Weikel v. Colvin
MEMORANDUM (Order to follow as separate docket entry)For the reasons stated above, the Court finds that the Agencys decision to deny benefits in this case must be affirmed because it is supported by the requisite degree of substantial evidence as defined in Richardson v. Perales, supra. An Order consistent with this conclusion will be filed contemporaneously.Signed by Honorable Richard P. Conaboy on 4/21/17. (cc)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE MIDDLE DISTRICT OF PENNSYLVANIA
Tonya Marie Weikel
: Case No. 3:16-cv-1615
: (Judge Richard P. Conaboy)
Nancy A. Berryhill1
Acting Commissioner of
We consider here Plaintiff’s appeal from an adverse decision
of the Social Security Administration (“SSA”) on her applications
for Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”) and Supplemental Security
Income Benefits (“SSI”).
Plaintiff filed applications for both
forms of benefit on March 19, 2013.
These claims were initially
denied at the administrative level on May 15, 2013 whereupon
Plaintiff filed a written request for hearing on September 13,
Plaintiff did receive a hearing before an administrative law
Nancy A. Berryhill is now the Acting Commissioner of Social Security. Pursuant to Rule
25(d) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure which addresses the substitution of parties when a
public officer is replaced, Nancy A. Berryhill should be substituted for Acting Commissioner
Carolyn W. Colvin as the defendant in this suit. Fed. R. Civ. P. 25(d). No further action needs to be
taken to continue this suit by reason of the last sentence of section 205(g) of the Social Security Act,
42 U.S.C. Section 405(g), which states that “[a]ny action instituted in accordance with this
subsection shall survive notwithstanding any change in the person occupying the office of
Commission of Social Security or any vacancy in such office.”
judge (“ALJ”) on September 30, 2014.
Notice of Decision on October 7, 2014.
The ALJ issued an unfavorable
appeal with the Appeals Council.
Plaintiff then filed an
The Appeals Council ratified the
ALJ’s denial of benefits by decision dated June 8, 2016.
Appeals Council’s denial prompted Plaintiff to file an appeal with
this Court by timely complaint dated August 4, 2016..
has jurisdiction over this appeal pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).
Testimony Before the ALJ.
On September 30, 2014, Plaintiff had her hearing before
Plaintiff testified as did Michelle Georgio, a vocational
Plaintiff was represented at this hearing by her
attorney, Barbara Feudale.
Plaintiff’s testimony may be summarized as follows.
resides in Girardville, Pennsylvania with her fiancee and her
She and her fiancee have been together for 13 years.
Her fiancee works day shift from 8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. from Monday
While her fiancee is at work, Plaintiff cares for
her daughter who at the time of the hearing was three years of age.
By her own estimation, Plaintiff can lift and carry her
daughter, who weighs about 35 pounds, but at times finds this
difficult because of complications with her feet.
that 35 pounds is about the limit of what she can lift or carry.
Record at 31-55.
She can remain on her feet for variable amounts of time depending
upon whether she is experiencing a “flare-up”.
last for about half and hour.
After her alleged onset date (December 18, 2012) Plaintiff
worked briefly as a telemarketer at a shopping mall.
She was not
able to maintain that employment because she was having difficulty
hearing over the phone and she was just too nervous.
hearing aids but has lost the one for her right ear.
compensate for her hearing deficit by reading lips.
Plaintiff has been affected by psoriasis for seven years.
has used Enbrel injections for her psoriasis as well as Clobetasol
The psoriasis affects her feet and hands and when she
experiencing exacerbations she wears gloves on her hands.
acknowledged that, although Enbrel helps her condition, she did not
use it for an extended period of time at one point.
that the injections, which she administers herself, burn and she
dislikes injecting herself.
Plaintiff last saw a dermatologist one month before her
She has also taken Lithium for anxiety but stopped taking
it because her research indicated that Lithium can cause psoriasis.
At one point she concluded that she was on too many medications and
stopped all medication but for Seroquel.
Effexor, Prilosec, and Lamictal.
Currently, she is taking
She also continues to use
Plaintiff testified that she sees a Dr. Khan for mental health
concerns every three months.
He manages her medications.
sees a counselor for therapy.
Plaintiff for seven years.
sessions help her.
The counselor has been seeing
Plaintiff feels that these counseling
She states that, while she takes care of her
young daughter all day, at times she has a bad day that makes it
very hard to function in her role as a care giver.
When she isn’t
home with her daughter, she usually goes to visit her mother who
lives only two or three blocks away.
