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Padgett v. Colvin

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

August 29, 2014

CAROLYN COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.


RICHARD P. CONABOY, District Judge.

Here we consider Plaintiff's Appeal of Defendant's denial of Disability Insurance Benefits ("DIB") and Supplemental Security Income ("SSI") under Titles II and XVI of the Social Security Act ("Act"), 42 U.S.C. §§ 401-433, 1381-1383f. (Doc. 1.) The Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") who evaluated the claim found that Plaintiff had the residual function capacity ("RFC") to perform light work with certain limitations and so denied Plaintiff's claim for benefits. (R. 83, 92.) With this action, Plaintiff argues that the determination of the Social Security Administration is error for three reasons: 1) the ALJ analyzed the case from an incorrect onset date, causing the entire decision to be premised on harmful error of fact; 2) the ALJ did not give appropriate weight to the opinions of multiple treating sources; and 3) the ALJ's RFC assessment is not supported by substantial evidence. (Doc. 9 at 2.)

For the reasons discussed below, we conclude the case must be remanded to the Acting Commissioner for further consideration.

I. Background

A. Procedural Background

On October 27, 2010, Plaintiff filed an application for DIB and SSI alleging disability beginning on September 30, 2008. (R. 155.) Plaintiff listed three conditions that rendered him unable to work: bipolar disorder, manic depression, and schizo-affective disorder. (R. 299.) The claims were initially denied on February 23, 2011. (R. 165.) Plaintiff filed a request for a review before an ALJ. (R. 212.) On January 8, 2013, Plaintiff, with his attorney, appeared at a hearing before ALJ Ted Burock. (R. 93.) Vocational expert Nancy Harter also testified at the hearing. ( Id. ) At the hearing, Plaintiff amended his alleged onset date of disability to February 9, 2011. (R. 102.) He also added chronic neck pain to previously listed disabling conditions. (R. 96.) By decision of February 22, 2013, ALJ Burock determined that Plaintiff had not been under a disability from September 8, 2008, through the date of the decision. (R. 92.) He made the following findings of fact and conclusions of law:

1. The claimant meets the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act through June 30, 2013.
2. The claimant has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since September 30, 2008, the alleged onset date (20 CFR 404.1571 et seq., and 416.971 et seq.).
3. The claimant has the following severe impairments: Headaches, Degenerative Disc Disease of the Cervical Spine, Back Pain, Bipolar Disorder, Depression, and Anxiety (20 CFR 404.1520(c) and 416.920(c)).
4. The claimant does not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals the severity of one of the listed impairments in 20 CFR Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 (20 CFR 404.1520(d), 404.1525, 404.1526, 416.920(d), 416.925 and 416.926).
5. After careful consideration of the entire record, the undersigned finds that the claimant has the residual functional capacity to perform light work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b) and 416.967(b). The claimant is limited to performing work requiring no contact with the public and occasional interaction with co-workers and supervisors. The claimant is limited to performing simple, routine, and repetitive tasks involving 1 and 2-step tasks. The claimant is limited to performing work involving occasional changes in the work setting. The claimant is limited to performing production oriented jobs requiring no independent decision-making.
6. The claimant is unable to perform any past relevant work (20 CFR 404.1565 and 416.965).
7. The claimant was born on May 8, 1965 and was 43 years old, which is defined as a younger individual age 18-49, on the alleged disability onset date (20 CFR 404.1563 and 416.963).
8. The claimant has at least a high school education and is able to communicate in English (20 CFR 404.1564 and 416.964).
9. Transferability of job skills is not material to the determination of disability because using the Medical-Vocational Rules as a framework supports a finding that the claimant is "not disabled, " whether or not the claimant has transferable job skills (See SSR 82-41 and 20 CFR Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 2).
10. Considering the claimant's age, education, work experience, and residual functional capability, there are jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy that the claimant can perform (20 CFR 404.1569, 404.1569(a), 416.969, and 416.969(a)). 11. The claimant has not been under a disability, as defined in the Social Security Act, from September 30, 2008, through the date of this decision (20 CFR 404.1520(g) and 416.920(g)).

(R. 81-92.)

