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Torres v. Commissioner of Social Security

United States District Court, Third Circuit

January 24, 2014

EDWIN R. TORRES, Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.

OPINION AND ORDER

DONETTA W. AMBROSE, Senior District Judge.

SYNOPSIS

In this action, Plaintiff filed applications for SSI and Disability Insurance Benefits on April 10 and 16 of 2008. The state agency denied benefits, and Plaintiff requested and received a hearing, which took place on June 11, 2010. Following the hearing, the ALJ issued an unfavorable decision on August 13, 2010. The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review. Presently before the Court are the parties' Motions for Summary Judgment. At issue are the ALJ's conclusions regarding Plaintiff's mental impairments only.

For the following reasons, Plaintiff's Motion will be granted, and Defendant's denied. This matter will be remanded for further proceedings.

OPINION

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 re-weigh 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).

While the ALJ need not discuss every piece of evidence in the record, he must provide at least a glimpse into his reasoning. Zurawski, 245 F.3d at 889. "Even if enough evidence exists in the record to support the decision, [the court] cannot uphold it if the reasons given by the trier of fact do not build an accurate and logical bridge between the evidence and the result.'" Hodes v. Apfel , 61 F.Supp.2d 798, 806 (N.D. Ill. 1999) (quoting Sarchet v. Chater , 78 F.3d 305, 307 (1996)).

II. FACTS

In his decision, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff's schizophrenia, major depression, recurrent, with psychotic features, mild mental retardation, and alcohol abuse were severe impairments. He found, however, that the claimant's mental impairments did not meet or exceed a listed impairment, and found an RFC of light work, with pertinent limitations of simple and repetitive tasks involving work processes and setting, not involving high stress, not engaging in teamwork, and not engaging in any interaction with the public as an integral aspect of the job. Overall, the ALJ found that the objective medical record did not support allegations of disabling mental impairments.

The record reflects that Plaintiff was conservatively treated for depression, and was treated with medications. Plaintiff was treated by Dr. Esper and Simora at MHEDS in August and early September, 2008, when he was diagnosed with major depression, with psychotic features, and auditory hallucinations were noted. He was placed on increased doses of Celexa, and on Seroquel.

On September 23, 2008, at the Defendant's directive, Dr. Glenn Bailey performed a consultative exam. Dr. Bailey recommended that Plaintiff consider admitting himself into a psychiatric unit, and diagnosed Plaintiff with major depression, recurrent with psychotic features. He noted a poor ability to function on a daily basis. He assigned Plaintiff a GAF of 40, to which the ALJ assigned little weight, stating that it resulted from a one-time exam and was inconsistent with the Plaintiff's longitudinal history. Dr. Bailey then checked boxes for moderate and slight impairments in various areas. The ALJ afforded this part of Dr. Bailey's opinion "weight, " albeit in an unspecified degree, because Dr. Bailey was an examining source and the specified level of impairments was supported by the evidence.

On October 7, 2008, Dr. Jan Melcher reviewed Plaintiff's medical records, but did not examine Plaintiff. Dr. Melcher, a state agency psychologist, came to the conclusion that Plaintiff could meet the basic mental demands of competitive work on a sustained basis, despite the limitations resulting from his impairment. Because he deemed this ...


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