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Dirl v. Colvin

United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania

February 13, 2014

EUGENE N. DIRL, Plaintiff,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.




Eugene N. Dirl ("Plaintiff") brings this action under 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 disability insurance benefits ("DIB") and supplemental security income ("SSI") under Title II and Title XVI of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 401-433, 1381-1383(f) ("the Act"). (Docket No. 3). This matter comes before the Court on cross motions for summary judgment. (Docket Nos. 9, 13). The record has been developed at the administrative level. For the following reasons, Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment [9] is granted, in part, and denied, in part, and Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment [13] is denied.


Plaintiff applied for DIB and SSI on July 12, 2010, claiming a disability onset of June 15, 2009 for arthritis in his hip, [1] lower back, and knee, as well as a gunshot wound.[2] (R. at 24, 65, 97-116).[3] Plaintiff's claims were initially denied on August 30, 2010 due to insufficient evidence provided by Plaintiff.[4] ( Id. ). Plaintiff then requested an administrative hearing. (R. at 24). This hearing was conducted on October 7, 2011 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, in which Plaintiff, represented by Ruth Kolb, and Samuel E. Edelmann, an impartial vocational expert, testified. (R. at 35-62).

On October 26, 2011, the Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) issued his ruling, which was partially favorable to Plaintiff. (R. at 20). The ALJ found that Plaintiff became disabled as of July 26, 2011, and continued to be disabled through the date of the ALJ's decision. (R. at 32). Consequently, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff was eligible for SSI benefits as of the date of disability. (R. at 33). However, the ALJ denied Plaintiff's claims for DIB because Plaintiff did not meet the Act's insured status requirements as of July 26, 2011, given that Plaintiff was insured only through March 31, 2011. (R. at 24-26, 33, 124). On December 27, 2011, Plaintiff appealed the ALJ's decision regarding DIB to the Appeals Council. (R. at 17). On May 10, 2013, the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review, thereby making the decision of the ALJ the Commissioner's final decision. (R. at 1).

Plaintiff filed his Complaint on June 5, 2013. (Docket No. 3). Defendant filed her Answer on August 27, 2013. (Docket No. 6). The parties then filed cross-Motions for Summary Judgment. (Docket Nos. 9; 13). The matter having been fully briefed, (Docket Nos. 10; 14; 16; 17; 19), is now ripe for disposition.


A. General Background

Plaintiff was born on April 28, 1955, and was fifty-six[5] years of age at the time of his administrative hearing. (R. at 40). He is a six foot one inch tall and 280-pound adult male. (R. at 48). He attended high school through the eleventh grade, completed his GED in 1973, earned his Commercial Driver's License (CDL), and has also received vocational training in arc welding. (R. at 41, 118, 151). Additionally, Plaintiff served in the military from May 5, 1980 through May 6, 1983 and afterwards sought services from the Department of Veterans Affairs ("the VA"). (R. at 101, 286, 336, 368).

Plaintiff has one brother, who is an alcoholic and suffers from depression. (R. at 354). His parents are deceased, and his father was an alcoholic. ( Id. ). Plaintiff was married from August 8, 1989 until January 1, 2006, when the couple divorced. (R. at 97-98). He has no children. (R. at 368). As of June 2010, Plaintiff had a girlfriend, (R. at 142), although this relationship had ended by March 2011, (R. at 368). Plaintiff occasionally consulted the VA for assistance with homelessness from 2008 through 2010.[6] (R. at 157-58, 160-65, 168-69, 175).

B. Work History

Plaintiff reported that his employment history spanned from roughly 1995 until 2010. (R. at 42-44). From 1995-1996, Plaintiff was a paint mixer at Gateway Paint and Chemicals, which included a lot of labor, dock work, and heavy lifting. (R. at 42). From 1998-2001, Plaintiff was a laborer doing different jobs with a lot of lifting. (R. at 41-42). From October 22, 2008 through December 10, 2008, Plaintiff participated in the Department of Veterans Affairs Compensated Work Therapy vocational rehabilitation program. (R. at 150). Through this program, he worked for hospital environmental services, lifting more than fifty pounds, (R. at 42, 150), but quit because he "could not handle the work" due to arthritis. (R. at 150). He then had different jobs as a truck driver hauling steel over long distances for long periods of time. (R. at 42-43). These truck driving jobs included some lifting. (R. at 43).

