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William Kenneth Miller v. Michael J. Astrue

June 29, 2012


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Baylson, J.


On December 30, 2011, United States Magistrate Judge David R. Strawbridge filed a Report and Recommendation ("R&R") (ECF No. 15.) recommending that the final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration be vacated and this matter be remanded to the Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") for further consideration. (R&R at 20.) On January 12, 2012, Plaintiff William Kenneth Miller ("Miller") filed objections to the R&R (ECF No. 16.) arguing that Judge Strawbridge improperly upheld (1) the ALJ's evaluation of Miller's subjective complaints; and (2) the ALJ's reliance on the vocational expert's testimony. (Pl.'s Objections at 1-2.) For the reasons discussed below, the court will affirm and adopt Judge Strawbridge's R&R and remand this case for further proceedings.

I. Factual and Procedural Background*fn1

Miller worked for more than thirty years as a teacher and later as a school administrator. (R. 28-29.)After retiring from full-time employment in June 2005, Miller worked as a teacher at a local college on a part-time basis until May 2008. (R. 146.) On July 6, 2009, the date of Miller's hearing before the ALJ, he was 58 years old. (R. 25.) In his application for social security benefits, Miller alleged that he was disabled, beginning in May 2008, due to chronic hip pain, failed bilateral hip replacements, lumbar spine impairment, diabetes mellitus, depression, hypertension, restless leg syndrome, hyperlipidemia, insomnia, and hypothyroidism. (R. 58, 98, 102.) Miller contends that these impairments result in difficulties "sitting, standing, or walking for long periods of time," "get[ting] fatigued fast and often," and "concentrat[ing] or focus[ing] for long periods of time." (R. 111.)

On August 10, 2009, the ALJ issued a decision denying Miller's application for benefits. (R. 4.) On March 25, 2010, Miller's request for an appeal was denied. Id.

Miller requested review of the administrative decision in this Court pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 705(g), contending that the ALJ failed to (1) "properly evaluate the medical evidence," (2) "properly evaluate Miller's subjective complaints," and (3) "show[] that there are jobs in the local and national economies that [Miller] can perform." (Pl. Br. at 3, ECF No. 10.) This case was referred to United States Magistrate Judge David R. Strawbridge for an R&R. In his December 30, 2011 R&R, Judge Strawbridge concluded that the ALJ's failure to comment on medical evidence of depression constitutes reversible error, and recommended remand to the Commissioner for further consideration. (R&R at 20.) Judge Strawbridge recommended that the ALJ's decision be otherwise upheld, while recognizing that "the ALJ's decision would have benefitted from further elaboration on why he discredited [Miller's] subjective complaints." (Id. at 16-17, 19.) The Commissioner has filed no objections to the R&R; Miller's objections are discussed below.

II. Discussion

A. Jurisdiction and Standard of Review The ALJ had jurisdiction under 42 U.S.C. § 405(b). This court has jurisdiction under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).

When an objection to an R&R is filed, the court reviews de novo the portions of the R&R to which specific objections have been made. Sample v. Diecks, 885 F.2d 1099, 1106 (3d Cir. 1989);Goney v. Clark, 749 F.2d 5, 6 (3d Cir.1984). In doing so, the court "may accept, reject, or modify, in whole or in part, the findings and recommendations" contained in the R&R. 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1).

In reviewing a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security, a court must determine whether the Commissioner's decision that a claimant is not disabled is supported by substantial evidence in the record. 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g), 1383(c)(3). Substantial evidence is "such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Chandler v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 667 F.3d 356, 359 (3d Cir. 2011) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). If supported by substantial evidence, the Commissioner's finding is conclusive. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). The court exercises plenary review over the Commissioner's legal conclusions. Id.

B. Analysis

1. The ALJ's Evaluation of Miller's Medical Evidence

Judge Strawbridge recommends remanding the case to the ALJ for further consideration of medical evidence relating to Miller's depression. The parties have not objected to this recommendation, and it will be adopted. Miller claimed that the ALJ's conclusion that Miller is not disabled was not supported by substantial evidence because the ALJ failed to properly consider the medical evidence in the record when classifying Miller's depression as a non-severe impairment. (Pl. Br. at 4.) Because the ALJ did not discuss medical evidence in the record relating to Miller's depression-namely an assessment of Miller's case by the state's psychological consultant, Dr. Manduchi, and a questionnaire completed by one of Miller's primary care physicians, Dr. Boorazian-it is not possible for the court to determine whether the ALJ took this evidence into consideration in assessing Miller's residual functional capacity. SeeBurnett v. Comm'r of ...

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