SCIPIO v. ASTRUE
MEMORANDUM AND/OR OPINION. SIGNED BY HONORABLE RONALD L. BUCKWALTER ON 7/23/2014. 7/24/2014 ENTERED AND COPIES E-MAILED.(kk, )
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE EASTERN DISTRICT OF PENNSYLVANIA
CAROLYN W. COLVIN,
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY,
July 23, 2014
Currently pending before the Court are Plaintiff John Johnson’s Objections to the Report and
Recommendation of United States Magistrate Judge Henry S. Perkin. For the following reasons, the
Objections are overruled.
On April 1, 2008, Plaintiff Cassandra Scipio protectively filed applications for Disability
Insurance Benefits (“DIB”) pursuant to Title II of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. § 401, et seq.,
and for Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”) pursuant to Title XVI of the Social Security Act, 42
U.S.C. § 1381, et seq. (R. 100–04.)1 Her claim alleged disability, since January 8, 2008, due to
“[s]troke, difficult walking, talking/speech, walking with cane.” (R. 121.) The state agency denied
Plaintiff’s applications on July 29, 2008. (Id. at 60–69.) Plaintiff timely requested a hearing before
an administrative law judge (“ALJ”). (Id. at 73–77.) Following the hearing—at which only Plaintiff
testified—ALJ Stephen Bosch issued a decision, dated February 4, 2009, deeming Plaintiff “not
disabled.” (Id. at 12–19, 31–56.) On June 10, 2009, the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff’s request
For ease of discussion, citations to the administrative record will be referenced as “R.
for review, (id. at 1–4), making the ALJ’s ruling the final decision of the agency. See 20 C.F.R. §
404.972; 20 C.F.R. § 416.1572.
Plaintiff initiated litigation in federal court and, on June 7, 2010, the Honorable Lowell A.
Reed remanded the case for further administrative proceedings. Scipio v. Astrue, No. Civ.A.093071, 2010 WL 2349044 (E.D. Pa. June 7, 2010). In doing so, Judge Reed determined that the ALJ
failed to fully discuss all of the relevant evidence regarding Plaintiff’s mental impairment and,
therefore, did not support his finding of non-severity with substantial evidence. Id. at *1–2. The
Appeals Council thereafter returned the case to the ALJ for further proceedings consistent with the
District Court’s Order. (R. 337–39.)
ALJ Bosch held a second hearing on March 3, 2011. (Id. at 344–63.) By way of a second
decision issued on March 24, 2011, the ALJ again denied Plaintiff’s request for SSI and DIB. (Id. at
310–18.) The Appeals Council subsequently denied Plaintiff’s exceptions. (Id. at 300–02, 403–05.)
For purposes of the DIB application, Plaintiff’s date last insured was June 30, 2013. (Id. at 442.)
Plaintiff commenced the current litigation in this Court on August 10, 2012. Her Request for
Review set forth three alleged errors as follows: (1) whether the ALJ applied proper legal standards
in evaluating Plaintiff’s credibility; (2) whether the ALJ failed to consider Plaintiff’s work record in
assessing credibility; and (3) whether the ALJ’s finding at the severity step is supported by
substantial evidence. On March 31, 2014, United States Magistrate Judge Henry S. Perkin issued a
Report and Recommendation (“R&R”) recommending that Plaintiff’s Request for Review be denied
and that judgment be entered in favor of Defendant.
Plaintiff filed Objections to the R&R on April 8, 2014, asserting that: (1) the Magistrate
Judge erred in finding both that the ALJ carefully considered all of the evidence and that the ALJ
reasonably concluded that Plaintiff does not have a severe mental impairment; (2) the Magistrate
Judge improperly found that the ALJ did not need to consider GAF scores of record; and (3) the
Magistrate Judge improperly found that the ALJ did not err in failing to consider Plaintiff’s good
work record in assessing credibility. Defendant submitted a Response to the Objections on April 24,
2014 and Plaintiff filed a Reply Brief on April 25, 2014, making this matter ripe for judicial review.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
Standard for Judicial Review of an ALJ’s Decision
It is well-established that judicial review of the Commissioner’s decision is limited to
determining whether “substantial evidence” supports the decision. Burnett v. Comm’r of Soc. Sec.
