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Pierce Harrison v. Michael J. Astrue

February 8, 2012


The opinion of the court was delivered by: McVerry, J.



Plaintiff, Pierce Harrison, brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), seeking review of the final determination of the Commissioner of Social Security ("Defendant" or "Commissioner") denying his application for supplemental security income ("SSI") under Title XVI of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 1381 -- 1383f ("Act"). This matter comes before the court on cross motions for summary judgment. (ECF Nos. 6, 8). The record has been fully developed at the administrative level. For the following reasons, Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment is GRANTED in part and DENIED in part, and Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment is DENIED.


Plaintiff initially filed an application for SSI in which he claimed total disability since June 1, 1992. (R. at 63 -- 69)*fn1 . An administrative hearing was held on January 7, 2010 before Administrative Law Judge William E. Kenworthy ("ALJ"). Plaintiff was represented and testified at the hearing. (R. at 23 -- 33). Tanya Sholo, an impartial vocational expert, also testified. (R. at 23 -- 33).

On January 19, 2010, the ALJ rendered an unfavorable decision to Plaintiff in which he found that Plaintiff retained the ability to perform a full range of work at all exertional levels with certain non-exertional limitations, and, therefore, was not "disabled" within the meaning of the Act.

The decision of the ALJ became the final decision of the Commissioner on October 12, 2010, when the Appeals Council, denied Plaintiff's request to review the decision of the ALJ.

On November 24, 2010, Plaintiff filed his Complaint in this Court in which he seeks judicial review of the decision of the ALJ. Defendant filed an Answer on February 11, 2011. The parties have filed cross motions for summary judgment.


A.General Background

Plaintiff was born on July 3, 1953, and was fifty six (56) years of age at the time of his administrative hearing. (R. at 87). Plaintiff obtained his GED in 1973, but has no post-secondary education or vocational training. (R. at 95 -- 96). Plaintiff lived independently in an apartment. (R. at 106). He has four children, but has never been married. (R. at 148). Plaintiff had not worked since 2001 when he was employed as a general laborer through temp agencies.

(R. at 92). He has a significant history of incarcerations for drug-related and assaultive behavior.

(R. at 237, 288).

Plaintiff claims that his primary barrier to maintaining full-time work is his mental state.

(R. at 91). When asked to describe his limitations specifically, Plaintiff stated: "You'd have to be around me to find that out. I'm a character. I have mood swings and that's why things happen." (R. at 92). Plaintiff stated that his mental issues began affecting his ability to work "sometime in the 90's." (R. at 92).

In a self-report of functional capacity, Plaintiff claimed that he had irregular sleep patterns, but he had no problems with personal care, he could make simple meals, he could clean laundry, he went outside frequently to walk or use mass transit, he could go shopping, he handled his own bills and savings, and he could count change. (R. at 106 -- 13). Plaintiff expressed an interest in reading, and read his Bible daily. (R. at 106 -- 13). Plaintiff avoided social situations. (R. at 106 -- 13). Plaintiff believed that his age had affected his ability to concentrate. (R. at 106 -- 13). He reportedly did not handle stress or changes in routine well.

(R. at 106 -- 13). Plaintiff did not indicate that he suffered from any other psychological issues.

(R. at 106 -- 13).

B.Treatment History

Plaintiff received psychiatric care from two sources prior to filing his claim of disability . His earliest treatment records in the medical record are from Allegheny Correctional Health Services, Inc. ("ACHS"). (R. at 209 -- 32, 272, 288 -- 89). Plaintiff was incarcerated for possession of illegal substances with the intent to distribute in Allegheny County, Pennsylvania for approximately eleven-and-one-half months ending July 17, 2008. (R. at 209 -- 32, 272, 288 -- 89). Initially, Plaintiff was not on any psychiatric medications, and his only reported psychiatric treatment in the past came about during previous incarcerations. (R. at 133 -- 45). ACHS reported that Plaintiff had most recently been abusing heroin and methadone. (R. at 133 -- 45). He went through a detoxification program, although he did not complain of withdrawal symptoms. (R. at 133 -- 45). During the course of his incarceration, ACHS generally noted Plaintiff to be alert and his behavior to be appropriate. (R. at 133 -- 45). He did not worry about major life problems, did not exhibit signs of depression, was not overly anxious, afraid, or angry, and did not have difficulty speaking. (R. at 133 -- 45). However, he was irritable and did not believe that he had anything to look forward to in the future. (R. at 133 -- 45). ACHS started Plaintiff on psychiatric medications. (R. at 133 -- 45).

Following his release from prison, Plaintiff was placed on probation and was ordered to attend outpatient substance abuse counseling at Mercy Behavioral Health ("Mercy") of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (R. at 236). While there, Plaintiff was primarily under the care of psychiatrist Holly Stewart, M.D., and therapist Aaron Beckley. On August 1, 2008, a treatment ...

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