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Chiles v. Colvin

United States District Court, Third Circuit

July 9, 2013

DARNELL CHILES, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant. [1]

MEMORANDUM OPINION

GENE E.K. PRATTER United States District Judge

I. Introduction

Plaintiff Darnell Chiles brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1383(c)(3), which incorporates by reference 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), seeking review of the final determination of the Commissioner of Social Security (“Commissioner”) denying his application for supplemental security income (“SSI”) under Title XVI of the Social Security Act (the “Act”). After independent consideration of the Administrative Record, submitted pleadings, U.S. Chief Magistrate Judge Carol Sandra Moore Wells’ Report and Recommendation (“R&R”), Mr. Chiles’ Objections thereto, and the Commissioner’s Response, the Court approves and adopts the R&R in part and denies it in part. The Court grants in part and denies in part Mr. Chiles’ request for review, based upon the Administrative Law Judge’s failure to consider record evidence bearing upon Mr. Chiles’ limitations in the absence of substance abuse, and the Court remands to the Commissioner for further proceedings.

II. Background

Mr. Chiles, born on April 14, 1963, was 44 years old at the time of his alleged onset of disability. (R. 18). He has an eleventh grade education level and he has past relevant work as a glazer helper and a janitor. (R. 154, 158, 181). On November 13, 2007, Mr. Chiles protectively filed his claim for SSI pursuant to Title XVI of the Act. Mr. Chiles claimed that he became disabled on November 1, 2007 due to bipolar disorder, hypertension, stomach injury, hepatitis C, and migraines. (R. 54, 153).

After his claim was denied initially on March 10, 2008 (R. 56), Mr. Chiles submitted a request for a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) (R. 61). He appeared at a hearing before ALJ Christine McCafferty on November 12, 2009, at which Mr. Chiles was represented by counsel (R. 23). During the hearing, Mr. Chiles testified to his impairments, employment experience, history of treatment for mental health and substance abuse, and daily lifestyle. (R. 27-34, 36-49). Additionally, the ALJ heard testimony from vocational expert (“V.E.”) James Earhart, who opined that Mr. Chiles could perform representative occupations when considering his age, education, work experience, and residual functional capacity (“RFC”) [2] of being limited to simple repetitive tasks with only occasional changes in the work setting, and with only occasional contact with the public and co-workers. (R. 50-52).

On February 22, 2010, the ALJ issued a decision denying Mr. Chiles’ request for benefits, concluding that Mr. Chiles is not disabled under Section 1614(a)(3)(A) of the Act. (R. 9, 19). The ALJ made the following relevant findings of fact and conclusions of law:

• Mr. Chiles has the following severe impairments: a mood disorder and a drug abuse disorder (20 C.F.R. § 416.920(c)). (R. 12).
• Mr. Chiles’ impairments, including the substance use disorder, meet Listing 12.04 of 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 (20 C.F.R. § 416.920(d)). (R. 12).
• If Mr. Chiles stopped the substance use, the remaining limitations would cause more than a minimal impact on his ability to perform basic work activities, and therefore, Mr. Chiles would continue to have a severe impairment or combination of impairments. (R. 13).
• If Mr. Chiles stopped the substance use, he would not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals any of the impairments listed in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 (20 C.F.R. § 416.920(d)). (R. 13).
• If Mr. Chiles stopped the substance use, he would have the residual functional capacity to perform a full range of work at all exertional levels but with the following non-exertional limitations: Mr. Chiles’ capacity for work at all exertional levels is diminished by an inability to perform more than simple, routine, one or two step reasoning tasks; by an inability to deal with more than occasional changes in a work setting; and by an inability to deal with more than occasional contact with the public and co-workers. (R. 14).
• Because Mr. Chiles would not be disabled if he stopped the substance use (20 C.F.R. § 416.920(g)), his substance use disorder is a contributing factor material to the determination of his disability, pursuant to 20 C.F.R. § 416.935. (R. 18).
• If Mr. Chiles stopped the substance use, considering his age, education, work experience and residual functional capacity, there would be a significant number of jobs in the national economy that he could perform (20 C.F.R. §§ 416.960(c) and 416.966). (R. 18).
• Because Mr. Chiles would not be disabled if he stopped the substance use (20 C.F.R. § 416.920(g)), his substance use disorder is a contributing factor material to the determination of disability (20 C.F.R. § 416.935). (R. 18).

Mr. Chiles requested review of the ALJ’s decision by the Appeals Council, which the Appeals Council denied on December 23, 2010. (R. 1).

On February 10, 2011, Mr. Chiles filed a Complaint seeking review in this Court (Doc. No. 3). Pursuant to Local Rule of Civil Procedure 72.1 and 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B), the matter was referred to Magistrate Judge Wells for an R&R on May 17, 2011 (Doc. No. 10). On January 31, 2012, Magistrate Judge Wells issued her R&R, recommending the denial of Mr. Chiles’ request for review and the entry of judgment in favor of the Commissioner (Doc. No. 16).

Mr. Chiles timely filed Objections to the R&R on February 15, 2012 (Doc. No. 17), and the Commissioner responded to those Objections on March 2, 2012 (Doc. No. 18).

III. STANDARD OF REVIEW

When a party makes a timely and specific objection to a portion of a magistrate judge’s R&R, the district court applies a de novo review to the issues raised on objection. 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1); United States v. Raddatz, 447 U.S. 667, 674-75 (1980). The court may accept, reject, or modify, in ...


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