She can drive to the store to
get groceries and goes to her counseling sessions alone.
Plaintiff is restricted to a low protein diet because she has
been diagnosed with phenylketonuria (“PKU”).3
She drinks a special
fortified milk that is high on “good protein” and low on “bad
She eats cheese but avoids meat and eggs because of the
amount and type of protein they provide.
Upon questioning by her lawyer, Plaintiff stated that when she
is in a setting where there is a lot of background noise, her
hearing problems are magnified and she must read lips.
experiences swelling of her hands and feet due to her psoriasis and
this happens almost every day.
forcing her to walk on her toes.
At times her feet crack and bleed
Plaintiff also stated that she
Phenylketonuria is a rare inherited disorder that causes an amino acid called phenylalanine
to build up in the body. www.mayoclinic.org. This condition is managed by restriction to a low
protein diet. While the ALJ acknowledges that PKU is a “severe impairment”, there is no evidence
in the record of how it would restrict Plaintiff’s employability.
has arthritic pain in her hands.
She does acknowledge that this
pain has been alleviated since she began taking Enbrel and Humira.
The pain occasionally comes and goes.
Plaintiff states that she has been diagnosed with explosive
personality disorder but she acknowledges that recently her
problems with anger have lessened.
She stated that her biggest
mental problem is the fear that she will do something wrong.
feels this fear all the time but being in her mother’s company
helps her feel more secure.
Her mother is available to help her
care for her daughter when she feels the need for such assistance.
The final problem the Plaintiff identified was restless leg
She states that without the medicine she would fidget
When taking the prescribed medication these symptoms
Testimony by the VE.4
Michelle Georgio, Vocational Expert, also testified.
Georgio indicated that the records she had reviewed regarding
Plaintiff’s prior employment were incomplete.
The ALJ suggested
that the VE question Plaintiff directly to better understand her
Plaintiff’s counsel had no objection to the
VE functioning in this way.
Upon questioning by the VE, Plaintiff
testified that she worked as a vinyl window welder for a window
manufacturer from 2004 through 2006.
See Record at 54-61.
In this job she welded,
cleaned the glass, and installed the glass in the window frames.
The entire window assembly weighed 30-40 pounds.
After hearing the
Plaintiff’s explanation of the tasks she had performed in this job,
the VE classified the job as a “production spot welder” and
specified that it was “medium/unskilled” employment.
The ALJ asked the VE to respond to a hypothetical question
that assumed a person of the same age, education and work
experience as the Plaintiff with limitations including: (1) the
capability of performing only sedentary work; (2) the inability to
climb ladders or scaffolds; (3) the inability to operate levers or
foot pedals; (4) no exposure to dangerous machinery or protected
heights; (5) exposure to no more than moderate noise levels; (6) a
work environment without fast-paced production quotas involving
only simple routine tasks, simple work-related decisions, and few
work place changes; and (7) a work environment that involves no
more than occasional interaction with supervisors, co-workers, or
Assuming these restriction, the VE opined that such a
hypothetical person could not perform Plaintiff’s last relevant
employment as a production spot welder.
The VE did state, however,
that the hypothetical person would be able to perform three
representative jobs (sorter, sampler, or inspector) that exist in
significant numbers in the national economy.
The VE stated that there would be no erosion of the
hypothetical person’s ability to perform these jobs even when the
ALJ imposed an additional limitation such that the hypothetical
person would need to work with medical gloves covering her hands.
The VE certified further that her testimony was consistent with the
Dictionary of Occupational Titles and her professional experience
as to how the jobs she identified are customarily performed.
III. Mental Impairment Evidence.
Plaintiff saw Kathleen McDonald-Gilfer, a Licensed
Professional Counselor, on at least five occasions between April 4,
2013 and September 1, 2014.
Ms. McDonald-Gilfer diagnosed
Plaintiff with bipolar I disorder, generalized anxiety disorder,
and borderline personality disorder.
At various times during Ms.
McDonald-Gilfer’s counseling relationship with Plaintiff, she
assessed GAF (Global Assessment of Function) scores ranging from
During the time Plaintiff was seeing Ms. McDonald-Gilfer
she was taking Lithium but she was non-compliant with the
medication at times.
Plaintiff also treated with a Dr. Kahn from July of 2013
through September of 2014.
During that time, Dr. Kahn saw
Plaintiff on at least five occasions.
Dr. Kahn diagnosed Plaintiff
to be suffering from bipolar disorder NOS.
