United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania
MEMORANDUM OPINION RE: PARTIES' CROSS MOTIONS FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT (DOC. NOS. 7 and 13)
ARTHUR J. SCHWAB, District Judge.
Plaintiff John Reese ("Plaintiff") brings the present action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) of the Social Security Act (the "Act"), seeking judicial review of the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner") denying his applications for disability insurance benefits ("DIB") and supplemental security income ("SSI"). The parties have submitted Cross-Motions for Summary Judgment on the record developed at the administrative proceedings. After careful consideration of the Administrative Law Judge's ("ALJ") decision, the parties' memoranda, and the entire record, Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. No. 7) will be GRANTED IN PART as to Plaintiff's alternative request for remand, and DENIED IN PART as to Plaintiff's request for an immediate award of benefits. The Court will vacate the Commissioner's decision and remand for further proceedings. The Commissioner's Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. No. 13) will be DENIED.
II. Procedural History
Plaintiff filed an application for DIB and SSI on July 21, 2008. Both applications were initially denied. R. 13. Plaintiff was initially scheduled for a hearing before an ALJ on November 17, 2010; however, the Plaintiff failed to appear for the hearing (due to the death of his girlfriend) at which point the ALJ dismissed Plaintiff's request for a new hearing on November 18, 2010. R. 83. Plaintiff timely requested Appeal Council Review, which was granted on July 25, 2011, and Plaintiff was granted a new hearing date. R. 84. The new hearing was held before an ALJ on October 2, 2012. R. 13. After an unfavorable decision from the ALJ, Plaintiff filed a request for Review of Hearing Decision on January 3, 2014, which was subsequently denied. R. 1-4, 9. Plaintiff timely filed the instant lawsuit requesting judicial review. Plaintiff filed his Motion for Summary Judgment on July 7, 2014, and Commissioner filed her Motion for Summary Judgment on September 9, 2014. Docs. Nos. 7 and 13. These Motions are the subject of this Memorandum Opinion.
III. The ALJ's Decision
In a decision dated November 7, 2012, the ALJ made the following findings:
1. Plaintiff meets the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act through December 31, 2010. R. 15.
2. Plaintiff has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since April 15, 2008, the alleged onset date (20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1571 et seq. , and 416.971 et seq. ). R. 15.
3. Plaintiff has the following severe impairments: lower back pain/sciatica; bipolar disorder; generalized anxiety order; polysubstance abuse, in remission (20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(c) and 416.920(c)). R. 15.
4. Plaintiff does not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals the severity of one of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 (20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(d), 404.1525, 404.1526, 416.920(d), 416.925 and 416.926). R. 16.
5. Plaintiff has the residual functional capacity to perform medium work as defined in 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1567(c) and 416.967(c), except he is limited to performing only simple, routine and repetitive tasks in a stable work environment, defined as one involving few changes in the routine work setting. Further, the plaintiff can perform only jobs requiring little independent decision making, and he is able to follow a work routine with simple job instructions, while making simple work-related decisions. Additionally, the plaintiff needs to avoid large crowds and groups of people, and he can have only occasional contact with the public, co-workers and supervisors. Finally, he cannot perform any teamwork. R. 17.
6. Plaintiff is unable to perform any past relevant work (20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1565 and 416.965). R. 21.
7. Plaintiff was born on August 28, 1973, and was 34 years old, which is defined as a younger individual age 18-49, on the alleged disability onset date (20 ...