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Christopher John Pia v. Commissioner of Social Security

March 26, 2012

CHRISTOPHER JOHN PIA, PLAINTIFF,
v.
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: David Stewart Cercone United States District Judge

Electronic Filing

MEMORANDUM OPINION

I.INTRODUCTION

Christopher John Pia ("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 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. 9, 11). The record has been developed at the administrative level. For the following reasons, Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment will be granted in part, Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment will be denied, and the matter will be remanded with direction to grant benefits consistent with an onset date of December 8, 2007.

II.PROCEDURAL HISTORY

Plaintiff applied for SSI on April 3, 2007, claiming that he was disabled from all work as of February 1, 2005 due to functional limitations stemming from mental impairments. (R. at 89 -- 95).*fn1 Plaintiff was initially denied benefits on January 20, 2007. (R. at 70 -- 74). A hearing was scheduled for November 5, 2008, and Plaintiff appeared to testify represented by counsel.

(R. at 23 -- 38). A vocational expert also testified. (R. at 23 -- 38). The Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") issued his decision denying benefits to Plaintiff on November 14, 2008. (R. at 9 -- 22). Plaintiff filed a request for review of the ALJ's decision by the Appeals Council, which request was denied on July 6, 2010, thereby making the decision of the ALJ the final decision of the Commissioner. (R. at 3 -- 5).

Plaintiff filed his Complaint in this court on October 12, 2010. (ECF No. 3). Defendant filed his Answer on February 22, 2011. (ECF No. 5). Cross motions for summary judgment followed. (ECF Nos. 9, 11).

III.STATEMENT OF THE CASE

A.General Background

Plaintiff claimed he was disabled due to depression and bipolar disorder. (R. at 113). He stated that panic attacks and alternating manic and depressive episodes precluded him from maintaining full-time work. (R. at 113). Plaintiff was born on June 22, 1964. (R. at 109). At the time of his administrative hearing, Plaintiff was forty four years of age. Plaintiff did not complete high school, but did earn a GED. (R. at 26). He had received no post-secondary education or vocational training. (R. at 26). Plaintiff worked for a year installing drywall for a construction company, but was thereafter self-employed as a mechanic. (R. at 114, 213). He had not worked since 2005. (R. at 213). He subsisted on cash assistance and food stamps, and lived alone in an apartment, with assistance from his stepfather. (R. at 26, 213).

In his own functional report of day-to-day activity, Plaintiff explained that he was capable of independent care, and was able to maintain his own residence. (R. at 120 -- 27, 140 -- 47). Plaintiff could drive a car, and was capable of shopping on his own. (R. at 120 -- 27, 140 -- 47). Plaintiff could pay his bills, count change, and manage a savings account. (R. at 120 -- 27, 140 -- 47). However, Plaintiff had difficulty with concentration and sustained effort. (R. at 120 -- 27, 140 -- 47). He was in need of reminders to complete tasks and take his medications. (R. at 120 -- 27, 140 -- 47). Plaintiff also indicated that he struggled with mood swings and depression.

(R. at 120 -- 27, 140 -- 47).

Plaintiff's hobbies included regularly working out and watching television. (R. at 120 -- 27, 140 -- 47). Plaintiff occasionally socialized with friends and attended church. (R. at 120 -- 27, 140 -- 47). He described himself as increasingly withdrawn, however. (R. at 120 -- 27, 140 -- 47). Plaintiff did not have difficulty getting along with others. (R. at 120 -- 27, 140 -- 47).

B.Medical History

Plaintiff had an established history of drug and alcohol abuse ("DAA"), and began therapy for his substance abuse in November 2005. (R. at 150 -- 51). Plaintiff was found to be in need of abstinence maintenance, addiction recovery education, sobriety skills, and a support system. (R. at 150 -- 51). His prognosis at that time was considered to be guarded. (R. at 150 -- 51). Plaintiff received DAA-specific treatment at Gateway Rehabilitation Center in January and February of 2006. (R. at 152).

Plaintiff was examined twice by psychologist R.T. Marion, Ph.D. in April and May of 2007. (R. at 163 -- 68). Following his first session with Dr. Marion, Plaintiff was found to be moderately limited in all areas of functioning. (R. at 163 -- 68). He was noted to be in early recovery for DAA, and was noted to have poor attention and concentration. (R. at 163 -- 68). Plaintiff was receiving regular treatment for his DAA and psychiatric issues. (R. at 163 -- 68). Plaintiff was diagnosed with alcohol dependence and cocaine abuse, depression, and anxiety disorder. His global assessment of functioning*fn2 ("GAF") score was 40. (R. at 163 -- 68).

Following his second session with Dr. Marion, Plaintiff was determined to have no limitation in his ability to interact with others, and only slight to moderate limitation in all other areas of functioning. (R. at 163 -- 68). Plaintiff was noted to be actively involved in treatment for DAA and his psychological issues. (R. at 163 -- 68). His attention and concentration were still notable issues, but Dr. Marion felt that this would improve with continued abstinence. (R. at 163 -- 68). At the time, Plaintiff had only been sober for approximately two months. (R. at 163 -- 68). Plaintiff characterized himself as "stupid," and claimed to suffer from anxiety, racing thoughts, distractibility, and disorganized thinking. (R. at 163 -- 68). Plaintiff was impulsive.

(R. at 163 -- 68). Dr. Marion diagnosed alcohol and cocaine dependence in early remission, and attention deficit disorder ("ADD"). (R. at 163 -- 68). Plaintiff's GAF score was 45. (R. at 163 -- 68).

Plaintiff received treatment through Beaver Valley Mental Health Services (later referred to as "Staunton Clinic") beginning in January 2003 and ending in July 2008. (R. at 170 -- 83, 221 -- 27). During that time, Plaintiff's diagnoses and alleged symptoms included bipolar disorder, anxiety, panic attacks, depressed mood, irritability, disturbed sleep, avoidance behaviors, and DAA. (R. at 170 -- 83, 221 -- 27). At a therapeutic session in October 2005, following his alleged disability onset, Plaintiff was noted to suffer from depressive disorder and DAA. (R. at 170 -- 83, 221 -- 27). Plaintiff had been sober for five days prior to the session. (R. at 170 -- 83, 221 -- 27). His mood was low, his concentration was poor, he had racing thoughts, and he ...


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