FEENEY v. BERRYHILL
ORDER THAT PLAINTIFF'S OBJECTIONS TO THE REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION (DOC. NO. 13 ) ARE OVERRULED. THE REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION (DOC. NO. 11 ) IS APPROVED AND ADOPTED. THE DECISION OF THE COMMISSIONER OF THE SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION IS AF FIRMED. PLAINTIFF'S REQUEST FOR REVIEW IS DENIED. JUDGMENT IS ENTERED IN THE MATTER IN FAVOR OF THE DEFENDANT AND AGAINST THE PLAINTIFF. THE CLERK OF COURT IS DIRECTED TO CLOSE THIS MATTER FOR STATISTICAL PURPOSES. SIGNED BY HONORABLE LEGROME D. DAVIS ON 6/12/2017. 6/13/2017 ENTERED AND COPIES E-MAILED.(amas)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE EASTERN DISTRICT OF PENNSYLVANIA
NANCY A. BERRYHILL
AND NOW, this 12th day of June 2017, upon careful and independent consideration of
Plaintiff Jolene Feeney’s Brief and Statement of Issues in Support of Request for Review (Doc.
No. 6), Defendant’s Response in Opposition (Doc. No. 7), Plaintiff’s Reply (Doc. No. 8), the
Report and Recommendation of United States Magistrate Judge Elizabeth T. Hey (Doc. No. 11),
Plaintiff’s Objections to the Report and Recommendation (Doc. No. 13), Defendant’s Response
to Plaintiff’s Objections, (Doc. No. 15), and the administrative record (Doc. No. 5), it is hereby
ORDERED as follows:
1. Plaintiff’s objections to the report and recommendation (Doc. No. 13) are OVERRULED.
2. The report and recommendation (Doc. No. 11) is APPROVED and ADOPTED.
3. The decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration is AFFIRMED.
4. Plaintiff’s request for review is DENIED. Judgment is entered in the matter in favor of
the Defendant and against the Plaintiff.
5. The Clerk of Court is directed to close this matter for statistical purposes.
Plaintiff Jolene Feeney brings this action seeking review of the decision of the
Commissioner of Social Security denying her disability benefits and supplemental security
income (“SSI”). The matter was referred to Magistrate Judge Elizabeth T. Hey, who prepared a
Report and Recommendation proposing that the Commissioner’s decision be affirmed. After an
independent review of the record, this Court concurs with Magistrate Judge Hey’s
recommendation, and will affirm the Commissioner’s decision.
Feeney seeks disability benefits and SSI on the basis of several conditions, including
back and hip pain, depression, and anxiety. R. at 79, 377. Feeney was in a car accident in March
2007 that necessitated back surgery, and alleges that began suffering chronic back pain
thereafter. R. at 389, 400. According to Feeney, she was unable to work as a result of these
conditions from October 2008 until January 2012. R. at 376.
Feeney initially filed this request for benefits in October 2010, seeking benefits dating
back to October 2008. 1 R. at 258. Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) Gerald Spitz held a
hearing in August 2012, and denied Feeney’s application for benefits, finding that she was
capable of performing light work with a sit/stand option. R. at 142. Feeney requested a review of
that decision, which the Social Security Administration’s Appeals Council granted; remanding
the case for further evaluation and a new decision by ALJ Deborah Mande.
A hearing was held before ALJ Mande on June 17, 2014. At the hearing, Feeney testified
to her symptoms, stating that on some days she experienced severe pain in her left hip, severe
enough that it would interfere with her walking. R. at 79. She also said she suffered from
insomnia and depression. Id. As a result of these symptoms, Feeney said she did not work at all
in 2009 and 2010. R. at 76. She testified that in February 2011 she began taking care of her
mother, who was ill. R. at 76–77. She assisted her in showering, managed her medication, and
performed household tasks such as cooking, grocery shopping, and taking out the trash. R. at 77,
Feeney had filed an earlier application for disability benefits which was denied on May 20, 2010; a denial upheld
by the Appeals Council. R. at 98–107, 130. ALJ Mande found that the evidence submitted by Feeney in her October
2010 application did not justify reopening that decision, thereby limiting the instant benefits application to a period
beginning May 21, 2010. R. at 18. Magistrate Judge Hey agreed with this finding and Feeney has not objected to it.
R&R, at 19.
83–84. This assistance was initially unpaid, but at some point Feeney began receiving pay for
providing this care. R. at 77. She continued caring for her mother until October 2012, when her
mother moved into a nursing home. R. at 81. Her mother passed away in 2013. R. at 83.
