SHIELDS v. COLVIN
ORDER denying 19 Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment and granting 21 Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment. Signed by Judge Alan N. Bloch on 9/21/2017. (dpo)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE WESTERN DISTRICT OF PENNSYLVANIA
) Civil Action No. 16-707
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 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 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 that the Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) erred in making a
determination as to his residual functional capacity (“RFC”), and ultimately as to whether he was
disabled, without a current medical opinion. The Court disagrees and finds that substantial
evidence supports the ALJ’s finding that Plaintiff is not disabled.
Plaintiff relies primarily on the Third Circuit Court of Appeals’ opinion in Doak v.
Heckler, 790 F.2d 26 (3d Cir. 1986), in arguing that the ALJ was required to rely upon a specific,
and current, medical opinion in formulating Plaintiff’s RFC. However, as the Court previously
explained in Doty v. Colvin, 2014 WL 29036 (W.D. Pa. Jan. 2, 2014), this Court does not agree
with Plaintiff’s interpretation of Doak. Rather, the Court has consistently held that the decision
in Doak does not provide that an ALJ’s RFC findings must be based on a particular medical
opinion or that an ALJ may only reject a medical opinion as to functional limitations based on
another opinion. Instead, the Third Circuit Court of Appeals, in Doak, held simply that nothing
in the record in that case, which consisted of nothing more than testimony and three medical
reports, supported the ALJ’s finding that the claimant could perform light work. While the
Circuit pointed out that none of the three reports contained a suggestion from a physician that the
claimant could perform light work, in no way did it suggest that a finding of light work could
only be supported if one of the three had expressly opined that the claimant could perform such
work, nor did it find that their contrary opinions precluded such a finding per se.
Indeed, as this Court explained in Doty, interpreting Doak in the manner suggested by
Plaintiff would ignore the fact that “[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). See also 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1527(d)(2),
404.1546(c), 416.927(d)(2), 416.946(c); SSR 96-5p, 1996 WL 374183 (S.S.A.) (July 2, 1996).
Such an interpretation would also ignore the fact that “[t]here is no legal requirement that a
physician have made the particular findings that an ALJ adopts in the course of determining an
RFC.” Titterington v. Barnhart, 174 Fed. Appx. 6, 11 (3d Cir. 2006). See also Chandler, 667
F.3d at 362 (holding that each fact incorporated into the RFC need not have been found by a
medical expert). As the Circuit Court explained in Titterington, “[s]urveying the medical
evidence to craft an RFC is part of an ALJ’s duties.” 174 Fed. Appx. at 11. Consistent with this
later case law, Doak does not prohibit the ALJ from making an RFC assessment even if no
doctor has specifically made the same findings. See Hayes v. Astrue, 2007 WL 4456119, at *2
(E.D. Pa. Dec. 17, 2007). The Third Circuit, in Doak, did nothing more than make a substantial
evidence finding in light of the record of the case and did not purport to create a rule that an RFC
determination must be based on a specific medical opinion, and subsequent Third Circuit case
law confirms this understanding. See also Mays v. Barnhart, 78 Fed. Appx. 808, 813 (3d Cir.
2003); Cummings v. Colvin, 129 F. Supp. 3d 209, 214-17 (W.D. Pa. 2015); Carter v. Colvin,
2015 WL 1866208, at *10 n.3 (W.D. Pa. Apr. 23, 2015); Goodson v. Colvin, 2014 WL 5308021,
at *3 (Oct. 16, 2014).
Therefore, IT IS HEREBY ORDERED that Plaintiff=s Motion for Summary
Judgment (Doc. No. 19) is DENIED and that Defendant=s Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc.
No. 21) is GRANTED.
s/ Alan N. Bloch
United States District Judge
Counsel of record
In this case, there actually were medical opinions in the record, which the ALJ discussed
at significant length. Indeed, she discussed all and gave “great weight” (R. 545) to one of these
opinions, that offered by the state agency medical reviewer, Frank Bryan, M.D., on October 14,
2009. (R. 354-64). While the RFC determined by the ALJ did not fully incorporate Dr. Bryan’s
opinion, it was actually substantially more restrictive. (R. 537). The ALJ did exactly what she
was required to do in formulating the RFC by considering the entire record, including the
However, Plaintiff further argues that even if the ALJ’s RFC finding had relied
specifically on the reviewing agent’s opinion, or any of the others, these opinions were not
current enough to constitute substantial evidence. Generally speaking, there is no specific limit
on how much time may pass between a medical professional’s report or opinion and the ALJ’s
decision relying on it. See Chandler, 667 F.3d at 361. Indeed, “there is always a time lapse
between the consultant’s report and the ALJ hearing and decision.” Id. Nonetheless, where
there is a substantial amount of new evidence between the date an opinion relied upon by an ALJ
is offered and the date on which the ALJ renders his or her decision, remand may be warranted.
See Cadillac v. Barnhart, 84 Fed. Appx. 163, 168-69 (3d Cir. 2003); Grimes v. Colvin, 2016 WL
246963, at *2 (W.D. Pa. Jan. 21, 2016). Here, though, there was no later evidence suggesting
that Dr. Bryan’s opinion, or any other opinion, was no longer valid. In fact, the ALJ thoroughly
discussed the evidence post-dating Dr. Bryan’s opinion, much of which, as the ALJ pointed out,
related to Plaintiff’s drug-seeking behavior. Moreover, as mentioned above, the RFC found by
the ALJ accounted for all of the evidence, and was more restrictive than the functional
limitations to which Dr. Bryan opined.
Although Plaintiff also expresses some concern regarding possible unconscious bias by
the ALJ, the Court emphasizes that the record shows no such issue. The decision in this case
was thorough and based on all of the record evidence. Accordingly, for all of the reasons stated
herein, the Court affirms the ALJ’s decision.
Disclaimer: Justia Dockets & Filings provides public litigation records from the federal appellate and district courts. These filings and docket sheets should not be considered findings of fact or liability, nor do they necessarily reflect the view of Justia.
Why Is My Information Online?