Admin., 220 F.3d 112, 118 (3d Cir. 2000). “Substantial evidence ‘does not mean a large or
considerable amount of evidence, but rather such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might
accept as adequate to support a conclusion.’” Hartranft v. Apfel, 181 F.3d 358, 360 (3d Cir. 1999)
(quoting Pierce v. Underwood, 487 U.S. 552, 564–65 (1988)). When making this determination, a
reviewing court may not undertake a de novo review of the Commissioner’s decision and may not reweigh the evidence of record. Monsour Med. Ctr. v. Heckler, 806 F.2d 1185, 1190 (3d Cir. 1986).
In other words, even if the reviewing court, acting de novo, would have decided the case differently,
the Commissioner’s decision must be affirmed when supported by substantial evidence. Id. at
1190–91; see also Gilmore v. Barnhart, 356 F. Supp. 2d 509, 511 (E.D. Pa. 2005) (holding that the
court’s scope of review is “‘limited to determining whether the Commissioner applied the correct
legal standards and whether the record, as a whole, contains substantial evidence to support the
Commissioner’s findings of fact’”) (quoting Schwartz v. Halter, 134 F. Supp. 2d 640, 647 (E.D. Pa.
Standard of Review of Objections to a Report and Recommendation
Where a party makes a timely and specific objection to a portion of a report and
The five-step sequential analysis for assessing a disability claim was adequately
summarized by the Magistrate Judge. In lieu of repeating that discussion, the Court incorporates
by reference that portion of the R&R into this Memorandum.
recommendation by a United States Magistrate Judge, the district court is obliged to engage in de
novo review of only those issues raised on objection. 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1); see also Sample v.
Diecks, 885 F.2d 1099, 1106 n.3 (3d Cir. 1989). In so doing, a court may “accept, reject, or modify,
in whole or in part, the findings and recommendations” contained in the report. 28 U.S.C. §
636(b)(1). The court may also, in the exercise of sound judicial discretion, rely on the Magistrate
Judge’s proposed findings and recommendations. See United States v. Raddatz, 447 U.S. 667, 676
Whether the Magistrate Judge Erred in Finding that the ALJ Properly
Concluded that Plaintiff Does Not Have a Severe Mental Impairment
Plaintiff’s first objection involves the ALJ’s finding at Step Two of the Sequential Evaluation
Process. Step Two places a burden on the claimant to show that her impairment is severe. 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.1520(c), 416.920(c). An impairment is “severe” when it is “of a magnitude sufficient to limit
significantly the individual’s ‘physical or mental ability to do basic work activities.’” Santise v.
Schweiker, 676 F.2d 925, 927 (3d Cir. 1982) (quotations omitted). Conversely, a non-severe
impairment does not significantly limit or has only a minimal effect on a claimant’s physical or
mental ability to do basic work activities.3 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1521(a), 416.921(a); see also Bowen v.
Yuckert, 482 U.S. 137, 154 n.12 (1987).
The Social Security regulations set forth a special two-step procedure for assessing the
severity of a plaintiff’s mental impairments. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520a and 416.920a. First, the ALJ
These basic work activities include: “(1) [p]hysical functions such as walking, standing,
sitting, lifting, pushing, pulling, reaching, carrying, or handling; (2) [c]apacities for seeing,
hearing, and speaking; (3) [u]nderstanding, carrying out, and remembering simple instructions;
(4) [u]se of judgment; (5) [r]esponding appropriately to supervision, co-workers and usual work
situations; and (6) [d]ealing with changes in a routine work setting.” 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1521(b),
must evaluate the symptoms, signs, and laboratory findings in the record to determine whether the
plaintiff has medically determinable mental impairments. Id. §§ 404.1520a(b)(1), 416.920a(b)(1).