The record contains inconsistent information about Plaintiff's work history in 2010. For example, on July 29, 2010, Plaintiff completed a Form SSA-3368 disability report, wherein he stated that he was not currently working, and that he had stopped working on June 15, 2009 because of his physical condition. (R. at 118). However, beginning on February 9, 2010, Plaintiff received vocational counseling at the VA Healthcare System, Heinz Division in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania (VA Heinz). (R. at 150-62). At this initial appointment, Plaintiff reported that he had been unemployed since a truck-driving job in November 2009 and "has been searching for employment." (R. at 27, 150). Plaintiff further indicated that "he was going to be hired for a Comtran company in McKees Rocks, " except that his eye glasses were broken, for which he was referred for a patient assistance program to receive affordable eye glasses. (R. at 150). Plaintiff testified at the hearing that he worked for several months in 2010 through LifeWork.[7] (R. at 44). This job involved piecing things together and entailed sitting down for long periods of time. (R. at 44-45). The record shows that throughout 2010, Plaintiff received community/work reintegration training and vocation motivation group therapy. (R. at 157-58, 160, 162, 203, 385, 388-89).

In November 2010, Plaintiff reported to Vocational Rehabilitation Specialist, Edward C. Seftas, that he had secured employment as a school bus driver. (R. at 259, 385). In December 2010, Plaintiff told SW Carroll that he was fired from driving a Monark bus because he failed a drug test. (R. at 27, 382-83). Plaintiff claimed that he did not work in 2011. (R. at 44).

However, Plaintiff told SW Carroll that he had a job interview with a bus company in February 2011. (R. at 381). Then, in March 2011, Plaintiff reported to Center for Treatment of Addictive Disorders (CTAD) case manager Jane E. McClelland ("McClelland") that he needed to look for a job, (R. at 359), and told SW Carroll that he needed to renew his CDL license so he could start work at a trucking company soon. (R. at 356). By April 2011, Plaintiff had planned with SW Carroll to apply for truck driving jobs, (R. at 337), and he renewed his CDL license. (R. at 340). On April 29, 2011, SW Carroll reported that Plaintiff had completed CDL training at Diamondback Trucking in Ambridge, Pennsylvania in order to drive a truck in and out of steel mills, and that Plaintiff had a job interview on May 2, 2011 at U.S. Steel in Clairton, Pennsylvania. (R. at 338). In May 2011, Plaintiff was attending job training and expected to be "working shortly driving a truck." (R. at 334-35). On June 29, 2011, Plaintiff reported to SW Carroll that he was briefly employed as a dump truck driver but he had quit because the truck owner was charging Plaintiff for truck damages he did not believe were his fault or responsibility. (R. at 27, 317).

After that job, Plaintiff planned to search for new employment, (R. at 311, 318, 331), inquired about financial aid for truck school recertification, (R. at 311), and expressed interest in obtaining hazardous materials certification on his CDL license. (R. at 318). In July 2011, he reported to nurse practitioner Susan Byerly (Byerly) of the VA at Highland Drive that "he can do security, " which would be his choice occupation, and he "would like to work." (R. at 293-94). SW Carroll also gave Plaintiff a list of security companies to which he could apply after Plaintiff indicated that he was "giving up on truck driving for the time being." (R. at 306). Therefore, as of July 2011, Plaintiff was looking for new employment.

Following his heart attack in July 2011, [8] Plaintiff's employment search was put on hold because of his medical issues. On August 1, 2011, Plaintiff was turned down from CTAD[9] by case manager McClelland and Dr. Dunbar because he had to complete his cardiac rehabilitation before entering the program. (R. at 283-84). Plaintiff was also cautioned to avoid overworking himself. (R. at 283). Additionally, his compensated work therapy was put on hold. (R. at 278).

C. Medical History

Plaintiff's medical history is discussed in the following five categories: (1) polysubstance abuse of cocaine and alcohol; (2) status post gunshot wound to abdomen and resulting hernia repair; (3) arthritis of the right hip, knee, and low back; (4) heart attack; and (5) additional medical history including obesity, gastro-esophageal reflux disease (GERD), hypertension, gall stones, depression, and sleep disorder.

1. Polysubstance Abuse of Cocaine and Alcohol[10]

Plaintiff has an extensive history of alcohol and crack cocaine abuse. (R. at 177, 287, 336). Plaintiff began using crack cocaine in 1983, following his mother's death. (R. at 182). He has been hospitalized and entered rehabilitation programs for addiction in 2001 (Salvation Army), 2003 (Salvation Army), 2004 (VA Highland Drive), 2006 (Butler Domiciliary Program, incomplete), 2007 (VA Pittsburgh HSC Heinz Division), [11] and 2008. (R. at 152, 182). He also attended group psychotherapy at the VA regarding his drug abuse from 2008 through 2011. (R. at 159-61, 163-69, 170, 172, 174-75, 333, 339, 341-43, 345-50, 352-53, 357-58, 361-62, 366, 379). SW Carroll noted that Plaintiff has completed twelve rehabilitation programs since 1987 and maintained sobriety for eighteen months in 1990 and 1991, but has never dedicated himself to a twelve-step program. (R. at 52, 287, 336).

In 2010, Plaintiff sustained varying periods of sobriety. On May 6, 2010, Plaintiff disclosed at Vocation Motivation Group that he did not qualify for a driving job at that time because of his addiction. (R. at 203). In May and June 2010, Plaintiff had been sober for several ...

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