Guinn v. Colvin
MEMORANDUM OPINION re cross-motions for summary judgment. Signed by Judge Leonard P. Stark on 3/21/16. (ntl)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE DISTRICT OF DELAWARE
ACTING COMMISSIONER OF
Civ. No. 14-1416-LPS
Stephen A. Hampton, GRADY & HAMPTON, LLC, Dover, DE.
Attorney for Plaintiff.
Charles M. Oberly, III, United States Attorney, and Heather Benderson, Special Assistant United
States Attorney, OFFICE OF THE GENERAL COUNSEL, Philadelphia, PA.
Nora Koch, Acting Regional Chief Counsel, and Timothy Reiley, Assistant Regional Counsel,
SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION, Philadelphia, PA.
Attorneys for Defendant.
March 21 , 2016
STARK, U.S. District Judge:
Plaintiff Kenneth Guinn ("Guinn" or "Plaintiff') appeals from decisions of Carolyn W.
Colvin, the Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration ("the Commissioner" or
"Defendant"), denying his claims for disability insurance benefits ("DIB" or "DIBs") under Title
XVI, 42 U.S.C. §§ 1381-83 ("Title XVI"), of the Social Security Act. The Court has jurisdiction
pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Before the Court are cross-motions for summary judgment filed
by Plaintiff and the Commissioner. (D.I. 14, 16)
Plaintiff asks for remand and further proceedings before the Commissioner with respect
to his request for DIBs from January 19, 2010 through May 30, 2013. (D.I. 15 at 1) The
Commissioner requests that the Court affirm the decision denying Plaintiffs application for
benefits. (D.I. 17 at 1-2) For the reasons set forth below, the Court will deny Plaintiffs motion
for summary judgment and grant Defendant's motion for summary judgment.
On January 19, 2010, Plaintiff filed a Title XVI application for supplemental social
security income ("SSI"). (D.I. 10 ("Tr.") at 53) On September 29, 2010, Plaintiffs application
was denied at the initial level of administrative review. (Id. at 102) On January 19, 2011,
Plaintiffs application was denied on reconsideration. (Id. at 107) Plaintiffs case was dismissed
on March 7, 2012, after Plaintiff failed to appear for a scheduled hearing (id. at 97), but the
Unless otherwise indicated, all facts are taken from supporting briefs submitted by the
parties and case record.
Appeals Council vacated the dismissal after Plaintiff explained that he had not been able to
appear at the hearing as a result of incarceration (id. at 99-100). After a hearing before an
Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") on May 9, 2013 , the ALJ issued a decision on May 30, 2013,
finding Plaintiff not to be under a disability within the meaning of the Social Security Act
("SSA") because his alleged conditions were not severe enough to prevent employment. (Id. at
21, 25) Plaintiff filed a request for review of the hearing decision and order, which was denied.
(Id. at 1) Thus, the May 30, 2013 decision of the ALJ became the Commissioner' s final
decision. (See id.)
On November 18, 2014, Plaintiff filed suit here, seeking judicial review of the
Commissioner' s denial of benefits. (D.I. 1) The parties completed briefing on their crossmotions for summary judgment on September 21 , 2015. (See D.I. 15, 17, 19)
Plaintiff testified before an ALJ on May 9, 2013 , in support of his petition for benefits.
(See Tr. at 32-52) His testimony established that he had an 11th grade education and once
worked as a laborer at a temporary agency. (Id. at 38-39) (Testimony from a vocational expert
("VE") revealed more specifically that Plaintiff had previously worked as a retail clerk and fast
food worker. (Id. at 48)) Plaintiff reported inability to work due to carpal tunnel syndrome,
arthritis, depression, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder ("ADHD"). (Id. at 39-40) He
stated that his ADHD was alleviated by medicine but that splints did not help his carpel tunnel.