Yet, his office notes
of his sessions with Plaintiff indicate that she was consistently
alert with cognition grossly intact, possessed of normal attention
and concentration, presented with normal appearance, behavior and
speech, exhibited goal-directed thought process, exhibited fair
insight and judgement, and did not exhibit homicidal ideation,
hallucinations, delusions, psychoses, or obsessions.
occasions (July 22, 2013, September 24, 2013, and August 26, 2014)
Plaintiff’s mood was dysthymic5 and irritable.
relationship with Plaintiff Dr. Khan assessed her GAF scores of 5055, 60 and 60.6
At the time of their last session, September 16,
2014, Plaintiff’s mood was described as euthymic, that is normal,
stable and reasonably positive.
See Merriam Webster Medical
Physical Impairment Evidence.
Plaintiff’s primary care physician, Dr. Ivor Lewis, provided
substantially all of Plaintiff’s care for her physical maladies.
The record indicates that Plaintiff treated with Dr. Lewis from
December of 2009 through at least April of 2014.
treatment of Plaintiff was primarily directed to psoriasis control
and medicating Plaintiff to deal with her depression and anxiety
Dr. Lewis posited that Plaintiff suffered from
psoriasis as early as December 4, 2009 and consistently noted that
psoriasis continued to affect Plaintiff at numerous visits over a
period of more than five years.
Dr. Lewis’ office notes also
indicate that Plaintiff’s psoriasis was, at times, exacerbated and,
Dysthymia is a mild form of depression. www.mayclinic.org.
GAF scores 51 through 60 connote moderate symptoms or functional limitations. See
Diagnostic & Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders-Text Revision 34 (Fourth ed. 2000).
at other times, better controlled.
He prescribed both Clobetasol
ointment and Enbrel injections to combat the progression of
His notes reflect that Plaintiff disliked
using the Clobetasol ointment and preferred to use Enbrel.
Enbrel seemed to afford Plaintiff greater relief but she stopped
taking Enbrel injections for a period of time because she became
pregnant and feared side effects from the medication would harm her
Dr. Lewis’ notes also reflect that Plaintiff’s psoriasis
resulted at time in a scaling plaque on her arms, legs, hands,
feet, and under her breasts.
His notes also reflect on multiple
occasions over the same time period that her gait was normal and
that she experienced no pain, stiffness, or reduced function in her
Dr. Lewis’ treatment of what he diagnosed as depression and
anxiety disorder consisted of medicating Plaintiff with Zoloft and
On September 5, 2014, Dr. Lewis completed a “Discharge
Application: Total And Permanent Disability” form to be sent to the
United States Department of Education.
The form was completed to
exonerate Plaintiff from the need to make continued payments on her
federally funded college loans.
Dr. Lewis checked a box in the
form that indicated his assessment that Plaintiff had a medically
determinable physical or mental impairment that will prevent her
from engaging in any substantial gainful activity for a period of
not less than 60 months.
Dr. Lewis made no reference to
Plaintiff’s psoriasis on the form and described Plaintiff’s
disabling impairment as bipolar and borderline personality
Dr. Lewis also indicated on the form that Plaintiff
had difficulty with social interaction that resulted in significant
impairment of her social and behavioral functioning.
The ALJ’s decision (Doc. 9-2 at 8-27) included the following
findings of fact and conclusions of law:
The claimant meets the insured status requirements
of the Social Security Act through September 30,
The claimant has not engaged in substantial gainful
activity since December 18, 2012, her alleged onset
The claimant has the following severe impairments:
mood disorder, bipolar disorder, adjustment
disorder, depression, attention deficit
hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), generalized anxiety
disorder, anxiety, borderline personality disorder,
bilateral hearing loss, plaque psoriasis of the
palms and phenylketonuria (“PKU”).
As he had noted on numerous occasions in his progress notes over his five year course of
treatment of the Plaintiff, Dr. Lewis indicated on the form that she had no limitations sitting,
standing, walking, or lifting.
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 (20 CFR
404.1520(b), 404.15525, 404.1526, 416.920(d),
416.925 and 416.926).
After careful consideration of the entire record,
the undersigned finds that the claimant has the
residual functional capacity to perform sedentary
work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(a) and 416.967(a)
except the claimant must avoid climbing on ropes,
ladders, and scaffolds or crawling.
must avoid pushing and pulling with the upper and
lower extremities to include the operation of hand
levers and pedals.
