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Myron D. Sprowls v. Michael Astrue

March 12, 2012


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Nora Barry Fischer



Myron David Sprowls, Jr. ("Plaintiff") 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 a period of disability and disability insurance benefits ("DIB") under Title II of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. § 401-434 ("Act"). The record has been developed at the administrative level. For the following reasons, the Court finds that the decision of the Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") is not supported by substantial evidence. Therefore, the Commissioner's Motion for Summary Judgment (Docket No. 15) is DENIED and the Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment (Docket No. 13) is GRANTED insofar as it seeks a vacation of the administrative decision under review and REMANDED for further consideration by the ALJ.


Plaintiff filed an application for DIB on May 27, 2008, claiming disability as of May 27, 2008. (R. at 10). The claim was initially denied on September 2, 2008. (Id.). Plaintiff appeared and testified at a hearing held on March 26, 2010 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Id.). A vocational expert also testified. (Id.). The Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") issued a decision denying benefits to Plaintiff on April 22, 2010. (R. at 10-18). Plaintiff filed a request for review of the ALJ's decision by the Appeals Council, which request was denied on April 12, 2011, thereby making the decision of the ALJ the final decision of the Commissioner. (R. at 1).

Plaintiff filed his Complaint in this Court on June 3, 2011, and Defendant filed his Answer on December 28, 2011. (Docket Nos. 4, 10). Plaintiff subsequently filed his Motion for Summary Judgment and Brief in Support on January 24, 2012. (Docket Nos. 13-14). Likewise, Defendant filed his Motion for Summary Judgment and Brief in Support on February 14, 2012. (Docket Nos. 15-16). As such, the Motions are now ripe for disposition.


A.General Background

Plaintiff was born on May 21, 1960 and lives alone. (R. at 22). He is not married and has no children. (R. at 66, 168). His step-brother lives nearby, but his sister and parents have passed away. (R. at 29).

Plaintiff has a two-year Associate Degree from Triangle Tech, where he studied heating and cooling. (R. at 22). He attended truck driving school and was employed as a truck driver from 1993-2007. (R. at 22, 89). As a truck driver, he transported general merchandise, freight, food stuffs, and clothing. (R. at 23). Prior to 2007, Plaintiff also worked as a delivery driver and assistant manager at a pizza parlor, a gas station cashier, a machine operator, and as a security guard in a steel mill. (R. at 23, 89). However, in 2007, his father began to have health troubles, so Plaintiff quit work to care for him. (R. at 23). Since then, he has worked part-time at Armando's Pizza as a delivery driver and shop cleaner. (R. at 25-26).

In his own self-report, Plaintiff claimed that he was unable to work based on his bipolar disorder,*fn1 arthritis, cataracts, carpal tunnel syndrome,*fn2 plantar fasciitis,*fn3 and issues related to his gallbladder and colon. (R. at 82). He alleged these conditions affect lifting, squatting, bending, standing, reaching, sitting, kneeling, stair climbing, seeing, memory, completing tasks, concentration, understanding, following instructions, using his hands, and getting along with others. (R. at 105). He had some difficulties with personal care. (R. at 101). Plaintiff prepared food daily and would sometimes eat out. (R. at 102). He was able to do household chores as needed. (Id.). He would drive his car or walk when going out. (R. at 103). He went grocery shopping, and he paid his bills and handled checking and savings accounts. (Id.).

Most of Plaintiff's day was spent reading the paper, watching television, or listening to the radio. (R. at 104). He noted that it was difficult to concentrate. (Id.). Socially, he sometimes spoke with others on the telephone and ate at restaurants. (Id.). Plaintiff claimed he did not want anyone to bother him and preferred to be left alone. (R. at 105). He described himself as always being a "loner." (Id.).

Plaintiff further reported that he did not get along well with authority figures, but it is unclear from the record whether he has ever been fired from a job due to problems getting along with others.*fn4 (R. at 106). Regardless, he claimed that he cannot handle stress "at all" and "hate[s]" any change. (Id.).

