United States District Court, D. New Jersey
JEROME C. KIDD, Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.
L. WOLFSON, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
C. Kidd (“Plaintiff”), appeals from the final
decision of the Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Nancy
A. Berryhill (“Defendant”), denying Plaintiff
disability benefits under Title II and XVI of the Social
Security Act (the “Act”) for the period from
January 1, 2009 through February 27, 2014. After reviewing
the Administrative Record, the Court finds that the
Administrative Law Judge's (“ALJ”) decision
was based on substantial evidence and, accordingly, it is
FACTUAL BACKGROUND AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
was born on February 18, 1961. Although Plaintiff originally
alleged a disability onset date of February 27, 2014, he
subsequently amended the alleged onset date to January 1,
2009. Administrative Record 19, 240 (hereinafter
“A.R.”). Plaintiff graduated from high school and
attended four years of college, receiving a bachelor's
degree in Psychology and Sociology. A.R. 50. Prior to his
alleged disability, Plaintiff worked as an insurance agent,
salesperson, department manager, and bicycle assembler. A.R.
March 19, 2014, Plaintiff applied for social security
disability insurance benefits and supplemental security
income, initially alleging disability, based upon mental
disorder, beginning on February 27, 2014. A.R. 231.
Plaintiff's claims were denied on June 20, 2014, A.R.
155-59, and again upon reconsideration on November 10, 2014.
A.R. 166-71. On December 4, 2014, Plaintiff requested a
hearing, A.R. 172-76, which was held on April 6, 2017 before
ALJ Karen Shelton, during which Plaintiff was represented by
counsel and amended the alleged disability onset date to
January 1, 2009. A.R. 35-98. The ALJ determined that
Plaintiff was not disabled prior to February 27, 2014, but
became disabled on that date for the purposes of disability
insurance benefits and supplemental security income. A.R.
19-28. Plaintiff requested review by the Appeals Council,
which was denied on February 16, 2018. A.R. 1-5. On April 6,
2018, Plaintiff filed the instant appeal.
Review of the Medical Evidence
September 28, 2012, Plaintiff was admitted to a hospital as
an inpatient with complaints of “feeling very
suicidal.” A.R. 407. Plaintiff was described as having
a “history of major depressive disorder” and
Plaintiff admitted to “two prior suicide
attempts” in 2003 and 2011. A.R. 407. Plaintiff
“described no motivation, not feeling like doing
anything, not sleeping at night but staying in bed all day,
having no appetite[, ] recent weight loss[, ] . . . having
recurrent suicidal thoughts and feel[ing] increasingly
fearful and anxious”; conversely, Plaintiff denied
hearing any voices, feeling paranoid, a history of hypomania
or mania, and alcohol or illicit substance abuse. A.R. 407.
Plaintiff indicated that his father died ten years ago, and
stated that “it has been difficult since then and he
has not had steady employment, ” although he admitted
to performing “some odd jobs.” A.R. 407.
Plaintiff's “support system” only included
his sister in New Jersey. A.R. 407.
mental status exam revealed that Plaintiff appeared
disheveled, poorly kempt, and despondent; his speech was
monotonic with psychomotor retardation; his affect was blunt;
and his mood was depressed. However, Plaintiff had normal
gait and carriage; he was oriented in all spheres; his
immediate recall and delayed recall were intact; his
intellectual functioning was average to above average; his
thought process was linear; he had good insight and fair
judgment; he was not delusional; he felt safe on the hospital
ward; he was able to approach staff if he had any intent of
harming himself; and he denied hallucinations and paranoia.
A.R. 408. As treatment, the examining physician prescribed 25
mg of sertraline and Plaintiff was admitted to the ITP unit
of the hospital, where he underwent a negative drug test and
a normal physical examination. A.R. 408.
October 1, 2012, Plaintiff was ultimately discharged, at
which time the medical provider assessed a GAF score of
A.R. 410. The medical provider also attested to the
following: “[p]atient did well during his stay in the
hospital. His mood was fine. He denied any suicidal or
homicidal ideations.” A.R. 409. Plaintiff's
condition was “[s]table. Patient is not suicidal or
homicidal.” A.R. 409. Moreover, his prognosis was
deemed “[f]air with compliance.” A.R. 410.
