United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania
REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION
J. Rueter United States Magistrate Judge.
Adam Isaiah Hudson, filed this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C.
§ 405(g), seeking judicial review of the final decision
of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration
(“Commissioner”) denying his claim for
supplemental security income (“SSI”) under Title
XVI of the Social Security Act (“Act”).
filed a Brief and Statement of Issues in Support of Request
for Review (“Pl.'s Br.”), defendant filed a
Response to Plaintiff's Request for Review
(“Def.'s Br.”), and plaintiff filed a reply
thereto (“Pl.'s Reply”). For the reasons set
forth below, the court recommends that plaintiff's
Request for Review be GRANTED.
FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
filed an application for SSI on October 27, 2014, alleging
disability beginning January 1, 2007. (R. 247-55.)
Plaintiff's claim was denied initially and he filed a
timely request for a hearing. (R. 67-83.) A hearing was held
on February 24, 2017, before Administrative Law Judge
(“ALJ”) Frederick Timm. (R. 27-66.) Plaintiff,
represented by counsel, appeared and testified. Steven
Gumerman, a vocational expert (“VE”), also
appeared and testified. In a decision dated April 4, 2017,
the ALJ found that plaintiff was not disabled under the Act.
(R. 11-26.) The ALJ made the following findings:
1. The claimant has not engaged in substantial gainful
activity since September 25, 2014 (20 CFR 416.920(b) and
416.971 et seq.).
2. The claimant has the following severe impairments:
obesity, specific learning disorder, paranoid schizophrenia
with polysubstance abuse dependence, bipolar affective
disorder (BPAD) with polysubstance dependence and
post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) (20 CFR 416.920(c)).
3. The claimant's impairments, including the substance
abuse disorder, meet section 12.03 and 12.09 of 20 CFR Part
404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 (20 CFR 416.920(d)).
4. If the claimant stopped the substance use, the remaining
limitations would cause more than minimal impact on the
claimant's ability to perform basic work activities;
therefore, the claimant would continue to have a severe
impairment or combination of impairments.
5. If the claimant stopped the substance use, the claimant
would not have an impairment or combination of impairments
that meets or medically equals any of the impairments listed
in 20 CFR Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 (20 CFR
6. If the claimant stopped the substance use, the claimant
would have the residual functional capacity to perform medium
work as defined in 20 CFR 416.967(c) except that he could
only perform unskilled tasks and goal-oriented rather than
production-paced tasks, he could have no interaction with the
general public (even by telephone) and no more than
occasional interaction with supervisors/co-workers, and he
would require a stable workplace (few if any changes of
setting, processes and tools).
7. The claimant has no past relevant work (20 CFR 416.965).
8. The claimant was born on October 19, 1995 and was
twenty-one years old, which is defined as a younger
individual age 18-49, on the date the application was filed.
9. The claimant has a limited education and is able to
communicate in English (20 CFR 416.964).
10. Transferability of job skills is not an issue because the
claimant does not have past relevant work (20 CFR 416.968).
11. If the claimant stopped the substance use, considering
the claimant's age, education, work experience, and
residual functional capacity, there would be a significant
number of jobs in the national economy that the claimant
could perform (20 CFR 416.960(c) and 416.966).
12. The substance use disorder is a contributing factor
material to the determination of disability because the
claimant would not be disabled if he stopped the substance
use (20 CFR 416.920(g) and 416.935). Because the substance
use disorder is a contributing factor material to the
determination of disability, the claimant has not been
disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act at any
time from the date the application was filed through the date
of this decision.
filed a request for review of the decision of the ALJ that
was denied and the ALJ's decision became the final
decision of the Commissioner. (R. 1-7, 245-46.) Plaintiff
then filed the present claim, seeking judicial review of the
ALJ's decision pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).
STANDARD OF REVIEW
role of this court on judicial review is to determine whether
there is substantial evidence in the record to support the
Commissioner's decision. Hagans v. Comm'r of Soc.
Sec., 694 F.3d 287, 292 (3d Cir. 2012) (citing 42 U.S.C.