Second, the ALJ must rate the degree of the plaintiff’s functional limitations resulting from the
mental impairments in the following areas: (1) activities of daily living; (2) social functioning; (3)
concentration, persistence, or pace; and (4) episodes of decompensation. Id. §§ 404.1520a(b)(2) &
(c), 416.920a(b)(2) & (c). If the ALJ rates the plaintiff’s limitations in the first three functional areas
as “none” or “mild,” and “none” in the fourth area, the ALJ will conclude that the alleged mental
impairment is not severe. Id. §§ 404.1520a(d)(1), 416.920a(d)(1). If the plaintiff is found to have
severe mental impairments, the ALJ will then determine whether the plaintiff’s impairments meet or
equal the severity of any listed impairment. Id. §§ 404.1520a(d)(2), 416.920a(d)(2).
The Social Security regulations also set forth the standard for proper documentation of the
special technique at steps two and three of the sequential evaluation process. Id. §§ 404.1520a(e),
416.920a(e). When an ALJ or the Appeals Council makes a determination regarding the severity of
mental impairments, “the written decision must incorporate the pertinent findings and conclusions
based on the technique.” Id. §§ 404.1520a(e)(4), 416.920a(e)(4). In particular, the written decision
must contain the plaintiff’s significant history, including medical evidence, and each functional
limitation that was considered in the final decision. Id. The ALJ also must make specific findings as
to the degree of limitation in each of the four functional areas. Id.
In the present case, the ALJ concluded, at Step Two, that Plaintiff did not have a severe
impairment or combination of impairments that has significantly limited or is expected to
significantly limit the ability to perform basic work-related activities for twelve consecutive months.
The Magistrate Judge found no error in the ALJ’s analysis and, upon thorough review of the mental
health records, concluded that the evidence of record substantiated the ALJ’s decision.
Plaintiff now argues that the Magistrate Judge’s analysis was erroneous because the ALJ
failed to consider repeated notations of observable symptoms of depression including “poor
attention, angry, irritable, depressed mood, loose thought, inappropriate affect, suspiciousness,
pressured loud speech, blunted affect, tearfulness, uncooperative behavior and bizarre appearance.”
(Pl.’s Objections 2–3.) Plaintiff goes on to assert that the Magistrate Judge did not dispute these
omissions by the ALJ, but rather went on to supply a post-hoc analysis with record citations that
were not included in the ALJ’s decision.
This argument is meritless. Plaintiff is correct that “[t]he grounds upon which an
administrative order must be judged are those upon which the record discloses that its action was
based.” SEC v. Chenery Corp., 318 U.S. 80, 87 (1943). As such, “‘[t]he ALJ’s decision must stand
or fall with the reasons set forth in the ALJ’s decision;’ the Commissioner may not offer a post-hoc
rationalization.” Keiderling v. Astrue, No. Civ.A.07-2237, 2008 WL 2120154, at *3 (E.D. Pa. May
20, 2008) (quoting Newton v. Apfel, 209 F.3d 448, 455 (5th Cir. 2000)). Nonetheless, a court is not
required “to read the ALJ’s opinion in a vacuum.” Knox v. Astrue, No. Civ.A.09-1075, 2010 WL
1212561, at *7 (W.D. Pa. May 26, 2010). The standard of review still requires that the reviewing
court examine the record as a whole to determine whether the ALJ’s reasoning is supported by
substantial evidence. Gaul v. Barnhart, No. Civ.A.07-351, 2008 WL 4082265, at *5 n.6 (E.D. Pa.
Aug. 25, 2008). “A ‘comprehensive explanation’ need not always accompany a decision to reject a
piece of probative evidence, since ‘a sentence or short paragraph would probably suffice’ in most
instances.” Knox, 2010 WL 1212561, at *7 (quoting Cotter v. Harris, 650 F.2d 481, 482 (3d Cir.
1981)). Moreover, “[n]o principle of administrative law or common sense requires us to remand a
case in quest of a perfect opinion unless there is reason to believe that the remand might lead to a
different result.” Fisher v. Bowen, 869 F.2d 1055, 1057 (7th Cir. 1989). In other words, where there
is error by the ALJ, but the error would not affect the outcome of the case, remand is not warranted.