February 7, 2014, Plaintiff's sister brought Plaintiff to
the Emergency Department at Trenton Capital Health, because
“a couple of days ago he told her he didn't feel
like living.” A.R. 418, 424. The medical provider's
notes indicate that, upon admission, Plaintiff reported years
of “depression” and [suicidal ideation]”
without a plan or intent. A.R. 419. Plaintiff explained that
he had been living in Virginia for the previous five years,
where he eventually became homeless and was placed in
“some type of boarding home.” A.R. 424. However,
Plaintiff stated that he was currently living with his
sister, who purchased and arranged for his transportation
back to New Jersey, and that he “basically came today
to satisfy” her. A.R. 421, 424, 429. A psychiatric
examination demonstrated that Plaintiff's mood was
depressed, his concentration was deficient, and his insight
was partial. A.R. 422. However, Plaintiff appeared relaxed
and well nourished; he was alert and cooperative; he was not
in any obvious discomfort; he maintained eye contact; he
responded appropriately to questions; his speech and affect
were normal; his thought process was organized; he was
oriented in all spheres; and he had immediate, recent, and
remote memory recall. A.R. 422, 429. Plaintiff was eventually
discharged and instructed to schedule a “follow
up” appointment with a medical clinic. A.R. 435. His
condition was “stable” and “without any
acute distress.” A.R. 435-36.
February 27, 2014, Plaintiff underwent an initial mental
status assessment at Greater Trenton Behavioral Health. A.R.
440-443. Dr. Sarah Mundassery, M.D., administered the
evaluation, which revealed as follows: Plaintiff's affect
was constructed; his mood was anxious; his thought content
was worried; his recent memory was impaired; and his insight
was partial. A.R. 441. However, Plaintiff appeared well
groomed; he had good hygiene; he was cooperative; he had
normal motor activity; his speech was normal; his thought
process was intact, logical, and goal-directed; he was alert
and oriented in all three spheres; his judgment was intact;
he denied any suicidal ideations; and he denied homicidal
ideations. A.R. 441. Dr. Mundassery diagnosed Plaintiff with
depression and bipolar disorder, and she also opined that
Plaintiff was unable to work for a period of one year or
more. A.R. 444. Records reveal that Plaintiff continued
treatment at Greater Trenton Behavioral Health through July
20, 2014, Thomas Yared, M.D., a State agency medical
consultant, independently reviewed Plaintiff's medical
records. A.R. 99-110. In doing so, Dr. Yared determined that
Plaintiff was not significantly limited in his capacity to
perform the following tasks: understand and remember very
short and simple instructions; carry out very short and
simple instructions; make simple work-related decisions; ask
simple questions or request assistance; maintain socially
appropriate behavior and to adhere to basic standards of
neatness and cleanliness; respond appropriately to changes in
the work setting; and be aware of normal hazards and take
appropriate precautions. A.R. 106-07. However, Plaintiff was
moderately limited in his capacity to perform the following
tasks: remember locations and work-like procedures;
understand and remember detailed instructions; carry out
detailed instructions; maintain attention and concentration
for extended periods; perform activities within a schedule,
maintain regular attendance; be punctual within customary
tolerances; sustain an ordinary routine without special
supervision; work in coordination with or in proximity to
others without being distracted by them; complete a normal
workday and workweek without interruptions from
psychologically based symptoms; perform at a consistent pace
without an unreasonable number and length of rest periods;
interact appropriately with the general public; accept
instructions and respond appropriately to criticism from
supervisors; get along with coworkers or peers without
distracting them or exhibiting behavioral extremes; travel in
unfamiliar places or use public transportation; and set
realistic goals or make plans independently of others. A.R.
107-07. Dr. Yared also opined that Plaintiff was capable of
performing the basic mental demands of unskilled work. A.R.
November 11, 2014, Amy Brams, Ph. D., a State agency medical
consultant, independently reviewed Plaintiff's medical
records, and affirmed Dr. Yared's determinations. A.R.
letter, dated October 13, 2015, confirms that Plaintiff had
been attending a partial care program from Monday through
Thursday and sought treatment from Dr. Shaila Maddaiah, M.D.,
at All Access Mental Health (“AAMH”) beginning on
January 28, 2015. A.R. 500. The note states that
Plaintiff's “attendance at and participation in the
program has been exemplary. In addition, [Plaintiff] has been
completely complaint with his medication.” A.R. 500.
the course of his treatment at AAMH, on August 6, 2015, Dr.
Maddaiah examined Plaintiff's ability to perform
work-related activities over the period of a normal workday
and workweek. A.R. 497. According to Dr. Maddaiah, Plaintiff
displayed a marked deterioration in his ability to function
over the past 15 years. A.R. 498. She also found that
Plaintiff was moderately limited in his capacity to perform
the following tasks: understand and remember detailed
instructions; carry out detailed instructions; make judgments
on simple work-related decisions; respond appropriately to
work pressures in a usual work setting; and respond
appropriately to changes in a routine work setting. A.R.