(Id. at 41-42) He claimed an inability to hold a broom while standing or to sit, stand, or walk for
more than five minutes, and he believed he was unable to lift more than ten pounds. (Id. at 42,
45) He further reported daily living activities of attending appointments and speaking to others
about his ADHD . (Id. at 46-47) When questioned by the ALJ about his reason for not working
since 2005, Plaintiff explained that he was off-task due to his ADHD. (Id. 41)
Ms. Pan, PA-C
Plaintiff began seeing Zhen Pan, PA-C, in September 2009 for moderate right ankle and
elbow pain after slipping and falling inside a liquor store. (Id. at 320, 397) An x-ray showed no
ankle fracture (id. at 320, 326), and Plaintiffs condition improved and progressed as expected
over the following month (id. at 320, 322, 326), leading to unremarkable ankle and elbow x-rays
in October (id. at 327-28). On December 10, 2009, Ms. Pan noted some tenderness in Plaintiffs
ankle despite continued improvement, but found no musculoskeletal swelling or deformity. (Id.
Throughout 2010 and 2011 , Plaintiff continued to see Ms. Pan for various conditions,
including carpal tunnel, for which he reported receiving treatment since 2005. (See, e.g., id. at
388) During this period, Ms. Pan repeatedly found no clubbing, cyanosis, or peripheral edema in
Plaintiffs extremities. (Id. at 382, 421 , 425, 432, 456-57) In the summer of2010, Ms. Pan
found no musculoskeletal swelling or deformity; however, Plaintiff complained of right secondand third-finger numbness and wrist pain, stating that he could not twist a can lid but that a wrist
splint helped somewhat. (Id. at 53 , 387) He obtained a note from Ms. Pan about his back pain
after being pulled over for not wearing a seat belt. (Id. at 420-21)
In November 2010, Plaintiff reported swelling of his left thumb, several months after
pulling weeds, and although an x-ray showed no fracture or dislocation and unremarkable
alignment, Ms. Pan found swelling, tenderness, and decreased range of motion at Plaintiffs
metacarpophalangeal thumb joint, and she diagnosed him with thumb pain which was
progressing as expected. (Id. at 422-23) The following month, Ms. Pan found no swelling or
deformity and that Plaintiffs musculoskeletal range of motion was within normal limits. (Id. at
425) Two weeks later, an MRI showed moderate osteoarthritis in Plaintiffs left hand, with a
mild deformity in Plaintiffs metatarsophalangeal joint, likely correlated with a prior healed
trauma. (Id. at 444) In February 2011 , Plaintiff reported that his thumb still hurt, and Ms. Pan
noted the mild deformity that had been found in his metatarsophalangeal joint but no tenderness
or swelling. (Id. at 430) A week later, Plaintiff denied any joint pain. (Id. at 432)
Dr. David Nixon
For his ADHD, Plaintiff began seeing Dr. Nixon at Phoenix Mental Health of Dover in
2005, being prescribed Wellbutrin and Adderall. (See id. at 361-64) During the two years
following his application for Dills, Dr. Nixon diagnosed Plaintiff with ADHD as well as
depressive disorder, not elsewhere classified, and assessed him global assessment of functioning
("GAF") scores 2 ofbetween 60 and 75. (Id. at 329, 372-73 , 413-17, 470-74) Dr. Nixon ' s mental
status examinations were consistently within normal limits, reflecting no suicidal or homicidal
Residual Functional Capacity ("RFC") Assessments
On August 12, 2010, Plaintiff saw Dr. Ayoola for a consultative examination and
GAF scores of 51-60 indicate moderate symptoms or moderate difficulty in social,
occupation, or school functioning; GAF scores of 61-70 indicate mild symptoms or some
difficulty in social, occupation, or school functioning, but otherwise generally functioning well
with some meaningful interpersonal relationships; and GAF scores of 71-80 indicate transient or
no symptoms and expected reactions to psychosocial stressors, with at most slight impairments in
social, occupational, or school functioning. See DSM-IV at 34.
