DUCKETT v. COLVIN
ORDER denying 12 Motion for Summary Judgment and granting 14 Motion for Summary Judgment. Signed by Judge Alan N. Bloch on 3/12/2018. (dpo)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE WESTERN DISTRICT OF PENNSYLVANIA
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, ACTING
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY,
Civil Action No. 16-1459
AND NOW, this 12th day of March, 2018, upon consideration of the parties’
cross-motions for summary judgment, the Court, upon review of the Commissioner of Social
Security’s final decision denying Plaintiff’s claim for disability insurance benefits under
Subchapter II of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. § 401 et seq., and denying Plaintiff’s claim
for supplemental security income benefits under Subchapter XVI of the Social Security Act, 42
U.S.C. § 1381, et seq., finds that the Commissioner’s findings are supported by substantial
evidence and, accordingly, affirms. See 42 U.S.C. § 405(g); Jesurum v. Secretary of U.S.
Department of Health & Human Services, 48 F.3d 114, 117 (3d Cir. 1995); Williams v. Sullivan,
970 F.2d 1178, 1182 (3d Cir. 1992), cert. denied sub nom., 507 U.S. 924 (1993); Brown v.
Bowen, 845 F.2d 1211, 1213 (3d Cir. 1988). See also Berry v. Sullivan, 738 F. Supp. 942, 944
(W.D. Pa. 1990) (if supported by substantial evidence, the Commissioner’s decision must be
affirmed, as a federal court may neither reweigh the evidence, nor reverse, merely because it
would have decided the claim differently) (citing Cotter v. Harris, 642 F.2d 700, 705 (3d Cir.
The Court finds no merit in Plaintiff’s position that the Administrative Law Judge
(“ALJ”) erred in formulating his residual functional capacity (“RFC”) pursuant to Ramirez v.
Barnhart, 372 F.3d 546 (3d Cir. 2004), because the RFC did not expressly address Plaintiff’s
moderate limitations in regard to concentration, persistence, and pace. First, in Ramirez, the ALJ
had found that the claimant “often” suffered from deficiencies of concentration, persistence, or
pace, resulting in a failure to complete tasks in a timely manner, and the Third Circuit Court of
Appeals held that the ALJ’s RFC determination that the claimant was limited to simple,
repetitive one or two-step tasks did not sufficiently take the claimant’s deficiencies into account.
Here, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had moderate limitations in concentration, persistence, or
pace, as the Social Security regulations pertaining to mental impairments were revised, and the
evaluation of concentration, persistence, and pace was changed from a five-point scale based on
the frequency of the deficiencies to the current five-point severity scale. See Reynolds v.
Commissioner of Soc. Sec., 2011 WL 3273522, at *13 (W.D. Pa. July 29, 2011). Although both
“often” and “moderate” occupy the middle position in their respective scales, more recent Third
Circuit decisions have distinguished Ramirez based on the difference between “often” suffering
from these deficiencies and being “moderately” limited in those areas. See McDonald v. Astrue,
293 Fed. Appx. 941, 946-47 (3d Cir. 2008) (noting that the ALJ properly accounted for his
finding that the claimant had moderate limitations in concentration by limiting him to simple,
routine tasks). See also Menkes v. Astrue, 262 Fed. Appx. 410, 412 (3d Cir. 2008) (“Having
previously acknowledged that [the claimant] suffered moderate limitations in concentration,
persistence and pace, the ALJ [properly] accounted for these mental limitations in the
hypothetical question by restricting the type of work to ‘simple routine tasks.’”). The continuing
validity of Ramirez under the new severity scale, therefore, is questionable.
More importantly, though, in Ramirez, the ALJ had limited the claimant to simple,
repetitive one or two-step tasks. Here, the mental limitations found by the ALJ in the RFC were
more extensive and specific. The ALJ found that Plaintiff was:
limited to understanding, remembering, and carrying out simple
instructions and performing simple, routine tasks, such as those
akin to requirements of work at the SVP 1 or SVP 2 levels; [was]
limited to no work related interaction with the public, only
occasional and superficial interaction with coworkers, and only
occasional supervision; and [was] limited to a low stress work
environment, which means no production rate pace work, but
rather, goal-oriented work with only occasional and routine
changes in work setting, defining routine change as that which
does not require alteration in work method.
(R. 21). These limitations went far beyond a limitation to simple, repetitive one or two-step
tasks or “unskilled work” and properly accounted for Plaintiff’s deficiencies in concentration,
Therefore, IT IS HEREBY ORDERED that Plaintiff’s Motion for Summary
Judgment (document No. 12) is DENIED and that Defendant’s Motion for Summary Judgment
(document No. 14) is GRANTED.
s/Alan N. Bloch
United States District Judge
Counsel of record
persistence, and pace. Indeed, in finding, at Step 3 of the sequential analysis, that Plaintiff had
moderate limitations in concentration, persistence, and pace, the ALJ stated that his Step 3
analysis was not an RFC assessment and that the RFC assessment at Steps 4 and 5 required a
more detailed assessment by itemizing various functions contained in the broader categories,
such as concentration, persistence, and pace, employed at Step 3. (R. 21). This demonstrates
that the ALJ did not fail to address Plaintiff’s issues regarding concentration, persistence, and
pace, but rather dealt with them in a more specific manner at Steps 4 and 5.
Plaintiff contends that the ALJ’s RFC determination, while focused on the type of work
that he could perform, failed adequately to account for his ability to stay on-task. However, as
noted, the RFC in this case specifically limited Plaintiff to low stress work and no production
rate pace work, which clearly related to his ability to stay on-task. In fact, the ALJ expressly tied
such restrictions to Plaintiff’s limitations in concentration. (R. 23). Plaintiff suggests that
additional limitations, such as additional absences and rest breaks, should have been included in
the RFC, but the ALJ expressly rejected such limitations suggested by Dr. Sawrabt Bhardwaj and
Pamela White, BSN, RN. (R. 23-25). The ALJ discussed his rationale at some length, citing to
specific record medical evidence, and substantial evidence supports his determination.
Accordingly, for all of the reasons stated herein, the Court affirms the ALJ’s decision.
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