497-98. On the other hand, Dr. Maddaiah noted that Plaintiff
was only slightly limited in his capacity to interact
appropriately with supervisors and co-workers, and that
Plaintiff had no limitations in his capacity to perform the
following tasks: understand and remember short, simple
instructions; carry out short, simple instructions; and
interact appropriately with the public. A.R. 498. Dr.
Maddaiah also performed a mental status examination,
revealing as follows: Plaintiff appeared withdrawn; his
speech was slow; and his thinking was slow. A.R. 498.
However, Plaintiff was deemed capable of managing benefits in
his own best interest A.R. 498.
letter, dated April 4, 2017, from Brittany Baker, a partial
care counselor at AAMH, also confirms that Plaintiff had been
receiving mental health services at AAMH for depression and
bipolar disorder, since January 28, 2015. A.R. 501. In the
letter, Ms. Baker states that Plaintiff “struggles with
socializing and frequently isolates. He attends
psychoeducational groups and Illness Management and Recovery
to decrease and manage his symptoms for the prevention of
hospitalizations. [Plaintiff] also sees the Psychiatrist on
site who prescribes and monitors his psych-medications
regularly.” A.R. 501.
letter, dated December 4, 2017, from Carla Baker, a therapist
at Oaks Integrated Care, provides as follows:
“[t]hroughout [Plaintiff's] treatment it became
obvious that [Plaintiff's] psychiatric condition [will]
continue to impact his life and interfere with consistent and
persistent ability to maintain employment, and effective
social and family interaction. It is recommended that Mr.
Kidd continue to receive therapy to support efforts towards
wellness.” A.R. 6-7.
Review of Disability Determinations
March 19, 2014, Plaintiff applied for social security
disability insurance benefits, initially alleging disability
beginning on February 27, 2014, but subsequently amending his
alleged onset date to January 1, 2009. A.R. 19, 240. On June
20, 2014, the Social Security Administration denied
Plaintiff's claim for disability benefits. A.R. 155-59.
On November 10, 2014, the Social Security Administration
denied Plaintiff's request for reconsideration, finding
that the previous determination denying Plaintiff's claim
was proper under the law. A.R. 166-71.
Review of Testimonial Record
appeared and testified at a hearing in this matter, held on
April 6, 2017, before the ALJ. A.R. 35-98. At the hearing,
Plaintiff, through counsel, amended his alleged onset date
from February 27, 2014 to January 1, 2009.
testified that he resides in an apartment, by himself,
although he has three children, two of which are minors. A.R.
47-48. Plaintiff stated that, since he stopped working in
2009, he has received “general assistance, ” food
stamps, Medicaid Health Insurance, and performed “odd
jobs” for money. A.R. 48. Plaintiff explained that he
does not currently possess a valid driver's license,
because it was suspended as a result of delinquent child
support; however, he uses public transportation to travel.
A.R. 49. Plaintiff stated that he graduated high school and
completed four years of college, with a Bachelor's degree
in both Psychology and Sociology. A.R. 49.
asked about his prior work history, Plaintiff testified that
he was previously employed as a licensed insurance agent for
Morgan Merrill Company in 2003, managing various policies for
clients. A.R. 50-51. Plaintiff stated that he eventually
resigned from Morgan Merrill following the death of his
father, because he began experiencing “panic attack
episodes at work[.]” A.R. 52-53. Plaintiff indicated
that, from approximately 2004 to 2007, he was employed with
Wal-Mart, initially assembling bicycles, and then working as
the department manager of the housing goods department. A.R.
53-56. Subsequently, Plaintiff mentioned that he worked at
Macys selling suits, as well as Ross, where he became
“very frustrated one day and quit.” A.R. 57-58.
Plaintiff explained that he eventually obtained employment at
“Called Cemetery Services, ” selling cemetery
plots and mausoleums for approximately six months, until
approximately 2010. A.R. 58-60.
asked what has kept him from seeking further employment,
Plaintiff stated “[w]ell I became homeless for a period
of time, and that-I was too unstable then to work.”
A.R. 60. Plaintiff testified that he was eventually housed by
a service called HELP during the winter months in Virginia,
following which he moved from “church to church,
” sleeping on the floors. A.R. 61. Plaintiff further
testified that, after having learned of Plaintiff's
circumstances, his sister paid and arranged for his
transportation to New Jersey, and he lived with her from
about February through October of 2014. A.R. 62. Plaintiff