United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania
September 30, 2014
THERESA SABINA, Plaintiff,
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
CATHY BISSOON, District Judge.
Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. 10) will be granted, and Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. 8) will be denied.
Plaintiff (hereinafter, "Claimant") has filed this social security appeal, challenging the ALJ's decision dated November 23, 2011. See generally Compl. (Doc. 1); ALJ's Decision, R. at 10-19. Claimant seeks disability insurance benefits, and the alleged onset date of her disability was September 15, 2009. See ALJ's Decision, R. at 10.
The ALJ found that Claimant suffered the severe impairments of major depressive disorder, generalized anxiety disorder and panic disorder with agoraphobia. Id., R. at 12. The ALJ found, however, that these conditions did not preclude Claimant from performing work at any exertional level, limited to: simple, routine and repetitive tasks; in an environment free of fast-paced production requirements; involving only simple work-related decisions and routine workplace changes; being isolated from the public; and only occasionally interacting with co-workers. R. at 63 (RFC, as described by ALJ to vocational expert); accord ALJ's Decision, R. at 14. The vocational expert testified that an individual with Claimant's limitations could perform jobs existing in significant numbers in the national economy, and the ALJ found Claimant not disabled at step five of the sequential analysis. See ALJ's Decision, R. at 18-19.
Having carefully reviewed the entire record, the undersigned concludes that the ALJ's decision was neither erroneous nor lacking the support of substantial evidence. Accordingly, the Court will limit its discussions to the two points of error alleged by Claimant.
First, Claimant objects that the ALJ's decision did not specifically reference certain of her GAF scores, which, at their lowest, ranged between 45 and 48. See generally Pl.'s Br. at 7-10. As Defense counsel highlights, however, certain of those GAF scores related to Claimant's condition before her alleged onset date, a time-period encompassed in her prior unsuccessful application. See Def.'s Br. (Doc. 11) at 11 (citing record evidence). Otherwise, Claimant had a number of other GAF scores ranging between 52 and 68, indicating less severe symptoms. See id.
The ALJ's decision specifically noted that she had "considered all of the medical evidence of record[, ] including the GAF scores, " in determining that Claimant was not disabled. Id., R. at 16. Under the circumstances, the Court sees little benefit to requiring the ALJ to discuss, individually, the various GAF scores in the record, and the law makes no such demand. See Pendergast v. Colvin, 2014 WL 4680730, *8 (W.D. Pa. Sept. 19, 2014) ("GAF scores are not [required to be] expressly... discussed and analyzed in all cases, " and, rather, "[t]he Court must look at the overall context"). Although GAF score(s) may warrant discussion in some cases, they are less salient here because the ALJ spent the bulk of her decision directly addressing the limitations potentially reflected in those scores. Under the circumstances, Claimant's argument is unpersuasive.
Second, Claimant takes issue with the ALJ's having given greater weight to the findings of a non-examining psychologist than Claimant's treating therapist and a consultative psychiatric examiner. See Pl.'s Br. (Doc. 9) at 10-15. The non-examining source, Dr. Glover, made RFC findings that were supportive, if not more generous, than the ALJ's determinations,  while the treating-therapist, Ms. Cormier, completed an RFC form, "[with] the patient's [ i.e., Claimant's] collaboration, " indicating more severe limitations. See Ms. Cormier's "Questionnaire" (R. at 481-84). As for the consultative examiner, Dr. Haddad, his findings largely were consistent with the ALJ's RFC assessment, although he did highlight that Claimant's concentration and attention "appear[ed] to be quite impaired." See Dr. Haddad's report (R. at 339-44).
The ALJ rejected Ms. Cormier's opinions as "against the weight of the evidence, " reflecting an "overestimat[ion] of Claimant's limitations." ALJ's Decision, R. at 15. The ALJ found significant that Ms. Cormier's report was, by its own admission, "completed with [C]laimant's collaboration, " and concerns regarding accuracy and bias were heightened, given the ALJ's findings that Claimant's subjective complaints were not fully credible and that she tended to exaggerate her symptoms. See id. at 16. Claimant has not challenged the ALJ's credibility determinations, and the ALJ did not err in discounting Ms. Cormier's report.
As for the consultative examiner, the ALJ did not err in concluding that Dr. Haddad's findings were, in large part, consistent with the ALJ's final RFC determination. Compare R. at 343 (Dr. Haddad's report, agreeing that Claimant could "get along with others"; her communication skills were adequate; she was somewhat limited in relating to authority figures and peers; she would have difficulty dealing with the public; she could carry out very simple instructions; she could not perform activities under time constraints; and she could make simple decisions) with discussion supra (reciting RFC endorsed by ALJ, which limited Claimant to simple, routine and repetitive tasks; in an environment free of fast-paced production requirements; involving only simple work-related decisions and routine workplace changes; requiring isolation from the public; and only occasional interaction with co-workers). To the extent that Dr. Haddad's findings may be viewed as inconsistent with Dr. Glover's, the ALJ adequately explained why she gave greater weight to the latter. See ALJ's Decision, R. at 15-17; see also Dr. Glover's report (R. at 348) (providing detailed explanation in support of findings, including Dr. Glover's reasons for rejecting some of Dr. Haddad's assessments); and see Byerly v. Comm'r Soc. Sec., 2014 WL 4662070, *7 (W.D. Pa. Sept. 19, 2014) ("[w]hen the medical evidence is genuinely disputed, an [ALJ] is generally free to choose the medical opinion of one doctor over that of another") (citation to binding, quoted authority omitted). The ALJ did not err.
For all of the reasons stated above, the Commissioner's finding of non-disability hereby is AFFIRMED, and the Court enters the following:
Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. 8) is DENIED, and Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. 10) is GRANTED.
IT IS SO ORDERED.