United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
ELIZABETH T. HEY, U.S.M.J.
Senyzsyn (“Plaintiff”) seeks review, pursuant to
42 U.S.C. § 405(g), of the Commissioner's decision
denying his claim for supplemental security income
(“SSI”). For the reasons that follow, I conclude
that the decision of the Administrative Law Judge
(“ALJ”) denying benefits is not supported by
substantial evidence and will remand the case for further
proceedings pursuant to sentence four of 42 U.S.C. §
was born on October 17, 1966. Tr. at 34, 193, 218.
He completed high school, served in the United States Army,
has past relevant work experience as a UPS parcel sorter.
Id. at 58, 212, 223, 336. On December 23, 2013,
Plaintiff protectively filed for SSI, alleging disability due
to mental impairments beginning on October 10, 2006.
Tr. at 193, 218, 222. The application was denied,
id. at 108-11, and Plaintiff requested an
administrative hearing before an ALJ. Id. at 112-14.
At a hearing on July 15, 2016, Plaintiff requested a
continuance to allow him time to obtain a psychological
evaluation and counsel. Id. at 67-69. On January 22,
2017, the ALJ conducted a second hearing, id. at
26-64, at which time Plaintiff amended his alleged onset date
to September 13, 2011, the day after the denial of his prior
applications for disability insurance benefits
(“DIB”) and SSI. Id. at
Id. at 26-72. On July 19, 2017, the ALJ found that
Plaintiff was not disabled. Id. at 13-21. The
Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review on
September 5, 2018. Id. at 1-3.
commenced this action in federal court on September 19, 2018.
Doc. 1. The matter is now fully briefed and ripe for
disposition. Docs. 17-19.
court's role on judicial review is to determine whether
the Commissioner's decision is supported by substantial
evidence. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g); Schaudeck v.
Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 181 F.3d 429, 431 (3d Cir.
1999). Therefore, the issue in this case is whether there is
substantial evidence to support the Commissioner's
conclusions that Plaintiff is not disabled and is capable of
performing jobs that exist in significant numbers in the
national economy. Substantial evidence is “such
relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as
adequate to support a conclusion, ” and must be
“more than a mere scintilla.” Zirnsak v.
Colvin, 777 F.2d 607, 610 (3d Cir. 2014) (quoting
Rutherford v. Barnhart, 399 F.3d 546, 552 (3d Cir.
2005)). The court has plenary review of legal issues.
Schaudeck, 181 F.3d at 431.
prove disability, a claimant must demonstrate an
“inability to engage in any substantial gainful
activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or
mental impairment . . . which has lasted or can be expected
to last for . . . not less than twelve months.” 42
U.S.C. § 423(d)(1). The Commissioner employs a five-step
1. Whether the claimant is currently engaged in substantially
2. If not, whether the claimant has a “severe
impairment” that significantly limits his physical or
mental ability to perform basic work activities;
3. If so, whether based on the medical evidence, the
impairment meets or equals the criteria of an impairment
listed in the “listing of impairments, ” 20
C.F.R. pt. 404, subpt. P, app. 1, which results in a
presumption of disability;
4. If the impairment does not meet or equal the criteria for
a listed impairment, whether, despite the severe impairment,
the claimant has the residual functional capacity
(“RFC”) to perform his past work; and
5. If the claimant cannot perform his past work, then the
final step is to determine whether there is other work in the
national economy that the claimant can perform.
See Zirnsak, 777 F.3d at 610; see also 20
C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4); 416.920(a)(4). Plaintiff
bears the burden of proof at steps one through four, while
the burden shifts to the Commissioner at the fifth step to
establish that the claimant is capable of performing other
jobs in the local and national economies, in light of his
age, education, work experience, and RFC. See Poulos v.
Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 474 F.3d 88, 92 (3d Cir. 2007).
ALJ's Findings and Plaintiff's
one of his July 19, 2017 decision, the ALJ found that
Plaintiff has not engaged in substantial gainful activity
since December 23, 2013, the application date. Tr.
at 15. At step two, the ALJ found that Plaintiff has severe
mental impairments consisting of anxiety disorders, affective
disorders, and substance addiction disorders.
