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Senyzsyn v. Sual

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

July 18, 2019

ANDREW SAUL, Commissioner of Social Security[1]


          ELIZABETH T. HEY, U.S.M.J.

         Roman 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. § 405(g).


         Plaintiff was born on October 17, 1966. Tr. at 34, 193, 218. He completed high school, served in the United States Army, [2] and 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 35.[3] 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.

         Plaintiff 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.[4]


         The 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.

         To 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 process, evaluating:

1. Whether the claimant is currently engaged in substantially gainful activity;
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).


         A. ALJ's Findings and Plaintiff's Claims

         At step 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.[5] 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.

         Plaintiff 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.[6] Defendant responds that the ALJ's decision is supported by substantial evidence. Doc. 18.

         B. Summary of Medical Evidence

         Plaintiff underwent an intake at South Jersey Behavioral Health Resources, Inc., on December 22, 2010. Tr. at 302-03.[7] 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 302.[8] He reported taking Seroquel for sleep problems, Paxil for anxiety, and Depakote for panic attacks. Id. at 304.[9]

         Plaintiff began treatment at Northwestern Human Services (“NHS”) in 2010, after moving with his mother from New Jersey. Tr. at 443.[10] 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[11] 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.[12]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, [13] 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.[14]

         On 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 ...

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