Rutherford v. Barnhart, 399 F.3d 546, 553 (3d Cir. 2005).
The ALJ, in this matter, engaged in an extensive analysis of the mental health records.
Specifically, the ALJ discussed Plaintiff’s comprehensive psychiatric evaluation/re-evaluation in
January of 2011 at Northwestern Human Services, together with treatment records for her ongoing
treatment of anxiety. (R. 315.) The ALJ expressly rejected many of the conclusions in the
evaluation as well as many of the notations of observable symptoms of depression in the treatment
notes by virtue of the fact that Plaintiff repeatedly perpetuated false claims of having a stroke in
2007. (Id. at 315.) The ALJ specifically remarked that:
Overall, it is clear that the claimant’s credibility is a serious issue in this case. The
medical evidence of record does not demonstrate any rational reasoning for the cause of
her depression and anxiety, as she continues to maintain both cardiac and orthopedic
problems that do not exist. Northwestern Human Services appears to have taken her
medical history at face value and included them in their evaluations. Since they never
occurred, the undersigned has to consider the fact that their evaluations would result in
different conclusions, with likely far higher GAF scores, had it be[en] known that her
history was fictional. Additionally, the undersigned noted that there are a number of
notes that mention that she is self-sufficient with self-care and toileting . . . showing that
she is fully capable of standard functioning and living independently.
(Id. at 315.) The ALJ then went on to consider the Consultative Examination Report of Dr. Murphy,
the Consultative Examination Report of Dr. Kaufman, and the Psychiatric Review Technique and
Mental Residual Functional Capacity Assessment of state agency psychologist Dr. Rightmyer. (Id. at
315–16.) The ALJ further commented on the fact that no treating or evaluating physician has
suggested that Plaintiff could not work because of her impairments. (Id. at 315.) Ultimately, the
ALJ concluded that although Plaintiff did, in fact, have a medically determinable mental impairment,
she had no more than mild limitations in any of the first three broad functional areas and no episodes
of decompensation in the fourth functional area. (Id. at 316–17.) As such, he held that Plaintiff’s
mental impairment “does not significantly limit the claimant’s ability to perform basic work
activities.” (Id. at 317.)
To the extent that the ALJ did not specifically note every time a treatment report made
mention of an observable symptom of depression or anxiety, the error is harmless. Requiring the
ALJ to document each such notation—particularly in light of the ALJ’s presumption that Plaintiff
had some type of mental impairment—would result in nothing more than an excessively lengthy
opinion reaching the same ultimate conclusion that the mental impairment did not significantly affect
Plaintiff’s functional abilities. Although Plaintiff surmises, based on nothing more than her own
conjecture, that “[p]oor attention, suspiciousness, uncooperative behavior, impulsivity, inappropriate
pressured angry and rambling speech are all symptoms that would cause functional limitations in the
work place,” (Pl.’s Objections 3), Plaintiff does not point to any medical evidence of record
suggesting that she was functionally limited by such symptoms.4 Accordingly, the Court finds no
error in this regard.
To the extent that the Magistrate Judge separately discussed why the treatment records upon
which Plaintiff relies did not support a finding of a severe impairment, the Court also finds no error.
Contrary to Plaintiff’s contentions, the Magistrate Judge’s discussion was not a post-hoc
rationalization for the ALJ’s conclusion, but rather a response to Plaintiff’s argument and an
elaboration on evidence that the ALJ had expressly considered and rejected. As indicated above, the
ALJ undertook a review of the treatment notes, but discounted many of the reported symptoms due to
Plaintiff’s false reporting of her medical history. In response to Plaintiff’s challenge to the ALJ’s
failure to mention notations of depressive symptoms, the Magistrate Judge provided a thorough
Plaintiff asserts that Dr. Kaufman, an examining physician, determined that Plaintiff
had marked impairment in all areas related to supervision, co-workers and work pressures, and
marked impairment in ability to carry out short, simple instructions, and make judgments on
simple work-related decisions. (Pl.’s Objections 3–4.) Dr. Kaufman’s mental status
examination, however, was almost entirely unremarkable and he based his diagnosis of affective
disorder on her alleged stroke. (R. 226–27.) Although the ALJ considered Dr. Kaufman’s
observations, he gave little weight to the Consultative Examination Report “as it is clear that [Dr.