The claimant must avoid exposure
to hazards such as dangerous machinery or
The claimant must avoid noise
levels above level III (moderate noise).
claimant is limited to occupations requiring no more
than simple, routine tasks not performed in a fastpaced production environment involving simple workrelated decisions, and in general, relatively few
work place changes.
The claimant could have
occasional interaction with co-workers and
supervisors, but no interaction with the general
The claimant would require occupations with
low stress, defined as occasional decision-making
The claimant is unable to perform any of her past
The claimant was born on June 18, 1984 and was 28
years old, which is defined as a younger individual
age 18-44, on the alleged disability onset date.
The claimant has at least a high school education
and is able to communicate in English.
Transferability of job skills is not an issue in
this case because the claimant’s past relevant work
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 Plaintiff can perform.
The claimant has not been under a disability, as
defined in the Social Security Act, from December
18, 2012 through the date of this decision.
Disability Determination Process.
The Commissioner is required to use a five-step analysis
to determine whether a claimant is disabled.8
It is necessary for
the Commissioner to ascertain: 1) whether the applicant is engaged
in a substantial activity; 2) whether the applicant is severely
impaired; 3) whether the impairment matches or is equal to the
requirements of one of the listed impairments, whereby he qualifies
for benefits without further inquiry; 4) whether the claimant can
perform his past work; 5) whether the claimant’s impairment
together with his age, education, and past work experiences
preclude him from doing any other sort of work.
20 CFR §§
404.1520(b)-(g), 416.920(b)-(g); see Sullivan v. Zebley, 493 U.S.
521, 110 S. Ct. 885, 888-89 (1990).
The disability determination involves shifting burdens of
The initial burden rests with the claimant to demonstrate
that he or she is unable to engage in his or her past relevant
If the claimant satisfies this burden, then the Commissioner
must show that jobs exist in the national economy that a person
“Disability” is defined 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 that 12
months . . . .” 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A). The Act further provides that an individual 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, regardless of whether such work exists in the immediate area
in which he lives, or whether a specific job vacancy exists for him, or
whether he would be hired if he applied for work.
42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(2)(A).
with the claimant’s abilities, age, education, and work experience
Mason v. Shalala, 993 F.2d 1058, 1064 (3d Cir. 1993).
As set out above, the instant decision was decided at the
fifth step of the process when the ALJ found there are jobs that
exist in the national economy that Plaintiff is able to perform.
R. at 22).
VII. Standard of Review.
This Court’s review of the Commissioner’s final decision is
limited to determining whether there is substantial evidence to
support the Commissioner’s decision.
42 U.S.C. § 405(g); Hartranft
v. Apfel, 181 F.3d 358, 360 (3d Cir. 1999).
means “more than a mere scintilla.
It means such relevant evidence
as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a
Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971); see
also Cotter v. Harris, 642 F.2d 700, 704 (3d Cir. 1981).
Circuit Court of Appeals further explained this standard in Kent v.
Schweiker, 710 F.2d 110 (3d Cir. 1983).
This oft-cited language is not . . . a
talismanic or self-executing formula for
adjudication; rather, our decisions make
clear that determination of the existence vel
non of substantial evidence is not merely a
A single piece of
evidence will not satisfy the substantiality
test if the Secretary ignores, or fails to
resolve, a conflict created by countervailing
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
See Cotter, 642 F.2d at 706
(“Substantial evidence” can only be
considered as supporting evidence in
relationship to all the other evidence in the
record.”) (footnote omitted).
The search for
substantial evidence is thus a qualitative
exercise without which our review of social
security disability cases ceases to be merely
deferential and becomes instead a sham.
710 F.2d at 114.
This guidance makes clear it is necessary for the Secretary to
analyze all evidence.
If she has not done so and has not
sufficiently explained the weight given to all probative exhibits,
“to say that [the] decision is supported by substantial evidence
approaches an abdication of the court’s duty to scrutinize the
record as a whole to determine whether the conclusions reached are
Dobrowolsky v. Califano, 606 F.2d 403, 406 (3d Cir.
In Cotter, the Circuit Court clarified that the ALJ must
not only state the evidence considered which supports the result
but also indicate what evidence was rejected: “Since it is apparent
that the ALJ cannot reject evidence for no reason or the wrong
reason, an explanation from the ALJ of the reason why probative
evidence has been rejected is required so that a reviewing court
can determine whether the reasons for rejection were improper.”
Cotter, 642 F.2d at 706-07.
However, the ALJ need not undertake an
exhaustive discussion of all the evidence.
Apfel, 204 F.3d 78, 83 (3d Cir. 2000).
See, e.g., Knepp v.
