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Wilson v. Berryhill

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

July 14, 2017



          Juan R. Sanchez, J.

         AND NOW, this 14th day of July, 2017, upon consideration of Plaintiff George H. Wilson's Motion for Summary Judgment, the Commissioner of Social Security's response, and Wilson's reply, and after careful and independent review of the Report and Recommendation of United States Magistrate Judge Timothy R. Rice, Wilson's objections, and the Commissioner's response, it is ORDERED:

         1. Wilson's objections to the Report and Recommendation (Document 15) are OVERRULED[2];

         2. The Report and Recommendation (Document 14) is APPROVED and ADOPTED;

          3. Harrison's Motion for Summary Judgment (Document 10) is DENIED;

         4. Judgment is entered affirming the decision of the Commissioner of Social Security; and

         5. The Clerk of Court is directed to mark this case CLOSED.



[1] Nancy A. Berryhill became the Acting Commissioner of Social Security on January 23, 2017. Pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 25(d), Berryhill is substituted for Carolyn W. Colvin as the Defendant in this case.

[2]Wilson seeks review of the denial of his application for Supplemental Security Income by the Commissioner of Social Security. In a decision issued on January 21, 2015, an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ), applying the Social Security Administration's five-step sequential evaluation process for determining whether an individual is disabled, see 20 C.F.R. § 416.920, concluded Wilson was not disabled at any time during the relevant period. The ALJ found Wilson was severely impaired by the dysfunction of his major joints resulting from bone fractures caused by a motorcycle accident. However, the ALJ concluded Wilson's severe impairment did not meet or medically equal a listed impairment. Upon consideration of the record, including Wilson's medical records and hearing testimony, as well as the hearing testimony of a vocational expert, the ALJ concluded Wilson retained the residual functional capacity (RFC) to perform light work, subject to the additional limitations that he can stand and walk only two hours during an eight-hour workday, has no functional use of his right arm, and cannot lift above shoulder level with his left arm. Based on this RFC assessment, the ALJ found Wilson was capable of performing his past relevant work as a community outreach worker as he had actually performed this job, or, alternatively, was capable of working as a school bus monitor, surveillance system monitor, and compact assembler.

In his motion, Wilson argues the ALJ's decision is not supported by substantial evidence because the ALJ failed to (1) properly consider Wilson's mental impairments and (2) support his RFC assessment with substantial evidence. On February 7, 2017, the Magistrate Judge issued a Report and Recommendation (R&R) addressing these alleged errors, concluding the ALJ's decision was supported by substantial evidence, and recommending the Commissioner's denial of benefits be affirmed. Wilson filed objections to the R&R, reasserting the two issues raised in his motion.

Under 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1), this Court reviews de novo "those portions of the report or specified proposed findings or recommendations to which objection is made." Upon de novo review of the record, this Court finds Wilson's objections meritless.

As to the first issue, Wilson argues the ALJ erred by failing to make any specific findings regarding his mental impairments. The ALJ reviewed the evidence regarding mental impairments, including Wilson's testimony that he was depressed and felt unable to be himself, his report of posttraumatic stress disorder to Dr. Alexander Klufas in February 2013, the notations by Wilson's primary care physician, Dr. Lawrence Alwine, that Wilson reported suffering from depression and posttraumatic stress disorder, and a psychiatric examination within Dr. Alwine's treatment records indicating normal results. As the Magistrate Judge correctly noted, Wilson had never sought mental health treatment, was never prescribed medication to address his alleged mental health issues, failed to testify those issues resulted in any functional impairment, and failed to include any psychiatric diagnoses when instructed to list all of the conditions that affected his ability to work in his application for SSI benefits in January 2013. Thus, although the ALJ failed to make an explicit finding as to Wilson's alleged mental impairments, the Court is able to conclude the ALJ neither credited nor ignored mental health diagnoses because no such diagnoses existed in the record. See Dixon v. Brarnhard, No. 03-5291, 2005 WL 113411, at *7 (E.D. Pa. Jan. 19, 2005) ("At the very least, the ALJ [i]s required to address each diagnosis and offer some explanation as to why he did or did not afford it significant weight."); Lozado v. Barnhart, 331 F.Supp.2d 325, 330 (E.D. Pa. 2004) ("A reviewing court must be able to determine whether 'significant probative evidence was not credited or simply ignored'" (quoting Fargnoli v. Massanari,247 F.3d 34, 41 (3d Cir. 2001))). The ALJ therefore did not err by failing to make an explicit determination regarding Wilson's alleged mental health issues. Cf. Rutherford v. Barnhart,399 F.3d 546, 553 (3d Cir. 2005) (holding ALJ did not err by failing to consider obesity in his disability determination, as plaintiff "did not raise obesity as an impairment or limitation before the ALJ, " and failed to "specif[y] how that factor would affect the [ALJ's] five-step analysis); Wiggins v. Berryhill, No. 16-3991, 2017 WL 1532038, at *8 (E.D. Pa. Feb. 24, 2017) (holding "plaintiffs argument that the ALJ's analysis of plaintiffs mental impairment was deficient is without merit, " as "the record was devoid of any mental health treatment notes, " plaintiffs counsel informed the ALJ that plaintiff had received no treatment regarding his mental health disorder, and plaintiff never testified to his alleged mental disorder limiting his ability to work (citing Lane v. Comm 'r of Soc. Sec, 100 F.App'x 90, 95 (3d Cir. 2004))), report and ...

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