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Yurek v. Colvin

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

July 29, 2014

WILLIAM A. YUREK, Plaintiff,


GERALD B. COHN, Magistrate Judge.


I. Procedural History

On June 30, 2010, William A. Yurek ("Plaintiff") protectively filed a Title XVI application for Supplemental Security Income ("SSI"), alleging disability since January 1, 2002. (Tr. 102-08).

This application was denied, and on November 22, 2011, a hearing was held before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"), where Plaintiff was represented by counsel, and a vocational expert testified. (Tr. 38-60). On February 28, 2012, the ALJ issued a decision finding that Plaintiff was not disabled and thus not entitled to SSI. (Tr. 21-37). Plaintiff timely requested review by the Appeals Council on March 21, 2012 (Tr. 18-20). On April 12, 2013, the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review, thereby affirming the decision of the ALJ as the "final decision" of the Commissioner (Tr. 1-7).

On June 11, 2013, Plaintiff filed the above-captioned action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1383(c)(3), to appeal a decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration denying social security benefits. Doc. 1.

On September 11, 2013, Commissioner filed an answer and administrative transcript of proceedings. Docs. 11, 12. In October 2013 and January and March 2014, the parties filed briefs in support. Docs. 13, 20, 21. On April 30, 2014, the Court referred this case to the undersigned Magistrate Judge. On May 30, 2014, Plaintiff notified the Court that the matter is ready for review. Doc. 23.

II. Standard of Review

When reviewing the denial of disability benefits, we must determine whether the denial is supported by substantial evidence. Brown v. Bowen , 845 F.2d 1211, 1213 (3d Cir. 1988); Johnson v. Commissioner of Social Sec. , 529 F.3d 198, 200 (3d Cir. 2008). Substantial evidence "does not mean a large or considerable amount of evidence, but rather such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Pierce v. Underwood , 487 U.S. 552, 564 (1988); Hartranft v. Apfel , 181 F.3d 358, 360. (3d Cir. 1999); Johnson , 529 F.3d at 200.

This is a deferential standard of review. See Jones v. Barnhart , 364 F.3d 501, 503 (3d Cir. 2004). Substantial evidence is satisfied without a large quantity of evidence; it requires only "more than a mere scintilla" of evidence. Plummer v. Apfel , 186 F.3d 422, 427 (3d Cir. 1999). It may be less than a preponderance. Jones , 364 F.3d at 503. Thus, if a reasonable mind might accept the relevant evidence as adequate to support the conclusion reached by the Acting Commissioner, then the Acting Commissioner's determination is supported by substantial evidence and stands. Monsour Med. Ctr. v. Heckler , 806 F.2d 1185, 1190 (3d Cir. 1986).

To receive disability or supplemental security benefits, Plaintiff must demonstrate an "inability to engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment which can be expected to result in death or which has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than 12 months." 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A); 42 U.S.C. § 1382c(a)(3)(A).

Moreover, the Act requires further that a claimant for disability benefits must show that he has a physical or mental impairment of such a severity that "he is not only unable to do his previous work but cannot, considering his age, education, and work experience, engage in any other kind of substantial gainful work which exists in the national economy, regardless of whether such work exists in the immediate area in which he lives, or whether a specific job vacancy exists for him, or whether he would be hired if he applied for work." 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(2)(A); 42 U.S.C. § 1382c(a)(3)(B).

III. Relevant Facts in the Record

A. Background

Plaintiff was born in November 1989 (Tr. 102), and was thus 22 years old as of the ALJ's decision. He has a high school education with special education classes (Tr. 43), and has worked in the relevant past as a fast food restaurant cleaner (Tr. 53).

Plaintiff alleged disability due to anxiety attacks, attention deficit hyperactive disorder (ADHD), depression, stomach problems, kidney problems, blood in urine, inability to see without glasses, and asthma (Tr. 102-08, 113, 122, 150). The agency denied his claim administratively on November 2, 2010 (Tr. 63). Thereafter, Plaintiff, represented by counsel, appeared and testified at an administrative hearing (Tr. 38-60, 68). The ALJ found Plaintiff was not disabled and was capable of performing work such as tagger, trimmer, and machine operator (Tr. 32).

B. Relevant Medical Evidence

Plaintiff underwent a psychological re-evaluation on March 23, 2009, wherein Brooke Egbert, Psy.D., a licensed psychologist, diagnosed him with depressive disorder NOS in remission, rule out borderline intellectual functioning, and a global assessment of functioning (GAF) of 57 (Tr. 479). The psychologist reported that Plaintiff was oriented to time, place, and circumstance, his thought content was negative for any signs of thought disorder, his current mood was good, his speech seemed typical with no noted abnormalities, he had limited insight and judgment, and his intellectual functioning presented with borderline to low average (Tr. 478). The psychologist also reported that Plaintiff seemed to exhibit signs of ADHD, that his depression appeared to be in remission, and that his prognosis for future gains was fair to good (Tr. 479).

Plaintiff's psychiatrist John Theroux, M.D., consistently diagnosed Plaintiff with a GAF of 55 (moderate symptoms) (Tr. 339, 341, 343, 345, 349, 352, 353, 355, 357, 359, 363, 366, 368, 374, 377, 379, 381, 383, 385).

On September 30, 2010, Plaintiff saw state agency psychologist Jeffrey Fremont, Ph.D., for a clinical interview and administration of the Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale - Fourth Edition. Dr. Fremont noted that Plaintiff, 20 years old, graduated from high school in the special education class, had a few friends, lived with his mother, brother and uncle, and for the most part remained isolated (Tr. 540). During a mental status evaluation, Dr. Fremont noted that Plaintiff was alert, oriented and had intact cognitions during the interview (Tr. 540). He reported that Plaintiff's affect was appropriate to his mood, that his thought process indicated he was not particularly productive and that there were some flight of ideas, and that he was tangential with no thought disturbances. Plaintiff also had intact remote, recent past, and recent memory, somewhat impaired social judgment, very little insight, and exhibited some sign of past impulsivity (Tr. 541). Dr. Fremont diagnosed Plaintiff with ADHD by history, depression with psychotic features, borderline intellectual functioning, and a GAF of 45 (Tr. 542). He noted Plaintiff's prognosis was poor, in part because of his IQ, and that he was not capable of managing funds in a competent manner (Tr. 542). Regarding the effect of Plaintiff's impairment on function, Dr. Fremont indicated that Plaintiff read wrestling books occasionally, went to the grocery store alone or with a parent, and bought items (Tr. 542).

During IQ testing, Dr. Fremont noted that Plaintiff seemed fairly methodical in his approach to his questions, utilized a trial and error approach, sought reassurance, was cautious in his approach to all tasks presented, and asked questions when he did not understand something (Tr. 542). Plaintiff's IQ testing results revealed verbal comprehension of 68, perceptual ...

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