U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit

PHILADELPHIA -- A federal appellate court recently announced it upheld a trial court verdict of denial in the case of a woman who was seeking disability insurance benefits.

On April 6, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit and its judges Theodore A. McKee, Thomas L. Ambro and Anthony J. Scirica affirmed a ruling from the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, denying appellant April Rose Hock the aforementioned benefit payments from Commissioner Carolyn W. Colvin and the Social Security Administration. Ambro authored the court’s opinion in this case.

Hock applied for disability insurance benefits in July 2009, alleging disability as of the previous January due to “major depressive disorder and schizoaffective disorder.” Her initial application was denied at the administrative level and she requested a hearing before an administrative law judge. Subsequent to that administrative hearing in June 2011, the ALJ denied Ms. Hock’s claim for disability insurance benefits that August.

The judge decided Hock was not disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act because she could “perform numerous jobs in the national economy notwithstanding her credibly-established limitations,” and could work “simple, routine tasks not involving detailed instructions” that were “self-paced” and “low stress in nature,” and “required no more than limited contact with the public and co-workers.”

Hock requested the organization’s Appeals Council review the judge’s decision, which was denied. As a result, the appeal was referred to a U.S. Magistrate Judge, who recommended upholding the denial of benefits, and the district court adopted the recommendation. Hock then timely appealed to the Third Circuit.

Hock argues the ALJ erred in allegedly failing to properly evaluate medical evidence in determining her functional capacity and in discounting the opinions of certain medical professionals associated with her case.

It was a stance the Third Circuit did not agree with.

“The ALJ’s assessment of the various medical opinions in this case was based on her consideration of the objective evidence in the record, and it contained substantial evidence to support each of her conclusions,” Ambro wrote for the appellate court. “The ALJ clearly explained that she gave greater weight to Mr. Sebastianelli’s opinion because it was consistent with the objective evidence in the record and the overall history of Ms. Hock’s treatment.”

Ambro continued that Sebastianelli was the only professional to consider Hock was “able to perform numerous activities of personal care and daily living” and “able to understand, retain, and perform one- or two-step tasks.”

“Evidence of Ms. Hock’s later part-time employment at her father’s body shop supports the ALJ’s decision to credit Mr. Sebastianelli’s conclusion,” the judge wrote. “The ALJ also clearly explained that she gave less weight to the opinions of Dr. Sherman, Dr. Lane, and Dr. Horstmann because the severity of the limitations they reported were unsupported by or inconsistent with the objective record evidence.”

Ambro added, “Ms. Hock’s second argument is that the ALJ’s credibility determination was incorrect. [But], the ALJ’s credibility determination was supported by substantial evidence. For example, the ALJ relied on evidence that Ms. Hock successfully took multiple trips to California by herself, but she claimed she could not travel more than a few miles from home without severe symptoms.”

“As courts should ‘ordinarily defer to an ALJ’s credibility determination’, we hold that Ms. Hock has not presented sufficient reason for us to disturb the ALJ’s conclusion. We have considered Ms. Hock’s remaining arguments and find them unpersuasive. Because the District Court correctly held that the ALJ’s decision was supported by substantial evidence, we affirm.” 

The appellant is represented by Samantha Xander of Binder & Binder in New York City.

The appellees are represented by Andrew C. Lynch, Charles J. Kawas and Nicole A. Schmid of the Social Security Administration’s Office of General Counsel Region III, also in Philadelphia.

U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit case 15-2257

U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania case 5:13-cv-02329

From the Pennsylvania Record: Reach Courts Reporter Nicholas Malfitano at nickpennrecord@gmail.com.

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