complained of pain and tingling in his right side, stating he could not tie his shoelaces or sit for
extended periods of time. (Id. at 388-91) Dr. Ayoola' s only remarkable findings were
marginally reduced range of motion in Plaintiffs spine and a little reduction in shoulder
elevation. (Id. at 389-90) He found Plaintiffs hand grip to be strong on both sides and that
Plaintiff could write, albeit clumsily. (Id. at 390) Dr. Ayoola diagnosed Plaintiff with a history
of bilateral carpal tunnel syndrome, histories of depression and ADHD, and a history of
glaucoma. (Id. at 390) In his conclusions, Dr. Ayoola stated:
I believe that his dexterity is intact on both ends and that his
declining to tie his shoelaces was questionable. . . . [I]t is possible
that [Plaintiff] has some low back pain due to vertebral
degenerative disease. . . . Given the historical data and the results
of my physical examination, I am unable to find any significant
obstacle to being able to work from the standpoint of physical
restriction. . . . The present assessment does not find any physical
obstacle to being able to work for 30 to 40 hours per week from the
(Id. at 391)
On September 20, 2010, Dr. Janis Chester conducted a consultative examination of
Plaintiff, who reported being "somewhat irritable" despite denying depression. (Id. at 391 -99)
Dr. Chester found that Plaintiff was difficult to engage due to a tangential and perseverative
thought process, that his immediate memory was intact, his short-term memory was initially not
intact but improved with prompting, his long-term memory was fair, and his insight and
judgment were fair. (Id. at 398) Dr. Chester diagnosed Plaintiff with ADHD and provisionally
diagnosed him with malingering and side effects of his medication, assessing him a GAF score of
55. (Id. at 399) In her RFC assessment, Dr. Chester concluded that Plaintiff experienced no
limitations with respect to performing repetitive and varied tasks ; mild limitations with respect to
daily living activities, work involving minimal contact with others, and performing simple tasks;
moderate limitations with respect to dealing with people or performing complex tasks; and
moderately severe limitations with respect to comprehending or following instructions and work
involving frequent contact with people. (Id. at 392)
On September 22, 2010, state-agency expert physician Dr. Tom Dees agreed with Dr.
Ayoola' s conclusion about the absence of any physical obstacles to full-time work from a
medical standpoint. (Id. at 400)
On September 25, 2010, state-agency expert psychologist Dr. Alvin Smith confirmed Dr.
Chester' s diagnoses of ADHD and depression, not otherwise specified. (Id. at 402, 404) Based
on his findings that Plaintiff was only mildly restricted in his daily living activities, social
functioning, concentration, persistence, and pace, Dr. Smith concluded that Plaintiff was not
severely mentally impaired. (Id. at 401 , 409, 411)
On January 10, 2011 , state-agency expert psychiatrists Drs. Aroon Suansilppongse and
Anne Aldridge also agreed with Dr. Chester' s opinions, finding no evidence of a significant
thought disorder or cognitive defects. (Id. at 418-19) Dr. Suansilppongse further observed that
Plaintiffs conditions were self-limited and improved with treatment. (Id. at 418)
The ALJ's Findings
Plaintiff appeals the ALJ' s May 30, 2013 decision, which contained the following
The claimant has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since January
19, 2010, the alleged onset date (20 CFR 416.971 et seq.).
The claimant has the following severe impairments: history of back
disorder, history of carpal tunnel syndrome, arthritis in the hands,
attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder and depression (20 CFR
The claimant does not have an impairment or combination of impairments
that meets or medically equals the severity of one of the listed impairments
in 20 CFR Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 (416.920(d), and 416.925 and
After careful consideration of the entire record, the undersigned finds that
the claimant has the residual functional capacity to perform light work as
defined in 20 CFR 416.967(a) except can lift ten pounds frequently and
twenty pounds occasionally; requires the ability to sit/stand consistently on
an alternate basis at will; must avoid heights and hazardous machinery,
temperature extremes, ladders, ropes and other like devices; mildly limited
in the upper extremities in the ability to push/pull and can do very little
tasks requiring dexterity and manipulation. Additionally, the claimant is
limited to simple, routine, unskilled jobs with a specific vocational
preparation of one to two in nature; limited to low stress jobs with little
concentration and memory requirements and only one to two step tasks, no
production rate work and no changes in the work setting or decisionmaking requirements.