ALJ Mande also reviewed Feeney’s medical records. The report and recommendation
includes a detailed description of the medical evidence in the record, but this Order will provide
a summary. In 2010, Feeney sought repeated medical attention, complaining of back pain. R. at
396, 386, 389. At the first two of these visits, at Jeanes Hospital in September 2010, the treating
physicians noted that she had pain and decreased range of motion in her back, but that she could
walk without assistance and with a normal gait. R. at 385–391, 396–401. She had an intact range
of motion in her extremities and there was no evidence of fracture or malalignment on X-rays of
her lumbar spine. Id. On both instances, the hospital discharged Feeney with a prescription for
pain medication. R. at 387, 394, 401.
In November 2010, Feeney was seen by an orthopedic surgeon at the Rothman Institute.
432–33. Based on an MRI and X-rays, the surgeon concluded that Feeney did not have “true
radiculopathy” or disc herniation, although he did note some less significant degenerative
changes of the spine. R. at 433. The surgeon recommended against surgery at that point, instead
suggesting that Feeney should attempt to lose weight and should engage in aqua-therapy. Id.
Feeney returned to the Rothman Institute in December 2010, and was seen by a certified
physician’s assistant. R. at 531. She again complained of back pain, saying that her symptoms
were “worse early in the morning,” but that she was otherwise “able to function with her normal
daily activities.” Id. The physician’s assistant, in consultation with the surgeon, recommended
weight loss and aerobic exercise. R. at 532. He recommended against surgery in favor of
“exhaust[ing] all nonoperative treatment.” Id.
In April 2011, Dr. John DeCarlo, M.D., conducted a consultative examination of Feeney.
DeCarlo noted that Feeney complained of low back pain. R. at 445. His physical examination
revealed no palpable edema, no straight leg raising pain, and no atrophy above or below the knee
joints. R. at 447. DeCarlo also tested Feeney’s range of motion, which showed full or nearly full
range of motion in all instances. R. at 451–52. DeCarlo filled out a statement assessing Feeney’s
ability to perform work-related physical activities, in which he listed a number of restrictions,
including that she could not lift more than 10 pounds and could not stand or walk for more than
an hour a day. R. at 449. In the space provided on the form for “supportive medical findings,”
DeCarlo repeatedly wrote “back pain.” Id.
Another physician, Dr. Jay Moore, M.D., provided a one-page medical statement
regarding Feeney’s physical abilities and limitations in August 2012. R. at 533. The statement
indicated that Feeney suffered from severe, chronic pain. Id. However the statement did not
indicate any limitations with respect to Feeney’s physical abilities. Id.
In addition to the treatment and evaluation Feeney received for her physical conditions,
she also underwent treatment and evaluation for her mental health. Dr. Ludmila Radzievska,
M.D., treated Feeney at New Life Community Health Services from October 2010 to June 2012.
436-44, 515-30. Feeney sought treatment for depression and insomnia resulting from her back
problems. Radzievska noted in Feeney’s biopsychosocial evaluation that Feeney appeared well
groomed, with a cooperative attitude, and normal eye contact and speech. R. at 519. She had no
hallucinations or delusions and no suicidal or homicidal ideation. Id. Radzievska described
Feeney’s thought process as goal directed and noted that her perception was not impaired, her
memory was intact, and her insight and judgment were “fair.” Id. Feeney was assessed with a
Global Assessment of Functioning Scores ranging from 55–60 and was diagnosed with Major
Depressive Disorder and chronic pain syndrome. R. at 517. Radzievska prescribed her several
antidepressants over the course of the treatment, including Prozac, Trazadone, and Paxil. R. at
516. She also prescribed Temazepam to treat insomnia. Id.
A psychologist, Daniel Schwarz, Ph.D., conducted a psychological evaluation of Feeney
in April 2011. R. at 453–59. Feeney told Schwarz that she lived independently, paying her own
bills and performing her own light cooking, light cleaning, laundry, and food shopping. R. at
455. She spent time with friends, and would go shopping or to the movies with them. Id. She also
spent time networking on the computer and searching for a job. Id. Schwarz gave Feeney a
Global Assessment of Functioning score of 60, and diagnosed her with dysthymic disorder, NOS
(Not Otherwise Specified). R. at 456–57. He also ruled out major depressive disorder. Id.