§ 405(g)), cert. denied, 571 U.S. 1204 (2014);
Plummer v. Apfel, 186 F.3d 422, 427 (3d Cir. 1999).
Substantial evidence is defined as “such relevant
evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to
support a conclusion.” Biestek v. Berryhill,
139 S.Ct. 1148, 1154 (2019) (quoting Consol. Edison Co.
v. NLRB, 305 U.S. 197, 229 (1938)). Substantial evidence
is more than a mere scintilla of evidence, but may be less
than a preponderance of the evidence. Jesurum v.
Sec'y of U.S. Dep't of Health and Human Serv.,
48 F.3d 114, 117 (3d Cir. 1995). This court may not weigh
evidence or substitute its conclusions for those of the
fact-finder. Burns v. Barnhart, 312 F.3d 113, 118
(3d Cir. 2002) (citing Williams v. Sullivan, 970
F.2d 1178, 1182 (3d Cir. 1992)). As the Third Circuit has
stated, “so long as an agency's fact-finding is
supported by substantial evidence, reviewing courts lack
power to reverse . . . those findings.” Monsour
Med. Ctr. v. Heckler, 806 F.2d 1185, 1191 (3d Cir.
eligible for benefits, the claimant must demonstrate an
“inability to engage in any substantial gainful
activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or
mental impairment which can be expected to result in death or
which has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous
period of not less than 12 months.” 42 U.S.C. §
1382c(a)(3)(A). Specifically, the impairments must be such
that the claimant “is not only unable to do his
previous work but cannot, considering his age, education, and
work experience, engage in any other kind of substantial
gainful work which exists in the national economy.” 42
U.S.C. § 1382c(a)(3)(B). Under the Act, the claimant has
the burden of proving the existence of a disability and must
furnish medical evidence indicating the severity of the
impairment. 42 U.S.C. § 1382c(a)(3)(H)(i).
Social Security Administration employs a five-part procedure
to determine whether an individual has met this burden. 20
C.F.R. § 416.920. This process requires the Commissioner to
consider, in sequence, whether a claimant: (1) is currently
employed; (2) has a severe impairment; (3) has an impairment
which meets or equals the requirements of a listed
impairment; (4) can perform past relevant work; and (5) if
not, whether the claimant is able to perform other work, in
view of his age, education, and work experience. See
id. The claimant bears the burden of establishing steps
one through four of the five-step evaluation process, while
the burden shifts to the Commissioner at step five to show
that the claimant is capable of performing other jobs
existing in large numbers in the national economy. Hess
v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 931 F.3d 198, 201 (3d Cir.
who was twenty-one years old at the time of the February 2017
administrative hearing, testified that he does not have, and
never has had, a driver's license. (R. 45, 60.) Plaintiff
confirmed that his mother died when he was young and that her
death adversely affected him. (R. 40.) His mother had sixteen
children; he stated that no one took care of him. (R. 41.)
When he was in school, plaintiff argued and fought with
teachers and other students. (R. 40.) He was not taught how
to read, and has difficulty reading and writing. (R. 41.) As
a result of his problems with school, plaintiff was placed in
an alternative school, George Junior Republic. Id.
For a time, plaintiff was housed there in a padded cell in
order to restrain and isolate him. Id. After leaving
George Junior Republic, plaintiff was placed in the care of
his godmother. (R. 45.) With respect to his education, it
appears that plaintiff last attended Penrose Elementary
School in Philadelphia and dropped out of school at some
point. (R. 45-46.)
outset of the hearing, the ALJ noted that plaintiff was
wearing a hoodie and a hat. (R. 32.) Plaintiff explained that
he always wears a hoodie, because he feels that people are
looking at him, which scares him. (R. 33.) Plaintiff
confirmed that he participated in treatment to address issues
with bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. Id.
Plaintiff indicated that he has difficulty going outside
alone and that his sister drove him to treatment.
Id. He stopped attending treatment in August 2016
when his sister got a job and was no longer able to drive him
there. (R. 34.) However, he began treatment again in December
of that year, when his brother brought him to treatment.