Kaufman’s] findings were based on the claimant’s false allegations. As his only diagnosis is
plainly based on the false statements about her strokes, his conclusions are also flawed and given
little weight.” (Id. at 316.)
explanation of how many of these same treatment notes reflected that Plaintiff was not limited by any
mental impairment. (R&R 16–19.) Therefore, the Court finds no improper post-hoc rationalization
by the Magistrate Judge.5
In short, the Court deems the ALJ’s decision regarding the severity of Plaintiff’s mental
health impairment to be well supported by substantial evidence. As clearly and thoroughly explained
by the Magistrate Judge, the ALJ considered and weighed all of the evidence of record to
appropriately conclude that although Plaintiff had a mental health impairment, it was not “severe” as
defined by the Social Security regulations. Therefore, the Court overrules this Objection.
Whether the Magistrate Judge Improperly Found that the ALJ Did Not Need to
Consider GAF Scores of Record
Plaintiff’s second objection concerns the ALJ’s alleged disregard of Global Assessment of
Functioning (“GAF”) scores in the record.6 Specifically, the ALJ noted that a November 2008
psychiatric evaluation by Northwestern Human Services diagnosed Plaintiff with anxiety disorder
and a GAF score of fifty.7 (R. 314.) Approximately one month later, at a second evaluation by
Northwestern Human Services, Plaintiff was diagnosed with panic disorder, mood disorder
Plaintiff takes issue with the Magistrate Judge’s citation to mental health observations
by Dr. Wayne Arnold, a cardiologist. (R&R 17.) Plaintiff asserts that the Magistrate’s reliance
on these observations is improper because Dr. Arnold was not qualified in this area. This
objection is meritless. The question before the Court is whether the ALJ’s decision is supported
by substantial evidence. The ALJ did not rely on Dr. Arnold’s remarks in reaching his severity
A GAF score is a “numerical summary of a clinician’s judgment of [an] individual's
overall level of functioning . . . .” See American Psychiatric Association: Diagnostic and
Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM–IV–TR) 32 (4th ed. 2000).
A GAF score in the range of forty-one to fifty indicates “[s]erious symptoms (e.g.,
suicidal ideation, severe obsessional rituals, frequent shoplifting) OR any serious impairment in
social, occupational, or school functioning (e .g., no friends, unable to keep a job).” DSM
IV–TR at 34.
secondary to a cardiovascular accident, and a GAF score of fifty-five.8 (Id. at 314.) The ALJ
“considered the fact that the claimant’s GAF scores indicate only a moderate impairment, and also
considered that they were further based on false reports of physical ‘impairments’ that are not
documented in the record. Removing the claimant’s false reporting would necessarily result in
higher GAF scores, since that reporting is the primary basis for her alleged anxiety.” (Id.) On
review, the Magistrate Judge deemed this conclusion well supported by substantial evidence given
the relatively mild findings from the Northwestern Human Services evaluations and Plaintiff’s
obvious false reporting. (R&R 18.) The Magistrate Judge also remarked that a GAF score has no
direct bearing on a mental impairment evaluation under Social Security disability evaluation criteria.
(Id. at 17 (citing Gilroy v. Astrue, 351 F. App’x 714, 715 (3d Cir. 2009).) Ultimately, the R&R
recommended that the ALJ’s decision be affirmed on this ground.
Plaintiff now argues that, under established law, GAF scores must be mentioned and the
ALJ’s failure to do so constitutes grounds for remand. The Court finds this argument meritless.