Schwarz completed a mental Residual Functional Capacity assessment, in which he gave his
opinion that Feeney had marked limitations in her ability to understand, remember, and carry out
detailed instructions, to make judgments on simple work-related decisions, to interact
appropriately with supervisors and co-workers, and to respond appropriately to pressures and
changes in a work setting. R. at 458. He listed moderate limitations in a few other categories. Id.
Another psychologist, John Rohar, Ph.D., also completed a mental Residual Functional
Capacity assessment after he reviewed Feeney’s mental health records in May 2011. R. at 125–
27. Rohar concluded that the Residual Functional Capacity assessment performed by Schwarz
“overestimate[d]” Feeney’s restrictions and was inconsistent with the medical evidence. R. at
127. In Rohar’s opinion, Feeney had marked limitations in only one category—the ability to
carry out detailed instructions—although she did have moderate limitations in several other
categories. R. at 126–27.
ALJ Mande issued a decision on September 11, 2014. R. at 18–30. She determined that
Feeney’s residual functional capacity permitted her to “perform light work . . . except she is
limited to occasional postural activities; to no climbing of ladders and scaffolds; to routine,
repetitive tasks; to occasional interaction with co-workers, supervisors, and the public; and to
infrequent changes in the work setting.” R. at 23. Based on the testimony of a vocational expert,
ALJ Mande determined that there were jobs available in the national and regional economies that
Feeney could perform, and that Feeney was capable of successfully transitioning to such work.
R. at 30. As a result, ALJ Mande found that Feeney was not disabled. Id.
Feeney requested a review of the decision by the Appeals Council. R. at 7. The Appeals
Council denied the request for review on May 15, 2015, making ALJ Mande’s decision the final
decision of the Commissioner. Id. After Feeney filed this action on July 10, 2015, the Court
referred the matter to Magistrate Judge Hey for a report and recommendation. Nov. 30, 2015
Order (Doc. No. 9). Magistrate Judge Hey issued a report and recommendation finding that there
was substantial evidence supporting ALJ Mande’s decision. R.&R. (Doc. No. 11). Feeney
To be eligible for disability benefits, a claimant must be unable “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. § 423(d)(1). The existence of
such a disability is determined by the Social Security Administration through a five-step process.
Rutherford v. Barnhart, 399 F.3d 546, 551 (3d Cir. 2005). Under this process, the claimant must
show that she “(1) is not currently engaged in gainful employment because she (2) is suffering
from a severe impairment (3) that is listed in an appendix (or is equivalent to such a listed
condition) or (4) that leaves her lacking the [Residual Functional Capacity] to return to her
previous employment.” Id. If the claimant is unable to return to her previous employment, then
the Commissioner bears the burden at the fifth step of showing that there are other jobs in the
national economy, available in significant numbers, which the claimant could perform. Id.
Final decisions of the Commissioner of Social Security are subject to review by a federal
district court. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). This review is “limited to determining whether that decision is
supported by substantial evidence.” Hartranft v. Apfel, 181 F.3d 358, 360 (3d Cir. 1999). Even if
a court would have decided the matter differently, the Commissioner’s decision must still be
affirmed so long as there is substantial evidence supporting it. Id. Substantial evidence is “such
relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate.” Plummer v. Apfel, 186 F.3d
422, 427 (3d Cir. 1999) (quoting Ventura v. Shalala, 55 F.3d 900, 901 (3d Cir. 1995)). This
requires more than just a scintilla of evidence, but there need not be “a large or considerable
amount.” Pierce v. Underwood, 487 U.S. 552, 565 (1988); Plummer, 186 F.3d at 127.
Feeney objects to Magistrate Judge Hey’s report and recommendation on three grounds.
First, that ALJ Mande failed to properly follow the Appeals Council’s directives with respect to
her explanation of Feeney’s Residual Functional Capacity. Second, that ALJ Mande improperly
rejected medical opinion evidence. And third, that ALJ Mande improperly rejected Feeney’s own
testimony. Because the Court concludes that there is substantial evidence supporting ALJ
Mande’s decision, including with respect to the issues raised in the objections, the Court will
deny the objections, adopt the report and recommendation, and affirm the Commissioner’s
Feeney first objects that the ALJ failed to adequately explain why a sit-stand option was
not included in her assessment of Feeney’s residual functional capacity. ALJ Spitz—who
initially decided the matter prior to a remand by the Appeals Council—found that Feeney was
limited to work that would permit her to alternate between sitting and standing positions. In its
decision remanding the matter, the Appeals Council noted that “[c]larification of the claimant’s
residual functional capacity is warranted” because the ALJ had failed to “specify the frequency
with which the claimant must change positions.” R. at 154. The Appeals Council vacated the
original decision and remanded the case with instructions to, inter alia, “obtain additional
evidence,” and “give further consideration to the claimant’s maximum residual functional
capacity.” R. at 155.
