AULT v. COLVIN
ORDER granting 14 Motion for Summary Judgment; denying 16 Motion for Summary Judgment. Signed by Judge Donetta W. Ambrose on 1/6/17. (ask)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE WESTERN DISTRICT OF PENNSYLVANIA
KENNETH E. AULT
) No. 15-931
CAROLYN W. COLVIN
Plaintiff filed an application for supplemental social security disability benefits pursuant
to Title II of the Social Security Act, alleging disability due to physical impairments beginning
on July 6, 2012. Plaintiff’s application was denied initially, and upon hearing before an
Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”). The Appeals Council denied his request for review.
Plaintiff now appeals to this Court. For the following reasons, Plaintiff’s Motion will be granted,
and Defendant’s denied, and this matter remanded for further proceedings.
I. STANDARD OF REVIEW
Judicial review of the Commissioner's final decisions on disability claims is provided by
statute. 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) 6 and 1383(c)(3) 7. Section 405(g) permits a district court to review
the transcripts and records upon which a determination of the Commissioner is based, and the
court will review the record as a whole. See 5 U.S.C. §706. When reviewing a decision, the
district court's role is limited to determining whether the record contains substantial evidence to
support an ALJ's findings of fact. Burns v. Barnhart, 312 F.3d 113, 118 (3d Cir. 2002).
Substantial evidence is defined as "such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as
adequate" to support a conclusion. Ventura v. Shalala, 55 F.3d 900, 901 (3d Cir. 1995) (quoting
Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401, 91 S. Ct. 1420, 28 L. Ed. 2d 842 (1971)). If the ALJ's
findings of fact are supported by substantial evidence, they are conclusive. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g);
Richardson, 402 U.S. at 390.
A district court cannot conduct a de novo review of the Commissioner's decision, or reweigh the evidence of record; the court can only judge the propriety of the decision with
reference to the grounds invoked by the Commissioner when the decision was rendered. Palmer
v. Apfel, 995 F.Supp. 549, 552 (E.D. Pa. 1998); S.E.C. v. Chenery Corp., 332 U.S. 194, 196 - 97,
67 S. Ct. 1575, 91 L. Ed. 1995 (1947).
Otherwise stated, “I may not weigh the evidence or
substitute my own conclusion for that of the ALJ. I must defer to the ALJ's evaluation of
evidence, assessment of the credibility of witnesses, and reconciliation of conflicting expert
opinions. If the ALJ's findings of fact are supported by substantial evidence, I am bound by those
findings, even if I would have decided the factual inquiry differently.” Brunson v. Astrue, 2011
U.S. Dist. LEXIS 55457 (E.D. Pa. Apr. 14, 2011) (citations omitted).
II. PLAINTIFF’S MOTION
Plaintiff contends that the ALJ failed to properly consider the decision of the Veterans
Administration (“VA”). The ALJ noted that Plaintiff was afforded a 20 percent disability rating
from the VA, but Plaintiff asserts that his rating was, in fact, 70 percent, effective April 4, 2008.
Indeed, the VA assigned a 20 percent rating for Plaintiff’s diabetes, 10 percent for neuropathy in
each extremity, and 70 percent overall. Defendant concedes that the ALJ failed to acknowledge
the overall 70 percent rating, but asserts that this failing is not fatal to the ALJ’s decision.
SSA regulations specify that a decision by any non-governmental or governmental
agency about an individual’s disability is based that agency’s own rules, and does not constitute
a SSA decision about whether an individual is disabled. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1504; Malcom v.
Barnhart, 448 F. Supp.2d 595, 604 (D. Del. 2006). While a VA rating is not binding on the
Social Security Administration (“SSA”), however, it is entitled to “substantial weight.” Burczyk
v. Colvin, 2016 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 70603, at *5 (W.D. Pa. May 31, 2016). Therefore, an ALJ is
required to provide specific, valid reasons for discounting a VA rating. Toliver v. Colvin, 2016
U.S. Dist. LEXIS 41569 (C.D. Cal. Mar. 29, 2016). Here, the ALJ rejected the 20 percent VA
rating based on the overall record and the differences in agency standards. I am not permitted to
speculate, however, regarding how a 70 percent rating might have affected the ALJs conclusions.
That rating, even if inadvertently, was not considered at all. Remand is required on that basis.
Next, Plaintiff argues that the ALJ failed to address failed to address Exhibits 1F and 2F
in his decision, and did not explain the omission. Exhibits 1F and 2F consist of treatment
records from Dr. Klain and the Indiana Regional Medical Center 205-232. The latter contains
blood test results, as well as imaging studies, copies of which were sent to Dr. Klain. The ALJ
did, however, discuss Dr. Klain’s treatment. Plaintiff does not assert how these exhibits are
material, or might have affected the substantive outcome. “The ALJ is not required to give an
exhaustive discussion of all the exhibits. 'Consideration of all the evidence does not mean that
the ALJ must explicitly refer to each and every exhibit in the record.'" Mays v. Barnhart, 227 F.
Supp. 2d 443, 448 (E.D. Pa. 2002). I find no error in this regard.
Finally, Plaintiff contends that the ALJ failed to acknowledge his bladder dysfunction
resulting from prostate cancer, despite medical records and testimony in that regard. Because
the ALJ did not refer to Plaintiff’s allegations in that regard, I cannot discern whether he rejected
Plaintiff’s allegations of limitations, or merely failed to consider them. The ALJ should take the
opportunity on remand to address Plaintiff’s allegations of incontinence and their limiting affect.
In sum, Plaintiff’s Motion will be granted, and Defendant’s denied. This matter will be
remanded for further proceedings consistent with the foregoing Opinion. An appropriate Order
AND NOW, this 6th day of January, 2017, it is hereby ORDERED, ADJUDGED, and
DECREED that Plaintiff’s Motion is GRANTED, and Defendant’s DENIED. This matter is
remanded for further proceedings.
BY THE COURT:
/s/Donetta W. Ambrose
Donetta W. Ambrose
Senior Judge, U.S. District Court
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