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Crump v. Berryhill

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

June 6, 2017

SAVERNA LYNETTE CRUMP, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY BERRYHILL, [1]Acting Commissioner of Social Security Administration, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM

          DUBOIS, J.

         I. INTRODUCTION

         In this action, plaintiff Saverna Lynette Crump seeks review of the final decision of defendant, the Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (the “Commissioner”), denying her claim for Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”) under Title XVI of the Social Security Act (“SSA”), 42 U.S.C. §§ 1381-1383f. The denial was based on a decision by an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) on February 26, 2014, that plaintiff was not disabled under the SSA. By Order dated October 4, 2016, the Court referred the case to United States Magistrate Judge Timothy R. Rice for a Report and Recommendation (“R & R”). On January 18, 2017, Judge Rice issued an R & R recommending that plaintiff's Request for Review[2] be denied. Presently before the Court are plaintiff's Objections to the R & R. For the reasons that follow, the Court approves and adopts the R & R, overrules plaintiff's Objections, and denies plaintiff's Request for Review.

         II. BACKGROUND

         The background of this case is set forth in detail in Magistrate Judge Rice's R & R and will be recited in the Memorandum only as necessary to address plaintiff's Objections. Plaintiff applied for SSI on October 18, 2011. Administrative R. (“R.”) at 14. After her application was denied, plaintiff requested a hearing which was held on December 17, 2013. Id. In a decision dated February 26, 2014, the ALJ concluded that plaintiff was not disabled under the SSA. Id. In so concluding, the ALJ found that plaintiff suffered from three severe impairments-affective disorder, anxiety disorder, and substance abuse disorder-but that these impairments did not meet or equal the severity of a listed impairment. R. at 16-17. The ALJ determined that plaintiff had the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform work at all levels of physical exertion, but was limited to “performing routine tasks, understanding and following short simple instructions, and making simple work related decisions in an environment with few workplace changes” and that she “must avoid interacting with the public and working co-dependently as if on a team, and is limited to no more than occasional interaction with supervisors.” R. at 18. Based on her determination of plaintiff's limitations and the testimony of a vocational expert, the ALJ found that plaintiff was capable of performing jobs that existed in significant numbers in the national economy and was thus not disabled under the SSA. R. at 21-22.

         The Appeals Council denied plaintiff's request for review on May 5, 2015, and the ALJ's determination was thus affirmed as the Commissioner's final decision. R. at 1. Plaintiff commenced this action seeking review of the Commissioner's final decision pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) on June 1, 2015.

         III. APPLICABLE LAW

         A district court evaluates de novo those portions of a magistrate judge's report and recommendation to which an objection is made and may “accept, reject, or modify, in whole or in part, the findings or recommendations made by the magistrate judge.” 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(C). A district court's review of the Commissioner's final decision is limited to determining whether the denial of benefits “is supported by substantial evidence on the record as a whole” and whether the correct legal standards were applied. McCrea v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 370 F.3d 357, 359 (3d Cir. 2004). “Substantial evidence is ‘such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.' Although substantial evidence is more than a mere scintilla, it need not rise to the level of a preponderance.” Id. at 359-60 (quoting Newell v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 347 F.3d 541, 545 (3d Cir. 2003)).

         In deciding a disability claim, “an ALJ must clearly set forth the reasons for [her] decision. . . . The ALJ must provide a discussion of the evidence and an explanation of reasoning for [her] conclusion to sufficiently enable meaningful judicial review.” Diaz v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 577 F.3d 500, 504 (3d Cir. 2009) (quotation marks and citations omitted). However, the ALJ “need not employ particular magic words[, ] . . . particular language[, ] or adhere to a particular format in conducting [the] analysis.” Id. (quotation marks omitted). “When a conflict in the evidence exists, the ALJ may choose whom to credit but ‘cannot reject evidence for no reason or for the wrong reason.'” Plummer v. Apfel, 186 F.3d 422, 429 (3d Cir. 2000) (quoting Mason v. Shalala, 994 F.2d 1058, 1066 (3d Cir. 1993).

         An ALJ must “consider the medical opinions in [a] case record together with the rest of the relevant evidence.” 20 C.F.R. § 416.927(b). Generally, the opinion of a medical source who has evaluated the claimant is given more weight than a source who has not, 20 C.F.R. § 416.927(c)(1), and the medical opinion of a treating source[3] that “is well-supported by medically acceptable clinical and laboratory diagnostic techniques and is not inconsistent with the other substantial evidence in [the case record]” will be given “controlling weight.” 20 C.F.R. § 416.927(c)(2). However, while “treating and examining physician opinions often deserve more weight than the opinions of doctors who review records, the law is clear that the opinion of a treating physician does not bind the ALJ on the issue of functional capacity.” Chandler v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 667 F.3d 356, 361 (3d Cir. 2011). When an ALJ does not give the opinion of a treating source controlling weight, the ALJ must weigh the opinion-considering, inter alia, the length and nature of the treating relationship, and the supportability and consistency of the opinion-and give reasons for the weight she gives to the opinion. 20 C.F.R. § 416.927(c)(2); see Plummer, 186 F.3d at 429 (“An ALJ may . . . afford a treating physician's opinion more or less weight depending upon the extent to which supporting explanations are provided.” (citation omitted)).

         IV. DISCUSSION

         Plaintiff filed four objections, three of which address the medical opinions in the record. Plaintiff argues that Judge Rice erred in determining that the ALJ properly weighed the opinion of (1) plaintiff's treating psychiatrist, Dr. Girish Shah, (2) the examining psychologist, Dr. Robert DiTomasso, who examined plaintiff on behalf of the Social Security Administration, and (3) the reviewing psychologist, Dr. Francis Murphy, who reviewed plaintiff's records on behalf of the Social Security Administration. In her fourth objection, plaintiff contends that the Judge Rice erred in concluding that the ALJ properly evaluated plaintiff's credibility with respect to her reports regarding her symptoms. The Court addresses each of plaintiff's objections in turn.

         A. Plaintiff's First Objection

         Plaintiff first objects to Judge Rice's determination that the ALJ properly weighed the opinion of plaintiff's treating psychiatrist, Dr. Shah. Dr. Shah opined that plaintiff had marked limitations in three areas relating to her abilities to do unskilled work: (1) maintaining regular attendance and being punctual, (2) “[c]omplet[ing] a normal workday and work week without interruptions from psychologically based symptoms, ...


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