When a case is remanded to a new ALJ by the Appeals Council, the second ALJ is not
bound by the first ALJ’s decision, particularly where the second ALJ hears additional evidence.
See Carter v. Barnhart, 133 F. App’x 33, 35 (3d Cir. 2005); Green v. Sullivan, No. CIV. A. 883084, 1990 WL 122916, at *10 (E.D. Pa. Aug. 21, 1990). On remand, the ALJ must follow the
instructions of the Appeals Council, and may also “take any additional action that is not
inconsistent with the Appeals Council’s remand order.” 20 C.F.R. § 404.977.
When ALJ Mande issued her own findings, she did not discuss the frequency of a sitstand option because she did not include such an option in her findings of Feeney’s residual
functional capacity. ALJ Mande reached substantially different conclusion in her assessment of
Feeney’s residual functional capacity than ALJ Spitz did. ALJ Spitz found that Feeney was
capable of “perform[ing] light work . . . except sit stand option.” R. at 142. ALJ Mande also
found that Feeney could perform light work, but provided a different and more detailed
assessment of the limitations to that work, finding that Feeney was “limited to occasional
postural activities; to no climbing of ladders and scaffolds; to routine, repetitive tasks; to
occasional interaction with co-workers, supervisors, and the public; and to infrequent changes in
the work setting.” R. at 23. ALJ Mande therefore complied with the Appeals Council’s
instructions to “obtain additional evidence,” and “give further consideration to the claimant’s
maximum residual functional capacity.” R. at 155. The Council never ordered a clarification of
the sit/stand option in particular, it said that “[c]larification of the claimant’s residual functional
capacity is warranted.” R. at 154. ALJ Mande’s more detailed description of Feeney’s capacity,
including a specific list of limitations, complied with the Council’s orders.
In addition complying with the Appeals Council’s order, ALJ Mande’s decision on
Feeney’s residual functional capacity is also supported by substantial evidence. As Magistrate
Judge Hey noted, none of the medical evidence submitted by Feeney called for a sit/stand option.
And in place of such an option, ALJ Mande included detailed limitations on Feeney’s ability to
perform light work. R. at 23. The decision carefully weighed the medical evidence and explained
how the residual functional capacity was reached. R. at 23–28. Magistrate Judge Hey’s decision
affirming the ALJ’s residual functional capacity decision was therefore correct, and the objection
Feeney objects to ALJ Mande’s evaluation of the medical opinion evidence provided by
three experts: Dr. John DeCarlo, M.D., Daniel Schwarz, Ph.D., and Dr. Jay Moore, M.D. The
ALJ’s decision did reject or give limited weight to the opinions of these experts; however,
substantial evidence supported the weight given to their opinions.
Feeney argues that Magistrate Judge Hey and ALJ Mande erred when they rejected the
opinions of Dr. John DeCarlo. Dr. DeCarlo was a consultative examiner who evaluated Feeney
on one occasion in April 2011. R. at 445. ALJ Mande gave no significant weight to DeCarlo’s
opinions about Feeney’s limitations because the assessment was “based on the claimant’s
subjective complaints of back pain, which are not supported by treating source records or the
objective medical evidence,” R. at 26; reasoning Judge Hey found acceptable. R.&R., at 27.
Feeney objects, contending that rejecting a medical opinion on the basis of the claimant’s
credibility is inconsistent with Morales v. Apfel, which held that an ALJ may not reject a treating
physician’s medical opinion based on the ALJ’s “credibility judgments, speculation or lay
opinion.” 225 F.3d 310, 317.
Feeney’s argument is flawed. DeCarlo was a consultant who examined Feeney one time,
not a treating physician as in Morales. This distinction is important, because the opinions of
medical experts who did not treat the claimant “are weighed by stricter standards, based to a
greater degree on medical evidence, qualifications, and explanations for the opinions, than are
required of treating sources.” SSR 96-6P, 1996 WL 374180 (July 2, 1996). ALJ Mande did not
owe Dr. DeCarlo, an examining consultant, the same deference owed to the treating physician in
Morales. Instead, consultants’ findings are “given weight only insofar as they are supported by
the evidence in the case record.” Id.