The claimant is unable to perform any past relevant work (20 CFR
The claimant was born on December 1, 1963 and was 46 years old, which
is defined as a younger individual age 18-49, on the date the application
was filed (20 CFR 416.963).
The claimant has at least a high school education and is able to
communicate English (20 CFR 416.964)
Transferability of job skills is not an issue in this case because the
claimant' s past relevant work is unskilled (20 CFR 416.968).
Considering the claimant's age, education, work experience, and residual
functional capacity, there are jobs that exist in significant numbers in the
national economy that the claimant can perform (20 CFR 416.969 and
The claimant has not been under a disability, as defined in the Social
Security Act, from January 19, 2010, the date the application was filed (20
(Id. at 18-25)
Motion for Summary Judgment
"The court shall grant summary judgment if the movant shows that there is no genuine
dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter oflaw." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(a). In determining the appropriateness of summary judgment, the Court must
"review the record taken as a whole ... draw[ing] all reasonable inferences in favor of the
nonmoving party, and it may not make credibility determinations or weigh the evidence." Reeves
v. Sanderson Plumbing Prods., Inc., 530 U.S. 133, 150 (2000) (internal quotation marks
omitted). If the Court is able to determine that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact
and that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter oflaw, summary judgment is appropriate.
See Hill v. City of Scranton, 411F.3d118, 125 (3d Cir. 2005).
Review of the ALJ's Findings
The Court must uphold the Commissioner' s factual decisions if they are supported by
"substantial evidence." See 42 U .S.C. §§ 405(g), 1383(c)(3); see also Monsour Med. Ctr. v.
Heckler, 806 F.2d 1185, 1190 (3d Cir. 1986). "Substantial evidence" means less than a
preponderance of the evidence but more than a mere scintilla of evidence. See Rutherford v.
Barnhart, 399 F.3d 546, 552 (3d Cir. 2005). As the United States Supreme Court has noted,
substantial evidence "does not mean a large or significant amount of evidence, but rather such
relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion."
Pierce v. Underwood, 487 U.S. 552, 565 (1988).
In determining whether substantial evidence supports the Commissioner' s findings , the
Court may not undertake a de nova review of the Commissioner' s decision and may not re-weigh
the evidence ofrecord. See Monsour, 806 F.2d at 1190-91. The Court' s review is limited to the
evidence that was actually presented to the ALJ. See Matthews v. Apfel, 239 F.3d 589, 593-95
(3d Cir. 2001). However, evidence that was not submitted to the ALJ can be considered by the
Appeals Council or the District Court as a basis for remanding the matter to the Commissioner
for further proceedings, pursuant to the sixth sentence of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). See Matthews , 239
F.3d at 592. "Credibility determinations are the province of the ALJ and only should be
disturbed on review if not supported by substantial evidence." Gonzalez v. As true, 537 F. Supp.
2d 644, 657 (D. Del. 2008) (internal quotation marks omitted).
The Third Circuit has explained that a "single piece of evidence will not satisfy the
substantiality test if the [Commissioner] ignores, or fails to resolve, a conflict created by
countervailing evidence. Nor is evidence substantial if it is overwhelmed by other evidence,
particularly certain types of evidence (e.g. , that offered by treating physicians) - or if it really
constitutes not evidence but mere conclusion." Kent v. Schweiker, 710 F.2d 110, 114 (3d Cir.