While the Third Circuit has held that a “GAF score does not have a direct correlation to the severity
requirements of the Social Security mental disorder listings,” Gilroy v. Astrue, 351 F. App’x 714,
715–16 (3d Cir. 2009),“[t]he district courts in the Third Circuit have repeatedly held that the ALJ’s
failure to specifically discuss a GAF score that supports serious impairments in social or
occupational functioning is cause for remand.” Rivera v. Astrue, No. Civ.A.12-6622, 2014 WL
1281136, at *7 (E.D. Pa. March 27, 2014) (emphasis added) (citing cases). “Because a GAF score
constitutes medical evidence accepted and relied upon by a medical source, it should be addressed by
an ALJ in making a determination regarding a claimant’s disability.” West v. Astrue, No. Civ.A.092655, 2010 WL 1659712, at *6 (E.D. Pa. Apr. 26, 2010). Generally, “[f]ailure to mention or discuss
A GAF score of 51 to 60 represents moderate symptoms or any moderate difficulty in
social, occupational, or school functioning. DSM IV-TR at 34.
GAF scores in the forty-one to fifty range merits remand.” Joseph v. Astrue, No. Civ.A.11-2668,
2012 WL 4459796, at *6 (E.D. Pa. Apr. 26, 2012). Notably, however, an ALJ may choose to
discount a GAF score based on evidence in the record. Sweeney v. Comm’r of Soc. Sec., 847 F.
Supp. 2d 797, 805 (W.D. Pa. 2012). For example, in Rios v. Commissioner of Social Security, 444
F. App’x 532 (3d Cir. 2011), the ALJ failed to discuss two GAF scores of 50, but did make specific
reference to the consultative examiner’s GAF score of 50–55. Rios, 444 F. App’x at 535. Finding
no error, the Third Circuit reasoned that the “ALJ was not ‘cherry picking’ or ignoring medical
assessments that ran counter to her finding” and instead “used a score that . . . reflect[ed] Rios’s
therapist’s and doctors’ notes that his symptoms ranged from moderate to severe.” Id.
In the present case, the ALJ’s decision suffers from none of the defects that would require
remand. Plaintiff had only two GAF scores—a fifty and a fifty-five—only one of which indicated
any serious symptoms. The ALJ addressed both scores, noting that the second score was issued a
month after the first and by the same mental health facility, thereby suggesting significant
improvement in a brief period. Moreover, the ALJ expressly accorded little weight to the GAF
scores as they were based on false reporting of Plaintiff’s medical history. Finally, as aptly noted by
the Magistrate Judge, substantial evidence supports the ALJ’s disregard of the lower GAF score
since the evaluations accompanying that score—an evaluation that was explicitly discussed by the
ALJ—showed no remarkable mental health symptoms. In short, unlike the multitude of cases
requiring remand due to an ALJ’s complete failure to discuss GAF scores or “cherry-picking” among
multiple GAF scores, the ALJ in this matter acknowledged both scores, discussed their relevance
pursuant to applicable jurisprudence, and cited substantial evidence to support his decision to accord
lower weight to those scores. As such, the Court overrules Plaintiff’s objection on this point.
Whether the Magistrate Judge Improperly Found that the ALJ Did Not Err in
Failing to Consider Plaintiff’s Good Work Record in Assessing Credibility
Plaintiff’s final objection concerns the Magistrate Judge’s affirmation of the ALJ’s credibility
assessment. It is well established that an ALJ is required to “give serious consideration to a
claimant’s subjective complaints of pain [or other symptoms], even where those complaints are not
supported by objective evidence.” Mason v. Shalala, 994 F.2d 1058, 1067 (3d Cir. 1993) (citing
Ferguson v. Schweiker, 765 F.2d 31, 37 (3d Cir. 1985)). Objective evidence of the symptoms
themselves need not exist, although there must be objective evidence of some condition that could
reasonably produce them. Green v. Schweiker, 749 F.2d 1066, 1070–71 (3d Cir. 1984). Where
medical evidence supports a claimant’s complaints, the “complaints should then be given ‘great
weight’ and may not be disregarded unless there exists contrary medical evidence.” Mason, 994 F.2d
at 1067–68 (quotations omitted). The ALJ, however, “has the right, as the fact finder, to reject
partially, or even entirely, such subjective complaints if they are not fully credible.” Weber v.