And unlike the opinion of the treating physician in Morales, DeCarlo’s opinion was not
supported by the objective medical evidence in the record. The only evidence DeCarlo cited for
his opinion on Feeney’s physical limitations was “back pain.” By contrast, the objective
evidence from DeCarlo’s examination of Feeney does not support the limitations on lifting,
standing, and walking that DeCarlo listed. As Magistrate Judge Hey noted, DeCarlo found that
Feeney had “a normal gait, no edema in her extremities, no pain on straight-leg testing, no
atrophy, and 5/5 motor strength in all extremities; full range of motion in her shoulders, elbows,
and wrists, and nearly full range of motion in her knees, cervical spine, and lumbar spine.”
R.&R., at 28. The lack of objective medical findings supporting DeCarlo’s opinion provides
substantial evidence for ALJ Mande’s decision to give “no significant weight” to DeCarlo’s
assessment, particularly given his limited contact with Feeney as a non-treating consultant. R. at
26. The objection is therefore denied.
ALJ Mande gave no “significant weight” to the assessment by Dr. Schwarz because it
was “inconsistent” with the evidence from the consultative examination performed by Dr.
Schwarz. R. at 28. Internal inconsistencies are a legitimate basis for an ALJ to reject a medical
opinion. See Hoyman v. Colvin, 606 F. App’x 678, 680 (3d Cir. 2015) (holding substantial
evidence supported the rejection of a medical opinion where the opinion was “inconsistent with
[the doctor’s] own notes, [the claimant’s] activities of daily living, and the clinical and objective
evidence in the record”). There is substantial evidence that Dr. Schwarz’s conclusion was
inconsistent with the evidence he reviewed. For example, Dr. Schwarz’s concluded that Feeney
had marked restrictions in understanding and carrying out instructions and in responding
appropriately in work settings. R. at 458. But this is belied by the daily activities Feeney
described to Dr. Schwarz, such as “hanging out, shopping, and going to the movies” with
friends; networking through the computer; living, doing laundry, and food shopping
independently; and taking care of her mother. R. at 455 It is also contradicted by the Global
Assessment of Functioning score of 60 assessed by Dr. Schwarz, which is consistent with
moderate symptoms. R. at 457.
These inconsistencies provide substantial evidence to reject Dr. Schwarz’s conclusions,
especially when considered together with the contrasting conclusions of Dr. John Rohar, the state
agency psychological consultant. In Dr. Rohar’s opinion, Dr. Schwarz’s conclusions were not
supported by the medical evidence—the conclusions “overestimate[d]” Feeney’s restrictions. R.
at 127. By contrast, Dr. Rohar concluded that Feeney had only moderate limitations in with
respect to carrying out simple instructions, working with others, and interacting appropriately
with co-workers or members of the public. R. at 126–27. The ALJ was therefore justified in
giving more weight to the conclusions of Dr. Rohar than the internally inconsistent conclusions
of Dr. Schwarz. See Jones v. Sullivan, 954 F.2d 125, 129 (3d Cir. 1991) (upholding the ALJ’s
determination to reject treating physician’s conclusion based on the findings of two state agency
consultants because there was “internally contradictory evidence”). The objection is denied.
Feeney objects that the ALJ inappropriately rejected Dr. Moore’s findings because of an
insignificant contradiction between Dr. Moore’s statement and Feeney’s medical records. But
this argument misconstrues the ALJ’s basis for rejecting Dr. Moore’s assessment. Although ALJ
Mande mentions a discrepancy between Dr. Moore’s statement and notes made by another of
Feeney’s doctors, ALJ Mande did not reject Dr. Moore’s assessment on that ground. Instead,
ALJ Mande wrote that she gave no weight to Dr. Moore’s assessment because “Moore does not
give an opinion regarding specific functional limitations.” R. at 26. This description was
The assessment ALJ Mande rejected consisted of one page form entitled “Medical
statement regarding physical abilities and limitations for Social Security disability claim.” R. at
533. Despite the title, Dr. Moore did not include any information on Feeney’s physical abilities
and limitation. The form includes a section on limitations and abilities with a range of options
across nine different categories of potential limitations; the physician completing the form is
instructed to circle the corresponding answers. Id. On the form Dr. Moore filled out with respect
to Ms. Feeney, none of the options are circled—the entire limitations and abilities section is
blank. Id. The failure to provide a specific opinion as to Feeney’s limitations justifies ALJ
Mande’s decision not to give any weight to the assessment. The objection is therefore denied.
Feeney’s final objection is to the ALJ’s decision to reject “Plaintiff’s testimony regarding
symptoms and limitations.” Pl.’s Objs. (Doc. No. 13), at 9. A claimant’s allegations about
subjective symptoms such as pain “must be supported by objective medical evidence.” Burnett v.