“There is no requirement
that the ALJ discuss in its opinion every tidbit of evidence
included in the record.”
Hur v. Barnhart, 94 F. App’x 130, 133 (3d
“[W]here [a reviewing court] can determine that there
is substantial evidence supporting the Commissioner’s decision, . .
the Cotter doctrine is not implicated.”
Commissioner of Social Security, 89 Fed. Appx. 771, 774 (3d Cir.
2004) (not precedential).
A reviewing court may not set aside the Commissioner’s final
decision if it is supported by substantial evidence, even if the
court would have reached different factual conclusions.
181 F.3d at 360 (citing Monsour Medical Center v. Heckler, 806 F.2d
1185, 1190-91 (3d Cir. 1986); 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) (“[t]he findings
of the Commissioner of Social Security as to any fact, if supported
by substantial evidence, shall be conclusive . . .”).
even if the Secretary’s factual findings are supported by
substantial evidence, [a court] may review whether the Secretary,
in making his findings, applied the correct legal standards to the
Friedberg v. Schweiker, 721 F.2d 445, 447 (3d
Cir. 1983) (internal quotation omitted).
Where the ALJ’s decision
is explained in sufficient detail to allow meaningful judicial
review and the decision is supported by substantial evidence, a
claimed error may be deemed harmless.
See, e.g., Albury v.
Commissioner of Social Security, 116 F. App’x 328, 330 (3d Cir.
2004) (not precedential) (citing Burnett v. Commissioner, 220 F.3d
112 (3d Cir. 2000) (“[O]ur primary concern has always been the
ability to conduct meaningful judicial review.”).
decision can only be reviewed by a court based on the evidence that
was before the ALJ at the time he or she made his or her decision.
Matthews v. Apfel, 239 F.3d 589, 593 (3d Cir. 2001).
A. General Considerations
At the outset of our review of whether the ALJ has met the
substantial evidence standard regarding the matters at issue here,
we note the Third Circuit has repeatedly emphasized the special
nature of proceedings for disability benefits.
606 F.2d at 406.
Social Security proceedings are not strictly
adversarial, but rather the Social Security Administration provides
an applicant with assistance to prove his claim.
proceedings are extremely important to the claimants, who are in
real need in most instances and who claim not charity but that
which is rightfully due as provided for in Chapter 7, Subchapter
II, of the Social Security Act.”
Hess v. Secretary of Health,
Education and Welfare, 497 F. 2d 837, 840 (3d Cir. 1974).
the agency must take extra care in developing an administrative
record and in explicitly weighing all evidence.
F.2d at 406.
Further, the court in Dobrowolsky noted “the cases
demonstrate that, consistent with the legislative purpose, courts
have mandated that leniency be shown in establishing the claimant’s
disability, and that the Secretary’s responsibility to rebut it be
Plaintiff’s Allegations of Error.
Whether the ALJ Erred by Finding that Plaintiff Does Not Meet
All the Criteria For Establishing Disability Pursuant to
Social Security Listing 8.05 Dermatitis?
Listing 8.05 Dermatitis includes, among numerous other
There is no doubt that Plaintiff has been
affected by psoriasis, to varying degrees of severity, for more
than five years.
The record is redolent with proof of this fact.
However, the critical question here is whether Plaintiff has proven
that her psoriasis is so severe as to be disabling.
including psoriasis are considered extensive under Listing 8.05
Dermatitis if they: (1) interfere with the motion of the joints and
very seriously limit the use of more than one extremity; (2) are
present on the palms of both hands and very seriously limit the
ability to do both fine and gross motor movements; or are present
on the soles of both feet and very seriously limit the ability to
See Disability Evaluation Under Social Security 8.00
Skin Disorders ---Adult at 8.00 C1.
The frequency of flare-ups and
symptoms resulting from them such as pain are also important
factors in determining the severity of a skin disorder.
8.00 C2 and 3.
Finally, a person’s history of treatment and the
effect thereof are important considerations in evaluating the
severity of a skin disorder.
Id at 8.00 C4.
In this case no physician has opined that Plaintiff’s
psoriasis is disabling.
Her primary treating physician, Dr. Lewis,
entered numerous progress notes indicating that she was not
experiencing joint pain nor was she having any difficulty standing
The record is similarly devoid of any mention that
Plaintiff experiences serious limitation in her ability to use her
hands to perform fine or gross motor movements or that her ability
to ambulate is very seriously affected as required by the listing.
