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Ouk v. Berryhill

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

April 20, 2018

VEN OUK, Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, [1] Defendant.


          GERALD J. PAPPERT, J.

         Ven Ouk seeks judicial review of the Commissioner of Social Security's denial of her application for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) under Title XVI of the Social Security Act. Upon consideration of the administrative record, Magistrate Judge Richard A. Lloret's Report and Recommendation (ECF No. 13), and the parties' Objections and Responses thereto (ECF Nos. 14 & 16), the Court overrules Ouk's objections, denies her request for review and affirms the Commissioner's decision.


         Ouk filed an application for SSI on July 8, 2013. (Administrative Record (“R.”) at 82, 133.) She was thirty-five years old at the time. (Id.) Her highest level of education is the eleventh grade, she does not have her GED and she does not have any vocational training. (R. at 37-38.) She is currently unemployed but has experience working for short periods of time as a maid, warehouse machine operator (mail feeder), caregiver and nail technician. (R. at 22, 36, 38-43, 150, 155.)

         Ouk claims to be disabled, with a disability onset date of December 31, 2006, due to depression, anxiety, social withdrawal, excessive avoidance, trauma, eating problems, sleeping problems, seeing things and hearing voices. (R. at 72-73, 133, 148.) She was hospitalized in May of 2013 after attempting suicide by overdosing on alcohol and prescription medication. (R. at 47.) Following her attempt, she began attending regular therapy sessions at Warren E. Smith Health Systems (WES) and was diagnosed with major depressive disorder. (R. at 49, 308.) Ouk is prescribed Zoloft and Seroquel, which help control her depression, anger and anxiety. (R. at 46, 48.) Ouk claims that she is unable to work because her depression and anxiety make her “unsociable with the public.” (R. at 164.)

         Ouk's application was denied on October 8, 2013, and she thereafter requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge. (R. at 85-89.) ALJ Linda Thomasson held the hearing on April 2, 2015. (R. at 13, 28.) Ouk testified that she is unable to work because she is “scared of everything, ” “can't socialize [with] other people, ” and hears voices on a daily basis. (R. at 45-46.) After considering the evidence, the ALJ denied relief on July 17, 2015. (R. at 13-24.) Applying the five-step sequential evaluation process, [3] the ALJ determined that Ouk was not “disabled” as defined by the Social Security Act. (R. at 13-24.) At steps one and two, the ALJ concluded that Ouk has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since July 8, 2013, the date she applied for SSI, [4] and that she suffers from a mood disorder, a severe impairment. (Id.) At step three, the ALJ found that Ouk's impairment did not meet or medically equal the severity of one of the listed impairments, namely Listing 12.04 Affective Disorders, because Ouk had only moderate restrictions in the activities of daily living, social functioning, and concentration, persistence or pace. (R. at 16-17.)

         At step four, the ALJ found that Ouk had the RFC to perform a full range of work at all exertional levels, albeit with the following specified non-exertional limitations: preforming no more than simple, routine and repetitive tasks, making no more than simple work-related decisions, limited to no more than occasional interaction with supervisors, co-workers and the public, and limited to tolerating no more than occasional changes in routine work setting. (R. at 17.) Given this RFC, the ALJ concluded that Ouk could not perform her past relevant work. (R. at 22.) At step five, however, the ALJ found that Ouk's RFC permits her to work jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy, for example, as a laundry worker. (R. at 23.) The ALJ thus found that Ouk was not disabled within the meaning of the statute and not entitled to benefits. (R. at 24.)

         The ALJ's decision became final after the Appeals Council denied Ouk's request for review on September 26, 2016. (R. at 1-6.) Ouk filed this action on October 20, 2016, seeking judicial review of the Commissioner's decision pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). (ECF Nos. 1 & 3.) Ouk argued that the ALJ: (1) erroneously rejected the opinions of Ouk's treating and examining psychiatrist Dr. Ola; (2) erroneously found Ouk's testimony not entirely credible; (3) did not adequately explain her RFC determination; and (4) violated what Ouk believes is her absolute due process right to cross-examine the state agency consultant, Dr. Diorio. (See generally Pl.'s Br., ECF No. 9.)

         On November 8, 2017, Judge Lloret issued his R & R rejecting each argument and recommending that Ouk's request for review be denied and judgment be entered in favor of the Commissioner. (ECF No. 13.) Ouk objects to each of Judge Lloret's conclusions, reiterating her initial arguments and requiring the Court to review her arguments de novo. 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1); see also Brown v. Astrue, 649 F.3d 193, 195 (3d Cir. 2011). Pursuant to Section 636(b)(1), the Court “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).


         The Court's role on review is to determine whether the ALJ's determinations were supported by substantial evidence. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g); see also Rutherford v. Barnhart, 399 F.3d 546, 552 (3d Cir. 2005). Substantial evidence is evidence which a “reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.” Rutherford, 399 F.3d at 552 (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). “It is ‘more than a mere scintilla but may be somewhat less than a preponderance of the evidence.'” Id. (quoting Ginsburg v. Richardson, 436 F.2d 1146, 1148 (3d Cir. 1971)).

         In reviewing the ALJ's decision, the Court is not permitted to re-weigh the evidence or substitute its own conclusions for those reached by the ALJ. Chandler v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 667 F.3d 356, 359 (3d Cir. 2011) (citation omitted). “The ALJ resolves conflicts in the evidence, determines the evidence's credibility, and assigns the appropriate weight to be given such evidence.” D'angelo v. Colvin, No. 14-6594, 2016 WL 930690, at *2 (E.D. Pa. Mar. 11, 2016) (citing Plummer v. Apfel, 186 F.3d 422, 429 (3d Cir. 1999); Mason v. Shalala, 994 F.2d 1058, 1066 (3d Cir. 2004)). “If the ALJ's decision is supported by substantial evidence, the Court may not set it aside even if the Court would have decided the factual inquiry differently.” Santiago v. Barnhart, 367 F.Supp.2d 728, 732 (E.D. Pa. 2005) (citing Hartranft v. Apfel, 181 F.3d 358, 360 (3d Cir. 1999)).

         The ALJ's decision must “present a sufficient explanation of the final determination in order to provide the reviewing court with the benefit of the factual basis underlying the ultimate disability finding.” D'angelo, 2016 WL 930690, at *1 (citing Cotter v. Harris, 642 F.2d 700, 704-05 (3d Cir. 1981)). The decision need only discuss the most relevant evidence concerning a claimant's disability, “but it must provide sufficient discussion to allow the reviewing Court to determine whether its rejection of potentially significant evidence was proper.” Id. (citing Johnson v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 529 F.3d 198, 203-04 (3d Cir. 2008)).



         Ouk objects to the ALJ's decision to give great weight to the opinion of Melissa Diorio, Psy.D., a non-examining consultant, while giving the opinion of her treating and examining psychiatrist Conrada C. Ola, M.D., “no more than partial weight.” (Pl.'s Objs. to R. & R. at 1, ECF No. 14; Pl.'s Br. at 3, 7.) The ...

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