B.Medical History

Plaintiff's past medical history includes bipolar disorder, depression, diverticulosis,*fn5

hypertension,*fn6 obesity and "CP."*fn7 (R. at 199, 201-02, 204). As of April 6, 2010, Plaintiff's medications included Geodon,*fn8 Celexa*fn9 and Lisinopril.*fn10

i.Psychiatric history

Plaintiff received in-patient psychiatric care in 1979 and 1983 for bipolar disorder and schizoaffective disorder,*fn11 respectively, and his last hospitalization for psychiatric treatment occurred in 1984. (R. at 154). Though Plaintiff took Lithium*fn12 through 1987, the record reflects that he only sought psychiatric treatment again at Southwestern Pennsylvania Human Services Behavioral Health ("SPHS") on June 23, 2008, after filing his disability claim. (R. at 150-58, 163). The initial assessment performed by SPHS staff indicated that he sought treatment for anxiety, confusion, and depression, as he had recently experienced depression, irritability, agitation, sleep disturbance, weight loss, anhedonia,*fn13 crying spells, low self-esteem, racing thoughts, risk-taking behavior, persecutory thoughts, auditory hallucinations, self-condemnatory thoughts and mood swings. (R. at 150-52, 158). He denied any suicidal or homicidal intent. (R. at 151). Plaintiff reported that, at age six, a teenage boy forced oral sex on him in a city park.

(R. at 153). He remarked that he drank alcohol daily or on weekends, particularly when he was stressed, and admitted to smoking marijuana two months prior. (R. at 154).

During the assessment, Plaintiff's mental status was normal and he was not delusional; however, he was "suspicious." (R. at 156). His Global Assessment of Functioning ("GAF")*fn14 was 45. (R. at 157). SPHS staff also noted Plaintiff's past hospitalizations. (R. at 154).

On August 2, 2008, Ravi Kolli, M.D., conducted a psychiatric evaluation of Plaintiff at SPHS. (R. at 163-65). Plaintiff explained his diagnosis of bipolar disorder in 1979 after suffering a nervous breakdown and how he subsequently took Lithium for eight years. (R. at 163). Plaintiff did not take any other medication until April 2008 when Dr. Mannheimer allegedly prescribed Seroquel.*fn15 (Id.). However, Seroquel caused his blood pressure to drop so he discontinued its use. (Id.).

At the evaluation, Plaintiff reported a great deal of stress due to his stepfather's dementia and sister's drug addiction, as well as the fact that he had been unable to work since January 2007 and had no insurance for medical assistance. (Id.). He claimed his emotional problems as well as cataracts affected his ability to work as a truck driver. (Id.). Plaintiff further described his frequent mood swings, which made him agitated, happy, depressed, energetic, or even reckless. (Id.). He denied any active suicidal ideations but admitted to passive death wishes in the past. (Id.). He also experienced paranoia and heard voices when he did not sleep. (Id.). Plaintiff denied using drugs or alcohol of late. (R. at 163-64).

Dr. Kolli noted that Plaintiff was cooperative but excessively talkative. (R. at 165). He spoke with "loose associations" and "rambling speech" and demonstrated a tangential thought process. (Id.). Though Dr. Kolli reported that Plaintiff was irritable at times, had racing thoughts, suffered from paranoia and had passive death wishes, he still found that Plaintiff's "judgment [sic] can be good." (Id.)

Dr. Kolli diagnosed Plaintiff with bipolar disorder (mixed type) and hypertension. (Id.). He remarked that Plaintiff's psychosocial stressors were "moderate to severe" due to having no job or insurance. (Id.). His GAF was "about 50." (Id.). Stating that Plaintiff was clearly in need of medication for his bipolar disorder, Dr. Kolli encouraged him to try Geodon and gave him samples of the same. (Id.).

Plaintiff also began taking Celexa in 2008 and presented to Dr. Kolli several times in 2009 for consultation and medication management. (R. at 217, 227-31). Dr. Kolli's progress notes from January 17, 2009 through October 24, 2009 generally show that Plaintiff continued taking Celexa and Geodon and that he was less anxious, paranoid, and depressed. (See R. at 227-31). On May 16, 2009, Plaintiff reported that he had surgery on one eye and was anticipating surgery on the other so he could return to work. (R. at 229). By August 22, 2009, Plaintiff was truck driving again. (R. at 228). The October 24, 2009 progress note indicated that Plaintiff's "mood [was] clearly stable." (R. at 227). Plaintiff did not report any symptoms of mania or depression but admitted to some anxiety. (Id.). His GAF was 65. (Id.).