Massanari, 156 F. Supp. 2d 475, 485 (E.D. Pa. 2001) (citing Baerga v. Richardson, 500 F.2d 309,
312 (3d Cir. 1974)).
Under the regulations, the kinds of evidence that the ALJ must consider when assessing the
credibility of an individual’s statements include: the individual’s daily activity; location, duration,
frequency, and intensity of the individual’s symptoms; factors precipitating and aggravating the
symptoms; the type, dosage, effectiveness, and side effects of medication taken to alleviate the
symptoms; treatment, other than medication, received for relief of the symptoms; any non-treatment
measures the individual uses to relieve pain or symptoms; and other factors concerning the
individual’s functional limitations and restrictions due to pain or other symptoms. 20 C.F.R. §
404.1529(c)(3); 20 C.F.R. § 416.929(c)(3). Moreover, the ALJ should account for the claimant’s
statements, appearance, and demeanor; medical signs and laboratory findings; and physicians’
opinions regarding the credibility and severity of plaintiff’s subjective complaints. Weber, 156 F.
Supp. 2d at 485 (citing Social Security Ruling (“SSR”) 96-7p, 1996 WL 374186 (S.S.A. 1996)).
Ultimately, the ALJ’s “‘determination or decision must contain specific reasons for the finding on
credibility, supported by the evidence in the case record, and must be sufficiently specific to make
clear to the individual and to any subsequent reviewers the weight the adjudicator gave to the
individual’s statements and the reasons for that weight.’” Schwartz v. Halter, 134 F. Supp. 2d 640,
654 (E.D. Pa. 2001) (quoting SSR 96-7p; Schaudeck v. Comm’r of Soc. Sec. Admin., 181 F.3d 429,
433 (3d Cir. 1999)).
To the extent Plaintiff objects to the ALJ’s general credibility determination in the present
case, her argument is misplaced. The ALJ engaged in a lengthy and thorough discussion of all of the
foregoing factors. (R. 313–15.) Based on Plaintiff’s history of fabricating medical impairments,
together with her activities of daily living, relatively conservative medical treatment, unremarkable
mental health evaluations, and reports of improvement in treatment notes, the ALJ concluded that
Plaintiff was not entirely credible and accorded little weight to her subjective complaints. The
Magistrate Judge reviewed this analysis in some detail and found that the ALJ followed the
appropriate legal standards in evaluating credibility. Moreover, the Magistrate Judge conducted an
independent review of the record and found that substantial evidence supported the ALJ’s credibility
determination. Given such comprehensive legal and factual analysis, the Court fully adopts the
Report and Recommendation without engaging in any duplicative analysis.
To the extent Plaintiff contends that the ALJ failed to consider her work record in assessing
credibility, the Court likewise finds this objection meritless. It is well-established that when a
claimant has a lengthy work history of continuous work, his or her testimony is entitled to
“substantial credibility.” Dobrowolsky v. Califano, 606 F.2d 403, 409 (3d Cir. 1979). Courts have
remanded cases where the ALJ failed to consider a claimant’s work history in connection with his or
credibility determination where the claimant had a previous productive work history and had
unsuccessfully made attempts to return to work after the onset of the disability. See, e.g., Rieder v.
Apfel, 115 F. Supp. 2d 496, 505 (M.D. Pa. 2000) (finding that ALJ failed to properly address
claimant’s work history and post-accident unsuccessful work attempts); Sidberry v. Bowen, 662 F.
Supp. 1037, 1039–40 (E.D. Pa. 1986) (ALJ erred in ignoring claimant’s work history and efforts to
hold down a job). Nonetheless, “a claimant’s work history alone is not dispositive of the question of
his credibility, and an ALJ is not required to equate a long work history with enhanced credibility.”