1983). Thus, the inquiry is not whether the Court would have made the same determination but,
rather, whether the Commissioner' s conclusion was reasonable. See Brown v. Bowen, 845 F.2d
1211 , 1213 (3d Cir. 1983). Even if the reviewing Court would have decided the case differently,
it must give deference to the ALJ and affirm the Commissioner' s decision if it is supported by
substantial evidence. See Monsour, 239 F.3d at 1190-91.
Disability Determination Process
Title XVI of the Social Security Act provides for the payment of disability benefits to
indigent persons under the SSI program. See 42 U.S .C. § 1382(a). A "disability" is defined for
purposes of SSI as the 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.
See 42 U.S.C. § 1382c(a)(3). A claimant is disabled "only if his physical or mental impairment
or impairments are of such severity that he 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)(l)(B); see also
Barnhart v. Thomas, 540 U.S. 20, 21-23 (2003).
In determining whether a person is disabled, the Commissioner is required to perform a
five-step sequential analysis. See 20 CFR § 416.920; Russo v. Astrue, 421 F. App 'x 184, 188 (3d
Cir. 2011 ). If a finding of disability or non-disability can be made at any point in the sequential
process, the Commissioner will not review the claim further. See 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(a)(4).
At step one, the Commissioner must determine whether the claimant is engaged in any
substantial gainful activity. See 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(a)(4)(i) (mandating finding of
non-disability when claimant is engaged in substantial gainful activity). If the claimant is not
engaged in substantial gainful activity, step two requires the Commissioner to determine whether
the claimant is suffering from a severe impairment or a combination of impairments that is
severe. See 20 CFR § 416.920(a)(4)(ii) (mandating finding of non-disability when claimant's
impairments are not severe). If the claimant's impairments are severe, the Commissioner, at step
three, compares the claimant' s impairments to a list of impairments that are presumed severe
enough to preclude any gainful work. See 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(a)(4)(iii). When a claimant's
impairment or its equivalent matches an impairment in the listing, the claimant is presumed
disabled. See id. If a claimant' s impairment, either singly or in combination, fails to meet or
medically equal any listing, the analysis continues to steps four and five. See 20 C.F.R. §
At step four, the Commissioner determines whether the claimant retains the RFC to
perform her past relevant work. See 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(a)(4)(iv) (stating claimant is not
disabled if able to return to past relevant work). A claimant' s RFC is "that which an individual is
still able to do despite the limitations caused by his or her impairment(s)." Fargnoli v.
Massanari, 247 F.3d 34, 40 (3d Cir. 2001 ). "The claimant bears the burden of demonstrating an
inability to return to her past relevant work." Plummer v. Apfel, 186 F.3d 422 , 428 (3d Cir.
1999) (internal citation omitted). If the claimant is unable to return to her past relevant work,
step five requires the Commissioner to determine whether the claimant' s impairments preclude
her from adjusting to any other available work. See 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(a)(4)(v) (mandating
finding of non-disability when claimant can adjust to other work); Plummer, 186 F.3d at 428. At
this last step, the burden is on the Commissioner to show that the claimant is capable of
performing other available work before denying disability benefits. Plummer, 186 F.3d at 428 .
In other words, the Commissioner must prove that "there are other jobs existing in significant
numbers in the national economy which the claimant can perform, consistent with [her] medical
impairments, age, education, past work experience, and [RFC]." Id. In making this
determination, the ALJ must analyze the cumulative effect of all of the claimant' s impairments.
See id. At this step, the ALJ often seeks the assistance of a VE. See id.
Arguments on Appeal
Plaintiff contends that the ALJ (1) "failed to meet her burden of proving the existence of
a significant number of jobs in the national economy that Plaintiff can perform" and (2) "failed to
properly weigh all of the relevant medical evidence, and mischaracterized, misinterpreted, or
misunderstood the consultative examiner' s findings regarding Plaintiffs disabling mental
impairments." (D.I. 15 at 2) In response, the Commissioner argues that the ALJ's findings were
supported by substantial evidence, and the decision should be affirmed. (See D.I. 17 at 2) The
Court addresses each of these disputes below.