Despite these results, Dr. Kolli completed a mental status questionnaire on February 2, 2010, reporting that Plaintiff would be unable to work eight hours per day on a daily basis and would miss four to seven days of work per month due to his symptoms. (R. at 234). He acknowledged Plaintiff suffered from bipolar disorder, and most recently, depression with psychotic features. (R. at 232). He explained that his symptoms included agitation and anxiety, depression, racing thoughts, paranoia, mood swings (including elevated moods at times and elevated energy levels) and reckless behavior during manic episodes. (Id.). Dr. Kolli's prognosis was guarded, all the while recognizing that antipsychotic medication, mood stabilizers and antidepressants, in combination, had decreased Plaintiff's symptoms. (Id.). He noted that Plaintiff continued to require medication adjustment. (Id.). He further explained that Plaintiff continued to have high levels of anxiety and would require life-long treatment through medication and counseling "to prevent more severe and frequent mood episodes." (Id.).

ii.Psychiatric evaluations

Jack Mannheimer, M.D., performed a psychiatric evaluation of Plaintiff on May 19, 2008, and he submitted a report of said visit, dated June 30, 2008, to the Bureau of Disability Determination. (See R. 141-48). The report noted that, while Plaintiff's mood was "irritable" and his affective expression "intense," his stream and content of thought were organized and logical, his memory and judgment were intact, and his insight was good. (R. at 143-44). From Dr. Mannheimer's perspective, Plaintiff would be capable of managing benefits on his own behalf, and Plaintiff did not demonstrate difficulties performing daily activities on a sustained basis. (R. at 144). However, he found that Plaintiff did demonstrate limitations in his ability to interact with family, friends, neighbors, co-workers, employers or the general public appropriately and/or effectively based on the fact that Plaintiff had "poor interpersonal interactions" and reported holding numerous past jobs. (R. at 144-45). Dr. Mannheimer noted marked restrictions in his ability to interact appropriately with the public and with supervisors and to respond appropriately to work pressures in a usual work setting. (R. at 147). He also found Plaintiff moderately restricted in his ability to interact appropriately with co-workers and in his ability to respond appropriately to changes in a routine work setting. (Id.). At the same time, his ability to understand, remember, and carry out instructions was not affected by his impairment. (Id.).

Edward Jonas, Ph.D., conducted a mental residual functional capacity assessment and a Psychiatric Review Technique Form SSA-2506-BK regarding Plaintiff on August 11, 2008. (R. at 177-93). In his evaluation, Dr. Jonas found that Plaintiff indeed suffered from bipolar disorder. (R. at 184). However, he found Plaintiff was not significantly limited in his understanding and memory. (R. at 177). Generally, he was also not significantly limited in terms of sustained concentration and persistence, but he was moderately limited in his ability to work in coordination with, or proximity to, others without being distracted by them. (Id.). With regard to his social interaction, Plaintiff was markedly limited in terms of his ability to interact appropriately with the general public. (R. at 178). He was moderately limited both in his ability to accept instructions and respond appropriately to criticism from supervisors and in his ability to get along with co-workers or peers without distracting them or exhibiting behavioral extremes. (Id.). Similarly, Plaintiff was moderately limited in his ability to respond appropriately to changes in the work setting and in his ability to set realistic goals or make plans independently of others. (Id.).

After review of the medical records and findings of Dr. Mannheimer, Dr. Jonas opined that Plaintiff was "able to meet the basic mental demands of competitive work on a sustained basis despite the limitations resulting from his impairment." (R. at 179). The assessment claimed to partially reflect the opinion of Dr. Mannheimer, whose statements concerning Plaintiff "are fairly consistent with the other evidence in file." (Id.). Therefore, Dr. ...

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