Comm’r of Soc. Sec. Admin., 220 F.3d 112, 122 (3d Cir. 2000). Evaluating these symptoms is a
two-step process: first, the ALJ must determine whether the claimant has a “medical impairment
[that] could reasonably cause the alleged symptoms.” Hartranft v. Apfel, 181 F.3d 358, 362 (3d
Cir. 1999). If so, the ALJ must determine the “intensity and persistence” of the symptoms, which
requires an evaluation of “the extent to which a claimant is accurately stating the degree of pain
or the extent to which he or she is disabled by it.” Id.
Feeney alleged that she had “chronic severe back and left hip pain, with resulting
inability to perform prolonged sitting or prolonged standing, and inability to lift anything heavier
than a gallon of milk. She also allege[d] disturbed sleep and limited concentration.”
Complainant’s Br, R. at 376. ALJ Mande evaluated these claims with the two-step procedure.
The ALJ found that Feeney had impairments that could cause the symptoms she alleged, but that
her “statements concerning the intensity, persistence and limiting effects” of the alleged
symptoms were “not entirely credible.” R. at 24.
Magistrate Judge Hey found that there was substantial evidence supporting this
determination, and this Court agrees. First, Feeney’s objective medical records contradict her
claims of symptoms severe enough to find that she had been disabled. Both ALJ Mande and
Magistrate Judge Hey carefully reviewed the details of Feeney’s medical records, and noted the
manner in which those records belied her claims. For example, her examinations showed that she
could walk without assistance and with a normal gait. R.&R., at 32. The orthopedic surgeon who
examined her in November 2010 found no evidence of disc herniation and did not conclude that
surgery was warranted. R. at 25. Similarly, when she met with a certified physician’s assistant in
December 2010, he recommended home exercises rather than surgery, and “scheduled her to
return only on an as needed basis.” R. at 26. Feeney also told the physician’s assistant at that
examination “that although her symptoms were worse in early morning, she was otherwise able
to function with her normal daily activities.” Id. And in Feeney’s mental status examinations,
“she was well groomed with an appropriate appearance,” “had a cooperative attitude, with
“normal eye contact, speech and thought processes.” R. at 27. She had no delusions or suicidal
ideations, and her “attention, concentration, and memory were intact.” Id. Two different mental
health professionals assessed her with Global Assessment of Functioning scores indicating
moderate to mild symptoms. R. at 27–28.
Second, the daily activities Feeney reported were inconsistent with the severe symptoms
she alleged. She lived independently, performing light cooking and cleaning and paying her own
bills. Id. at 27. She was also able to travel to medical appointments on her own by bus. Id.
Feeney reported that she spent time with friends “hanging out, shopping, and going to movies.”
Id. She also would spend time “networking on the computer” and looking for work, which as
ALJ Mande noted, suggests she felt capable of working. Id. at 27–28.
Finally, Feeney’s role as a caretaker for her mother contradicts her claim of subjective
symptoms so severe they prevent her from working. Feeney testified that she assisted her mother
with various needs of daily living, including chores like shopping, cooking, and taking out the
trash. R.&R., at 33. She also helped her mother shower and managed her medication for her. Id.
Feeney began doing this work in February 2011, and was paid as a home health care worker
beginning in January 2012. Id. She performed the same tasks as a paid worker as she had when
she was unpaid, and the record does not contain any “apparent changes in her condition or
treatment” prior to her resuming substantial gainful activity. Id.
Feeney argues that the intensity, persistence, and limiting effects of her symptoms are not
at issue. Pl.’s Objs., at 10. But in order to assess a claimant’s subjective symptoms, the ALJ is
required to “evaluate the intensity and persistence of the pain or symptom,” so that he or she can
determine “the extent to which it affects the individual’s ability to work.” Hartranft, 181 F.3d at
362. As Magistrate Judge Hey found, the medical records, Feeney’s daily activities, and
Feeney’s caretaking role with her mother provide substantial evidence supporting ALJ Mande’s
conclusion that Feeney’s subjective symptoms were not as severe as she alleged. The objection is
After independent consideration, this Court finds that Commissioner’s decision is
supported by substantial evidence. The Court will therefore approve and adopt Magistrate Judge
Hey’s report and recommendation, affirm the Commissioner’s decision, and enter judgment in
favor of the Defendant.
BY THE COURT:
/s/ Legrome D. Davis
Legrome D. Davis, J.
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