Existence of a Significant Number of Jobs in the
National Economy that Plaintiff Could Perform
In assessing Guinn' s RFC, the ALJ limited Guinn to jobs requiring "very little tasks
requiring dexterity and manipulation," as well as "one to two step tasks." (Id. at 21, 49) Plaintiff
argues that the jobs identified by the VE - night patrol inspector, office helper, and ticket
taker/usher (Tr. at 49-50) - do not meet these two functional limitations. Specifically, Plaintiff
argues that all three jobs require frequent handling, that the first two require frequent fingering,
and that all three require a reasoning level of 2.
The Dictionary of Occupational Titles ("DOT") defines the job of night patrol inspector
Patrols scheduled route to inspect operation of illuminated and
animated signs: Drives company car along scheduled route at
night. Inspects signs covered by company maintenance contract
for specified appearance and operation. Reports faulty operation to
service department. May perform minor repairs, such as replacing
DICOT 824.683-010 Night-Patrol Inspector, 1991 WL 681741. The DOT defines the job of
ticket taker as follows:
Collects admission tickets and passes from patrons at
entertainment events : Examines ticket or pass to verify
authenticity, using criteria such as color and date issued. Refuses
admittance to patrons without ticket or pass, or who are
undesirable for reasons, such as intoxication or improper attire.
May direct patrons to their seats. May distribute door checks to
patrons temporarily leaving establishment. .. .
DICOT 344.667-010 Ticket Taker, 1991 WL 672863. Lastly, the DOT defines the job of office
helper as follows:
Performs any combination of following duties in business office of
commercial or industrial establishment: Furnishes workers with
clerical supplies. Opens, sorts, and distributes incoming mail, and
collects, seals, and stamps outgoing mail. Delivers oral or written
messages. Collects and distributes paperwork, such as records or
timecards, from one department to another. Marks, tabulates, and
files articles and records. May use office equipment, such as
envelope-sealing machine, letter opener, record shaver, stamping
machine, and transcribing machine ....
DICOT 239.567-010 Office Helper, 1991WL672232.
The VE testified that all three of these jobs meet all of the functional limitations
identified by the ALJ. (See Tr. at 48-50) Any inconsistencies between a VE ' s testimony and the
DOT do not automatically "mandate remand, so long as ' substantial evidence exists in other
portions of the record that can form an appropriate basis to support the result. "' Zirnsak v.
Colvin, 777 F.3d 607, 617 (3d Cir. 2014) (quoting Rutherford, 399 F.3d at 557).
The Court agrees with Plaintiff that the job of office helper does not fit within the
limitations set by the ALJ, as this job requires a "medium degree of aptitude ability," equivalent
to the middle third of the population, for both finger dexterity and manual dexterity. See DI COT
239.567-010 Office Helper, 1991 WL 672232. Accordingly, the Court does not consider the
position of office helper in assessing whether the Commissioner proved there are a significant
number of jobs in the national economy that Plaintiff can perform.
However, the Court need not remand on this basis if the other two options identified by
the VE satisfy the requirement of a significant number of jobs in the national economy that could
be performed by Plaintiff. See generally Craigie v. Bowen, 835 F.2d 56, 58 (3d Cir. 1987)
(explaining that 200 jobs in region is "clear indication" of substantial gainful employment
The other two jobs identified by the VE require only a "low degree of aptitude ability" for
finger dexterity and manual dexterity, equivalent to the lowest third of the population excluding
the bottom 10%. See DICOT 824.683 -010 Night-Patrol Inspector, 1991WL681741 ; DICOT
344.667-010 Ticket Taker, 1991 WL 672863 . Plaintiff does not explain why he believes the jobs
of night patrol inspector and ticket taker are inconsistent with "very little tasks requiring dexterity
and manipulation," and the Court does not perceive any such inconsistency. Indeed, with respect
to ticket taker, Plaintiff concedes in his Reply Brief that this job does not require frequent
fingering (see D.I. 19 at 1), and the DOT does not indicate that collecting and examining
admission tickets necessarily requires frequent manipulation, see DI COT 344.667-010 Ticket
Taker, 1991WL672863 . With respect to the night patrol inspector, aside from the occasional
light bulb change or other minor repair which is commensurate with "manipulation on an
occasional basis," this job appears to require use of hands only for driving, see DI COT 824.683010 Night-Patrol Inspector, 1991 WL 681741 , which the ALJ noted is one of Plaintiff's daily
living activities (see Tr. at 19; see also id. at 23, 245-50).