Id. Approximately one year prior to the February
2017 administrative hearing, plaintiff attempted to obtain
his GED through classes offered at the treatment center, but
he was unable to focus and stopped attending classes after
one week. (R. 51.)
asked to describe how he sleeps at night, plaintiff explained
that he normally sleeps in the morning, rather than at night.
(R. 34-35.) Plaintiff has experienced nightmares of his
father hitting him for as long as he can remember. (R. 35.)
Plaintiff further elaborated that he does not sleep at night
due to thoughts of abuse. (R. 44.) Plaintiff stated that he
does not sleep at night “[b]ecause of the fact that I
feel as though I always got hit at nighttime, so by me
getting hit at nighttime, I think going to sleep in the
morning, that is better.” (R. 44.) Plaintiff also
indicated that loud noises and arguing can trigger memories
of his abuse. Id. He avoids crowds due to a fear of
being harmed. Id. Plaintiff does not feel safe
outside as a result, but acknowledged that “[w]e got a
camera outside our house, so I feel safe.” (R. 45.)
explained that he lives with his sister on weekdays and with
his brother on weekends. (R. 35.) He spends his days sitting
alone in a room, because he likes to be by himself.
Id. When asked to elaborate, plaintiff stated,
“because I can't hurt myself.” (R. 36.) He
acknowledged that he does not get along well with others
because he “tend[s] to argue” and is destructive
when he argues. (R. 36-37.) At times, plaintiff blacks out
when angry. (R. 42.) When asked to describe this situation,
plaintiff stated, “I don't know. I just black out.
And I wake up, there's walls broke and doors off
hinges.” Id. Plaintiff confirmed statements in
the Function Report that was completed in connection with his
application for benefits which indicate that he feels bad
about himself and sometimes feels like giving up. (R. 38.)
When asked whether he goes outside, plaintiff indicated that
he does so “very rare[ly]” and that he prefers to
stay in his basement room. Id. To the extent that he
goes out alone, plaintiff may walk to the store that is on
his block. Id. Plaintiff explained that his sister
does not ask him to pick up items at the store because he is
unable to remember a list of items. (R. 38-39.)
acknowledged that he needs reminders to bathe and change his
clothes, and that his brother instructed him to change his
clothes two days prior to the hearing. (R. 37.) Plaintiff
does not perform household chores because he is unable to
sufficiently focus to complete the task at hand. Id.
He does not know how to cook. (R. 41.) When asked whether he
needs reminders to take his medication, plaintiff stated,
“[y]es my sister. She got it out for me every
day.” (R. 53.)
confirmed that he has been arrested twice for selling drugs,
but stated that he no longer sold drugs. (R. 39.) When asked
to explain how he is able to perform the math computations
necessary to sell drugs, plaintiff stated, “the Chinese
store is on my block, and my house is about four houses from
the Chinese store, so I'll sell - I normally - if I - my
sister friend come over, I know he would normally walk me to
the store, but I hold stuff.” Id. Based on
other evidence from the administrative record, the ALJ
questioned plaintiff whether he had ever done more than hold
drugs. (R. 46.) Plaintiff denied knowing how to chop, and bag
up, cocaine. (R. 46-47.) Plaintiff explained that in the
context of a group therapy meeting, several members had a
discussion about drugs and plaintiff reported to the other
members that his participation was limited to holding the
drugs. (R. 47.) Plaintiff acknowledged seeing his
sister's friend chop cocaine. (R. 47-48.) Plaintiff
denied using drugs. (R. 51.) He was asked how long it had
been since he “used any street drugs, of any kind,
including marijuana.” Id. Plaintiff replied,
“[t]wo years, a year - two years.”
Id. Plaintiff's counsel then pointed out a
June 2, 2016 urine drug screen “that was clean of
anything.” (R. 52.)
also was asked about a recent employment attempt. Plaintiff
explained that his sister's friend was renovating a
nearby home and plaintiff was asked to help with the labor.
(R. 39-40, 49.) However, plaintiff got into a fight with a
co-worker and argued with another. (R. 40.) After the
altercation, plaintiff was instructed not to return to the
worksite. Id. Plaintiff worked for approximately eight
days, but was not paid for the work he performed. (R.
When asked whether he had applied for any other jobs,