On April 2, 2013, Plaintiff filed a Request for Review with the Appeal's Council. (R. 354-55.) The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review of the ALJ's decision. (R. 1-6.) In doing so, the Appeals Council stated that it had looked at additional records provided by Plaintiff and determined the new information was about a time later than the end date of February 23, 2011-the date the ALJ decided the case-and therefore did not affect the decision of whether he was disabled on or before that date. (R. 2.) Plaintiff was advised that if he wanted consideration of whether he was disabled after February 22, 2013, he would need to apply again. (R. 2.) Because the Appeals Council found no reason to review the ALJ's decision, the ALJ's decision became the final decision of the Commissioner pursuant to 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.981, 416.1481 (2014). ( See R. 1.)

On March 17, 2014, Plaintiff filed his action in this Court appealing the Acting Commissioner's decision. (Doc. 1.) Defendant filed her answer and the Social Security Administration transcript on May 14, 2014. (Docs. 7, 8.) Plaintiff filed his supporting brief on June 26, 2014. (Doc. 9.) Defendant filed her opposition brief on July 31, 2014. (Doc. 10.) With the filing of Plaintiff's reply brief (Doc. 11) on August 8, 2014, this matter became ripe for disposition.

B. Factual Background

Plaintiff was born on May 8, 1965. (R. 90.) He completed the ninth grade and got a GED in 1985 or 1986. (R. 100.) Plaintiff reported that his last job was prepping booms to be paint sprayed. (R. 114.) He also reported that between September 30, 2008, and February 9, 2011, he did "some odds and end cleanups and stuff like that." (R. 102.)

1. Mental Impairments

In September 2010, Plaintiff began psychiatric treatment at Momentum Services, LLC. (R. 466.) Following a psychiatric evaluation on September 30, 2010, the record contains progress notes dated October 28, 2010, November 24, 2010, and December 21, 2010.[1] (R. 457, 465-66.)

On January 10, 2011, Dr. P. Moskel of Momentum Services completed a Medical Source Statement of Ability to Do Work-Related Activities (Mental). (R. 461-62.) The record indicates that prior to the completion of the questionnaire, Plaintiff had been seen four times: on September 30, 2010, October 28, 2010, November 24, 2010, and December 21, 2010. (R. 464-65.) Dr. Moskel found that Plaintiff's ability to understand, remember and carry out instructions were affected by his mental impairments. (R. 461.) Relatedly, Dr. Moskel opined that Plaintiff had moderate restrictions in the category of understanding and remembering short, simple instructions and the category of carrying out short, simple instructions. Dr. Moskel found Plaintiff had a marked restriction in his ability to understand and remember detailed instructions, and extreme difficulties in his ability to carry out detailed instructions and make judgments on simple work-related decisions. (R. 461.) Dr. Moskel noted the following medical/clinical findings supporting the assessment: Plaintiff's "diagnosis of 298.9 Psychotic Disorder NOS impairs his ability to process information as well as his judgment process [and his] inability to follow directives is a result of his impaired cognition." (R. 461.)

Next Dr. Moskel found that Plaintiff's ability to respond appropriately to supervision, co-workers, and work pressures in a work setting was affected by his mental impairments. ( Id. ) He found that Plaintiff had extreme restrictions in his abilities to interact with the public, interact appropriately with supervisors, interact appropriately with co-workers, respond appropriately to work pressures in a usual work setting, and respond appropriately to changes in a routine work setting. ( Id. ) Dr. Moskel explained the support for this assessment as follows:

Jeffrey has a history of severe temper dyscontrol. He has been verbally and physically abusive to friends, coworkers and strangers. He has great difficulty regulating his emotions. He is paranoid and defensive especially when interacting with authority figures. Jeffrey lacks boundaries and threatens others when he feels nervous. He lacks the skills to tolerate frustration.

(R. 461.)

Finally, Dr. Moskel noted that another capability affected by Plaintiff's mental impairments is social skill with the effect that he lacks appropriate skills. (R. 462.) He stated that the medical/clinical findings supporting this assessment are that Plaintiff "prefers to be alone and spends his time alone. His mood is unpredictable. He lacks social skills that would be essential in the work place." ( Id. )

On February 9, 2011, Plaintiff was evaluated by a consultative examiner, Edward Yelinek, Ph.D. (R. 483-89.) Dr. Yelinek observed that Plaintiff

was awake and alert for the evaluation. He was oriented to time, place, person, and situation. He could state the purpose for the evaluation. He was casually, but neatly and appropriately dressed for the situation. He appeared well groomed. He walked easily from the waiting room to the evaluation room. There were no noticeable problems with either posture or gait. There were no noticeable behavioral abnormalities, no tics. His mood appeared depressed. His affect appears somewhat flat.... He sits immobile in his chair staring at ...

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