Id. At step three, the ALJ found that
Plaintiff did not have an impairment or combination of
impairments that meets or medically equals the severity of
one of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart
P, Appendix 1. Id. The ALJ found that Plaintiff
retains the RFC to perform a full range of work at all
exertional levels, but that he is limited to simple
work-related decisions, can only occasionally respond
appropriately to supervisors and co-workers, and can never
respond appropriately to the public. Id. at 17. At
steps four and five the ALJ found that Plaintiff is unable to
perform his past relevant work, id. at 19, but that
considering Plaintiff's age, education, work experience,
and RFC, there are jobs that exist in significant numbers in
the national economy that Plaintiff can perform. Id.
at 20. Specifically, the ALJ found that Plaintiff could
perform the jobs of industrial cleaner, landscape laborer,
and laundry worker. Id. Thus, the ALJ found that
Plaintiff was not disabled. Id. at 21.
argues that the ALJ's decision is not supported by
substantial evidence because the ALJ (1) failed to consider
the hearing testimony of Plaintiff's case manager and (2)
improperly evaluated Plaintiff's subjective complaints,
particularly regarding his inability to leave the house on a
regular basis. Docs. 17 & 19. Defendant responds that the
ALJ's decision is supported by substantial evidence. Doc.
Summary of Medical Evidence
underwent an intake at South Jersey Behavioral Health
Resources, Inc., on December 22, 2010. Tr. at
302-03. Plaintiff reported anxiety and panic
attacks every four days and that he did not like leaving his
house. Id. at 303. He described his symptoms as
racing thoughts, loss of energy, sadness most days, feelings
of worthlessness, guilt, insomnia and hypersomnia,
fluctuating appetite, diminished interest in activities,
diminished ability to think, irritability, impulsivity, and
being easily distracted. Id. Plaintiff was diagnosed
with Bipolar Disorder, Most Recent Episode, Unspe[cified],
and Panic Disorder with Agoraphobia. Id. at
He reported taking Seroquel for sleep problems, Paxil for
anxiety, and Depakote for panic attacks. Id. at
began treatment at Northwestern Human Services
(“NHS”) in 2010, after moving with his mother
from New Jersey. Tr. at 443. On July 24,
2013, NHS physician Harold Graff, M.D., completed a
Comprehensive Psychiatric Evaluation/Re-Evaluation of
Plaintiff. Id. at 306-11. Dr. Graff noted that
Plaintiff had been diagnosed with bipolar
disorder and had a twenty-year history of
depression, a history of emotional abuse from his
step-father, and a period of incarceration during which he
was prescribed Trileptal, Sinequan, and Thorazine by the
prison psychiatrist. Id. at 306.Plaintiff
previously abused alcohol but had been sober for eight years,
and had never been psychiatrically hospitalized. Id.
The doctor summarized Plaintiff's complaints as
depression, poor appetite, poor concentration, racing
thoughts, mood swings, and avoidance of “social
things.” Id. His current medications were
Seroquel, Trileptal, and Paxil. Id. Upon evaluation,
Plaintiff was alert, cooperative, and fully oriented, with
depressed mood, appropriate and calm affect, and appropriate
thought content, thought process, and perceptions.
Id. at 309. Plaintiff exhibited fair judgment and
insight, no evidence of impairment in concentration or
attention, and average estimated intelligence. Id.
Dr. Graff listed Plaintiff's problems as unemployment,
poor self-esteem, depression, and history of abuse.
Id. at 310. The doctor diagnosed Plaintiff with
Bipolar Disorder, NOS (not otherwise specified),
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (“PTSD”), Chronic,
and a Personality Disorder, NOS,  and assessed him with a
current Global Assessment of Functioning (“GAF”)
score of 55 with 55 as his highest GAF in the past year.
Id. at 311.
March 21, 2014, Richard G. Ivins, Ph.D., performed a
consultative psychological evaluation of Plaintiff.
Tr. at 336-37. Dr. Ivins noted Plaintiff's
history of depression “all through the 1990's,
” and that it worsened after he separated from his
common-law wife in 1997. Id. at 336. The doctor also
noted Plaintiff's history of prior alcohol abuse, noting
that except for two admissions for alcohol abuse, he has
never been in any psychiatric hospital or unit. Id.
He continued to take Seroquel, Sinequan, and Trileptal.
Id. On mental status examination, Plaintiff noted
his diagnosis of bipolar disorder and described himself as
depressed. Id. He exhibited a flat affect, fair
stream of thought, and minimal responses, with speech that
was rambling, repetitious, and went off-topic. Id.
Plaintiff denied suicidal or homicidal ideation and exhibited
no clear delusional thinking. Id. His verbal
abstract reasoning was poor, his verbal concept formation
skills were in the normal range, his fund of general
information was very good, and his arithmetic reasoning was
good. Id. at 337. Plaintiff was oriented to person,
place, and time, except for the correct date, with good
remote memory, fair recent past memory, and good recent
memory. Id. Plaintiff reported that his attention
and concentration are poor and that his impulse control is
generally good. Id. Dr. Ivins opined that ...