United States District Court, Eastern District of Pennsylvania
MELISSA A. LEE, Plaintiff,
CAROLYN COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.
This is an action seeking review of the final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration ("Commissioner") denying plaintiff Melissa Lee's claims for Disability Insurance Benefits ("DIB") and Supplemental Security Income ("SSI") under Titles II and XVI of the Social Security Act (the "Act"). The Court referred the case to United States Magistrate Judge Linda K. Caracappa for a Report and Recommendation ("R&R"). Judge Caracappa issued an R&R on January 30, 2014, in which she recommended that plaintiffs Request for Review be granted because the Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") did not adequately discuss plaintiffs Global Assessment of Functioning ("GAF") scores. On February 10, 2014, the Commissioner filed Objections. On February 27, 2014, Judge Caracappa issued a Supplemental Report and Recommendation ("Supplemental R&R"), again recommending that plaintiffs Request for Review be granted, to which the Commissioner again filed Objections. For the reasons that follow, the Court sustains the Commissioner's Objections, rejects that part of the R&R to which the Objection pertains, and determines that the decision of the ALJ was supported by substantial evidence. Plaintiffs Request for Review is therefore denied.
The background of this case is set forth in detail in Magistrate Judge Caracappa's R&R and will be recited in this Memorandum only as necessary to address the issues presented by the Commissioner's Objections.
The ALJ, in her decision, found that plaintiff suffered four severe impairments: polysubstance abuse, bipolar disorder, degenerative disease of the cervical spine and shoulder, and obesity. (Administrative R. ("Tr.") 17). When considering all of these impairments, the ALJ found plaintiff disabled on the basis that plaintiffs bipolar disorder and polysubstance abuse met section 12.04 (Affective Disorders) and section 12.09 (Substance Addiction Disorders) of 20 C.F.R. pt 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. Tr. 17. Pursuant to 20 C.F.R § 416.935, the ALJ then considered whether plaintiff would meet any of the impairments listed in 20 C.F.R. pt 404, SubptP, app'x 1 if plaintiff stopped using drugs and/or alcohol. (Tr. 18-19). To answer that question, the ALJ relied in part upon notes from plaintiffs treating physician, Dr. William Greenfield, from March through May 2009, a period during which plaintiff abstained from drugs and alcohol. (Tr. 19). That evidence, as detailed by the ALJ, stated, inter alia, that plaintiff:
• Appeared strong, less anxious. Reported going job hunting. 03/26/09
• Was talkative and engaging. 04/17/09
• Was clear thinking. Recovery is going well. 04/30/09
• Was upbeat and engaged. 05/01/09
• Was energetic and engaged. 05/22/09
• Is doing all right, very busy, wants to go to school. 05/28/09
(Tr. 19); see also R&R at 15-16 (summarizing Dr. Greenfield's notes). The ALJ relied on this evidence, inter alia, in concluding that without plaintiffs polysubstance abuse impairment, plaintiff would not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals any of the impairments listed in 20 C.F.R. pt 404, Subpt P, app'x 1. (Tr. 19).
The ALJ further concluded that plaintiff, without considering her substance abuse, has the residual functional capacity ("RFC") to perform "simple repetitive tasks, in an environment with limited interaction with others and no interaction with the public." (Tr. 23). Ultimately, the ALJ concluded that plaintiff is capable of working in jobs that exist in significant numbers ...