Next, Plaintiff argues that all the jobs identified by the VE require a reasoning level of 2,
but the ALJ limited him to "simple, routine, unskilled jobs with a specific vocational preparation
of one to two in nature; limited to low stress jobs with little concentration, one or two step tasks,
no production rate work and no changes in the work setting or decision-making requirements,"
which Plaintiff believes to be equivalent to a reasoning level of 1. (Tr. at 21 (emphasis added) ;
see also id. at 49 (' jobs that are low stress in nature, concentration and memory and that - by that
I mean one or two step jobs, one or two step tasks, no production rate work, jobs that have little
judgment or changes in the work setting or decisions to, to perform the work") (emphasis added))
A reasoning level of 2 requires the ability to " [a]pply commonsense understanding to carry out
detailed but uninvolved written or oral instructions" and "[ d]eal with problems involving a few
concrete variables in or from standardized situations." DI COT 824.683-010 Night-Patrol
Inspector, 1991 WL 681741. Plaintiff contends that this is inconsistent with the functional
limitation of "one or two step tasks" because "one or two step tasks" typically corresponds with a
reasoning level of 1. See, e.g., DICOT 575 .685-050 Lead Former, 1991 WL 684069
("Reasoning: Level 1 - Apply commonsense understanding to carry out simple one- or two-step
instructions. Deal with standardized situations with occasional or no variables in or from these
situations encountered on the job."). The Court disagrees.
Here, as in Thompson v. As true, " [t]he ALJ's inclusion of the words 'one- to two-step
tasks ' in [his] RFC limitations did not limit Plaintiff to jobs with a reasoning level of 1. Courts
in other districts have held that these words are not inconsistent with a reasoning level of 2."
2009 WL 7007996, at *12 (E.D. Pa. Jan. 30, 2009) (citing cases), adopted by 2010 WL 4159154
(E.D. Pa. Oct. 22, 2010). Rather, " [a]ppl[ying] commonsense understanding to carry out detailed
but uninvolved written or oral instructions," such as patrolling a scheduled route or checking
admission tickets, and " [d]eal[ing] with problems involving a few concrete variables in or from
standardized situations," such as changing a lightbulb or directing patrons to their seats, are not
necessarily inconsistent with the ALJ's limitation of "one or two step tasks. " Indeed, considering
the record as a whole, as did the ALJ, Plaintiff retained the ability to conduct daily living tasks
such as driving to appointments, buying groceries, and cleaning his house. (See Tr. at 20, 24546) Because there is substantial evidence to support the ALJ's conclusion that Plaintiff could
perform the jobs of night patrol inspector and ticket taker, the Court concludes that there are a
significant number of jobs in the national economy that Plaintiff could perform.
Dr. Chester's Report
"Because non-examining state agency medical and psychological consultants are ' highly
qualified' physicians and psychologists and ' experts in the evaluation of the medical issues in
disability claims under the Social Security Act (the ' Act'),' their opinions on [a] claimant' s
residual functional capacity are entitled to weight. " Jopson v. Astrue, 517 F. Supp. 2d 689, 702
(D. Del. 2007) (citing 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1527(e)(2)(i), 416.927(e)(2)(i)); see also Chandler v.
