicians or State agency consultants—must make the ultimate disability
and RFC determinations.” Chandler v. Comm’r of Soc. Sec., 667 F.3d 356, 361 (3d Cir. 2011)
(citing 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1527(e)(1), 404.1546(c)); S.S.R. 96-5p, 1996 WL 374183 (S.S.A.
1996). An ALJ is not limited to choosing between competing opinions in the record, and may
instead develop his own. See 20 CFR §§ 404.1546(c), 416.946(c). Thus, an ALJ is not required
to rely only on any particular physician’s opinion, and the RFC finding is actually an
administrative—rather than a medical—determination. See 96-5p, 1996 WL 374183, *5.
In this case, the ALJ found that Plaintiff has moderate limitations in social functioning
overall, and the RFC specifically indicates that Plaintiff is capable of work that includes no
work-related contact with the public, only occasional and superficial interaction with co-workers,
and no more than occasional supervision. (R. 16, 17). Plaintiff notes that, in making this
finding, the ALJ relied upon the opinion of consultative psychiatric examiner Byron E. Hillin,
Ph.D., who also found that Plaintiff had moderate limitations in interacting with the public, coworkers, and supervisors. (R. 19, 273). In his brief, Plaintiff does not argue that the ALJ’s
moderate limitation finding is incorrect, but instead contends that the ALJ erred in failing to
explain his reasons for finding different individual limitations with regard to these three different
types of social interactions, when the opinion upon which the ALJ relied simply found moderate
limitations in all three categories.
As noted, supra, the ALJ’s RFC determination is properly based on all the evidence
presented, not just a single opinion, even if that opinion was given great weight by the ALJ.
Thus, just because the opinion to which the ALJ gave great weight found that Plaintiff had
moderate limitations with regard to interactions with the public, co-workers and supervisors does
not mean that the findings in his RFC as to those three types of interactions had to be identical.
There is a variety of evidence in the record, including medical records, testimony, and opinion
evidence, all of which the ALJ thoroughly discussed in his decision and clearly took into
consideration in formulating his RFC. (R. 15-20). Also, there is, obviously, a range of
limitations within any category, whether that category is slight, moderate, marked, etc. (R. 273).
When determining the specific limitations applicable to this particular claimant, it was
appropriate for the ALJ to formulate an RFC identifying suitable limitations no less restrictive
Therefore, IT IS HEREBY ORDERED that Plaintiff=s Motion for Summary
Judgment (Doc. No. 7) is DENIED and Defendant=s Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. No.
9) is GRANTED.
s/ Alan N. Bloch
United States District Judge
Counsel of record
than those that would fit within that moderate range, taking into consideration all of the evidence
presented, which is what the ALJ did in this case.
The Court notes, further, that the RFC is defined as the most a Plaintiff can still do
despite his limitations. See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1545(a)(1), 416.945(a)(1). Thus, the inclusion of
greater restrictions as to certain social interactions works in Plaintiff’s favor by putting greater
limits on the jobs available to him. (R. 21). In this case, by prescribing the limitations as to
Plaintiff’s ability to interact with co-workers and the public that he did, the ALJ clearly chose to
give Plaintiff the benefit of the doubt in formulating his RFC, as the more restrictive limitations
certainly benefit Plaintiff. At the same time, however, just because the ALJ erred on the side of
caution in finding that Plaintiff should have no work-related contact with the public, does not
mean that the ALJ should necessarily also have found that Plaintiff could have no contact with
supervisors as well. Obviously, such a limitation would go far beyond the overall moderate
limits in social functioning that the ALJ found, and the Court cannot find, upon review of the
ALJ’s entire decision as well as the record in this case, that the ALJ erred in not making such a
finding. Although the ALJ was certainly permitted to include in his RFC the limitations in
interactions with the public and co-workers that he did, it was also perfectly reasonable, upon
consideration of the evidence in this case, to limit Plaintiff to only occasional supervision. See,
e.g., Tooley v. Colvin, 2015 WL 3866061 (M.D. Pa. June 23, 2015) (finding that the ALJ’s RFC
adequately accounted for marked limitations in the ability to interact with co-workers by limiting
the claimant to only occasional interaction with co-workers, i.e., between very little and onethird of the workday). Moreover, the findings of the ALJ are clearly supported by his discussion
of the evidence of record and his conclusions in his decision.
The Court therefore finds that the ALJ properly discussed the relevant evidence of record,
adequately addressed Plaintiff’s various limitations in interacting with supervisors, co-workers
and the public, and arrived at a well-reasoned determination of Plaintiff’s RFC. Accordingly, the
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