With respect to Plaintiff’s treatment history, the record indicates
that her decision to refrain from using a medication (Enbrel) that
was providing a therapeutic effect affords a reasonable basis for
determining that her psoriasis, though certainly problematic, is
not so severe as to preclude her from employment that provides
reasonable regard for her limitations.
Plaintiff’s decision to
refrain from a demonstrably beneficial treatment may surely be
regarded as probative that her condition may not be as severe as
Mason v. Shalala, supra, at 1068.
For a claimant to prove that his condition matches a listing
he must demonstrate that it meets all of the specified medical
Sullivan v. Zebley, 493 U.S. 521, 530 (1990).
simply has not met this burden.
Having reviewed the medical
evidence and considered the process by which the Agency evaluates
the severity of a skin disorder, the Court cannot conclude that the
ALJ erred by finding that Plaintiff does not meet all the criteria
of Listing 8.05 Dermatitis.
Thus, Plaintiff’s allegation of error
on this point must be rejected.
Whether the ALJ Erred by Finding that Plaintiff was
Capable of Working at the Sedentary Level with Additional
Plaintiff’s allegation of error regarding the ALJ’s
determination of her RFC is based upon her various mental/emotional
limitations including bipolar disorder, generalized anxiety
disorder, depression, and borderline personality disorder.
the ALJ noted that each of these conditions constitutes a “severe
impairment”, this is not tantamount to concluding that Plaintiff is
The test remains whether a claimant may, with
appropriate limitations in the work environment, perform work that
exists in significant numbers in the national economy.
must weigh the medical evidence of record, but the final
responsibility for determining a claimant’s RFC rests with the
Brown v. Astrue, 649 F.3d 193, 197 (3d. Cir. 2011).
The record in this case reveals that Plaintiff’s treating
psychiatrist, Dr, Kahn, assessed GAF scores of 50, 55, 60 and 60 on
four occasions during his 14 month treatment of the Plaintiff that
began in July of 2013 and ran through September of 2014.
indicated at page 7 ante, these GAF results are compatible with
only “moderate” functional limitations.
Beyond that, Dr. Kahn
consistently noted that Plaintiff’s behavior and speech were within
normal limits; that her thought process was intact; that she was
free from hallucinations, delusions, and obsessions; that her
attention and concentration were normal; and that her insight and
judgment were fair.
Dr. Kahn’s GAF assessments and progress notes
regarding the Plaintiff constitute substantial evidence from which
a reasonable reviewer could logically conclude that Plaintiff’s
profile was not that of a person who was incapable of functioning
in a properly limited work-setting. While the Court is aware that
Dr. Lewis indicated on a form that he believed Plaintiff to be
disabled because of significant impairment in social and behavioral
functioning, the Court’s review of Dr. Lewis’ treatment notes of
Plaintiff’s mental health problems do not corroborate his
assessment on the form.
The Third Circuit has held:
in which a physician’s only obligation is to check a box or fill in
a blank are weak evidence at best.
As we pointed out in discussing
‘residual functional capacity reports,’ where these so called
‘reports are unaccompanied by thorough written reports,’ their
reliability is suspect...” Mason v. Shalala 994 F.2d 1058, 1065
(3d. Cir. 1993) citing Brewster v. Heckler, 786 F.2d 581, 585 (3d.
Thus, the ALJ’s reliance upon Dr. Kahn’s assessment was
reasonable under the circumstances.
The RFC determined by the ALJ provided that Plaintiff could
perform only simple, routine tasks, could not perform in a fastpaced production environment, and could not adjust to frequent work
Plaintiff was also limited to low stress
occupations with only occasional interaction with co-workers and
supervisors and no interaction with the general public.
finds that the ALJ’s RFC determination adequately accounted for
both Plaintiff’s physical impairments and her mental/emotional
impairments as posited by Dr. Kahn.
allegation of error regarding the ALJ’s formulation of Plaintiff’s
RFC must also be rejected.
For the reasons stated above, the Court finds that the
Agency’s decision to deny benefits in this case must be affirmed
because it is supported by the requisite degree of substantial
evidence as defined in Richardson v. Perales, supra.
consistent with this conclusion will be filed contemporaneously.
BY THE COURT
S/Richard P. Conaboy
Honorable Richard P. Conaboy
United States District Judge
Dated: April 21, 2017
Disclaimer: Justia Dockets & Filings provides public litigation records from the federal appellate and district courts. These filings and docket sheets should not be considered findings of fact or liability, nor do they necessarily reflect the view of Justia.
Why Is My Information Online?