Thompson v. Astrue, No. Civ.A.09-519, 2010 WL 3661530, at *4 (W.D. Pa. Sept. 20, 2010).
The administrative record in this case reveals that prior to Plaintiff’s alleged disability onset
date of January 8, 2008, she had continuously worked from 1989 through 2007 as both a certified
nursing assistant and a data file clerk. Nothing in the record reflects the catalyst for her disability
onset date and cessation of work, other than an alleged, but otherwise undocumented and unproven
stroke. Cf. Taybron v. Harris, 667 F.2d 412, 415 n.6 (3d Cir. 1981) (considering work history where
an accident caused the impairment and interrupted work). Moreover, unlike the cases discussed
above, the record reflects no unsuccessful work attempts or efforts to obtain a job from 2007
forward. See Fox v. Astrue, No. Civ.A.10-192, 2011 WL 3882507, at *10 (W.D. Pa. Sept. 2, 2011)
(holding that where a claimant did not attempt to work after the alleged onset date, no remand for
consideration of work history was necessary); cf. Sopher v. Astrue, No. Civ.A.10-184, 2011 WL
3444158, at *14 (W.D. Pa. Aug. 8, 2011) (“[T]he matter will be remanded for further consideration
in order for the ALJ to reevaluate Plaintiff’s credibility in light of his long work history and efforts to
return to work.”); Rieder, 115 F. Supp. 2d at 507 (remanding for consideration of work history where
claimant worked continuously prior to accident, and after her accident and after her filing for
benefits, the plaintiff unsuccessfully attempted to work several times). Finally, and quite contrary to
the present matter, the medical records in the cases remanding for consideration of work history
supported an obvious disabling condition. Cf. Taybron, 667 F.2d at 415 n.6 (“Every doctor who
examined Taybron acknowledged he was in great pain.”); Weber v. Massanari, 156 F. Supp. 2d 475,
486 (E.D. Pa. 2001) (remanding case to reevaluate claimant’s credibility in connection with long
work history where the record also contained objective medical evidence that could reasonably
support claimant’s testimony). As observed by the Third Circuit, in each of the cases where remand
was ordered for consideration of work history, “the claimant not only had a long and productive
work history, but also showed evidence of severe impairments or attempted to return to work.”
Corley v. Barnhart, 102 F. App’x 752, 755 (3d Cir. 2004). Neither of these circumstances exist here.
Moreover, the Magistrate Judge correctly concluded that, even had the ALJ discussed work
history, it would not have changed the outcome of the case. The Third Circuit has made clear that
remand of a case is not required where stricter compliance with a social security ruling or regulations
would not have changed the outcome of the case. Rutherford v. Barnhart, 399 F.3d 546, 553 (3d Cir.
2005) (refusing to remand where stricter compliance with social security ruling would not have
changed the outcome of the case). “No principle of administrative law ‘require[s] that we convert
judicial review of agency action into a ping-pong game’ in search of the perfect decision.” Coy v.
Astrue, No. Civ.A.08-1372, 2009 WL 2043491, at *14 (W.D. Pa. July 8, 2009) (quoting NLRB v.
Wyman-Gordon Co., 394 U.S. 759, 766 n.6 (1969)). As set forth above, the ALJ’s credibility
determination decision was well grounded in the substantial evidence of record and reflected
reasoned consideration of the factors set forth by the Social Security regulations. Remand for
consideration of Plaintiff’s work history from 1989 to 2007 would be nothing more than
time-consuming exercise which would not alter the outcome of the case. As such, the Court denies
In light of the foregoing, the Court declines to sustain any of Plaintiff’s objections. The ALJ
properly found that Plaintiff’s mental impairment was not “severe” within the meaning of the Social
Security regulations. Moreover, the ALJ did not improperly disregard Plaintiff’s GAF scores.
Finally, the Court finds no error in the Magistrate Judge’s refusal to remand the case for
consideration of the impact of Plaintiff’s work history on her credibility. Accordingly, the Court
will adopt the Report and Recommendation in its entirety. An appropriate Order follows.
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