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Romano v. Commissioner of Social Security

United States District Court, E.D. Michigan, Southern Division

January 4, 2015



CHARLES E. BINDER, Magistrate Judge.


Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment should be DENIED, and that of Defendant GRANTED, as substantial evidence supports the finding that claimant remains capable of performing a significant number of jobs in the economy.


A. Introduction and Procedural Background

Plaintiff filed applications for Social Security Disability Insurance Benefits (DIB) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits on January 5, 2011, alleging that he had become disabled and unable to work on December 31, 2005[1], at age 34, due to post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), bipolar disorder and a history of substance abuse. Benefits were initially denied by the Social Security Administration. A requested de novo hearing was held on October 24, 2011, before Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) Timothy Scallen. The ALJ found that the claimant was not entitled to disability benefits because he retained the ability to perform a significant number of jobs existing in the economy. The Law Judge determined that the claimant could work at all exertional levels from sedentary to heavy, but could not perform complex assignments where he would be required to read, write or perform mathematical calculations. The ALJ also restricted Plaintiff from jobs involving more than minimal contact with co-workers and the general public. The Appeals Council declined to review that decision and Plaintiff commenced the instant action for judicial review of the denial of benefits. The parties have filed Motions for Summary Judgment and the issue for review is whether Defendant's denial of benefits was supported by substantial evidence on the record.

Plaintiff was 39 years old at the time of the administrative hearing (TR 34). He had an eleventh grade education, and had been employed as a construction worker, painter and groundskeeper during the relevant past (TR 35). Claimant had attended special education classes in speech and math, but asserted that he was "very poor" at math (TR. 34). He had worked as a truck driver as recently as 2010, but that attempt lasted less than 30 days (TR 35). Plaintiff testified about his history of incarcerations dating back to September 1997, when he was imprisoned after being convicted of home invasion (TR 37). Claimant's most recent imprisonment occurred in 2009, after being convicted of threatening and intimidating a woman over the telephone (TR 38-39).

Plaintiff acknowledged that he had a history of substance abuse since high school (TR 39). He was currently taking prescription medications for mental depression, a bi-polar disorder and PTSD (TR 46). The medications allegedly proved ineffective, and caused such side effects as blurred vision and dizziness (TR 46). Despite on-going mental health treatment, claimant asserted that he remained disabled and unable to work (TR 50-55).

A Vocational Expert, Scott Silver, classified Plaintiff's past work as medium to heavy, semi-skilled activity (TR 68). If the claimant was physically capable of a full range of work, but whose mental difficulties limited him to simple job assignments where he was only required to do elementary level reading, writing and arithmetic, the witness testified that there were numerous hand packaging and assembly jobs that Plaintiff could perform (TR 68-69). These low-stress jobs did not necessitate working with the general public, or maintaining close contact with co-workers (TR 66-67). On the other hand, if claimant needed to be off work for more than one day every month on a consistent basis, then all work activity would be precluded (TR 68-69).

B. ALJ's Findings

The Administrative Law Judge found that Plaintiff was impaired as a result of a bipolar disorder, PTSD, and a past history of substance abuse, but that these impairments were not severe enough to meet the Listing of Impairments. The ALJ recognized that the claimant's mental impairments precluded him from performing complex tasks, and from having frequent contact with the general public or co-workers. Nonetheless, the ALJ found that Plaintiff retained the residual functional capacity to perform a reduced range of heavy, light and sedentary unskilled work, within those limitations, as identified by the Vocational Expert (TR 14-25)

C. Standard of Review

Pursuant to 42 U.S.C. ยง 405(g), this court has jurisdiction to review the Commissioner's decisions. Judicial review of those decisions is limited to determining whether her findings are supported by substantial evidence and whether she employed the proper legal standards. Richardson v. Perales , 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971). Substantial evidence is more than a scintilla but less than a preponderance. It is such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion. See Kirk v. Secretary , 667 F.2d 524, 535 (6th Cir. 1981), cert. denied, 461 U.S. 957 (1983). This court does not try the case de novo, resolve conflicts in the evidence, or decide questions of credibility. See Brainard v. Secretary , 889 F.2d 679, 681 (6th Cir. 1989); Garner v. Heckler , 745 F.2d 383, 387 (6th Cir. 1984).

In determining the existence of substantial evidence, the court must examine the administrative record as a whole. Kirk , 667 F.2d at 536. If the Commissioner's decision is supported by substantial evidence, it must be affirmed even if substantial evidence also supports the opposite conclusion, Mullen v. Bowen , 800 F.2d 535, 545 (6th Cir. 1986) (en banc), Casey v. Secretary , 987 F.2d 1230 (6th Cir. 1993), and even if the ...

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