Comm 'r of Soc. Sec., 667 F.3d 356, 361 (3d Cir. 2011) ("[S]tate agency opinions merit
significant consideration."); Coleman v. Comm 'r of Soc. Sec., 494 F. App ' x 252, 254 (3d Cir.
2012). Here, the ALJ expressly gave "considerable weight" to Dr. Chester' s report (see Tr. at
23), which, among other things, provisionally diagnosed by Dr. Chester with malingering (s ee id.
Plaintiff contends that the ALJ failed to include in his RFC analysis - or otherwise
explain his reasons for rejecting - certain functional limitations identified by Dr. Chester, namely
moderate limitations in ability to relate to other people and to perform complex tasks, and
moderately severe limitations in comprehending and following instructions and performing work
requiring frequent contact with others. (See id. at 392) These limitations were explicitly noted in
the ALJ's explanation of his RFC. 3 (Id. at 23) With respect to moderate limitations in carrying
out complex tasks and moderately severe limitations in comprehending and following
instructions, the ALJ reasonably accounted for these limitations by including in his RFC the
limitations of routine, unskilled, low-stress jobs requiring little concentration and memory, only
"one to two step tasks," no production rate work, and a specific vocational preparation ("SVP")
of 1 or 2. (Id. at 21) With respect to moderate limitations in ability to relate to others and
moderately severe limitations in performing work requiring frequent contact with others, the ALJ
noted several times that Plaintiff s "psychological treatment notes during the period at issue
indicated the claimant' s mental status was within normal limits" and that his GAF scores
indicated only moderate to mild symptoms. (See id. at 20, 23 -24) Moreover, because the ALJ
noted that Plaintiffs daily living activities consisted in part of talking to others about his ADHD
(see id. at 23), it was not unreasonable for the ALJ to exclude social functioning limitations from
his RFC, to the extent they go beyond those captured by the ALJ' s express requirement of lowstress jobs.
Guinn further argues that the ALJ misinterpreted or misunderstood Dr. Chester' s findings
with respect to his tangential and perseverative thought process because the ALJ referenced these
findings in minimizing the severity of Quinn' s functional limitations. The Court disagrees with
Plaintiffs interpretation of the ALJ's discussion of the tangential and perseverative thought
Indeed, in concluding that Plaintiff had moderate difficulties with concentration,
persistence, or pace, the ALJ credited Plaintiffs own testimony that "he had a poor ability to
follow written and spoken instructions." (Id. at 20)
process. The ALJ expressly cited Plaintiffs tangential and perseverative thought process in
support of his finding of "severe psychological impairments." (Id. at 24) Rather than in
decreasing the severity of Plaintiffs difficulties in concentration, persistence, or pace, the ALJ
appears to have referred to the tangential and perseverative thought process in finding moderate
difficulties in this realm despite the facts that Plaintiffs "mental status was within normal limits"
at all relevant times and that Plaintiff was able to prepare meals, do some cleaning, go outside,
drive, walk, or use public transportation. (See id. at 20) Similarly, the ALJ's reference to
Plaintiffs tangential and perseverative thought process in explaining why the ALJ concluded
"the evidence of record does not support the level of functional limitations alleged by the
claimant" does not suggest that the ALJ believed these issues minimized Plaintiffs situation;
rather, the ALJ thoroughly summarized the medical evidence and found that, based on the record
as a whole, Plaintiff overstated the severity of the functional limitations caused by his ADHD and
depression. (See id. at 22-23) Particularly in light of Dr. Chester' s provisional diagnosis of
"malingering" (id. at 399) and Dr. Ayoola ' s observation that Plaintiff may have intentionally
refused to tie his shoelaces when asked (id. at 391), there is substantial evidence to support the
ALJ's conclusion. In short, there is substantial evidence to support the ALJ's analysis of Dr.
Chester' s report.
For the reasons given above, the Court will grant Defendant' s motion for summary
judgment and deny Plaintiffs motion for summary judgment. An appropriate Order follows .
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