United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania
NORA BARRY FISCHER, District Judge.
Brian Clayton ("Plaintiff") brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), seeking review of the final determination of the Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner" or "Defendant") denying his application for supplemental security income ("SSI") under Title XVI of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. § 1381 et seq. This matter comes before the Court on cross-motions for summary judgment pursuant to Rule 56(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. (ECF. Nos. 9, 11). The record has been developed at the administrative level. (ECF No. 7). For the following reasons, Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 9) is DENIED and Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 11) is GRANTED.
II. PROCEDURAL HISTORY
Plaintiff filed his application for benefits on March 2, 2011, alleging a disability onset of January 1, 2011, due to schizoaffective disorder. (R. at 144-52). His application was denied on March 18, 2011 (R. at 54-58). At Plaintiff's request, a hearing was held on August 23, 2012, before Administrative Law Judge Leslie Perry-Dowdell ("ALJ). (R. at 24-44). Plaintiff testified at the hearing with the assistance of Barbara S. Manna, a non-attorney representative. (R. at 25-41). An impartial vocational expert, Tania Shullo, also appeared and testified. (R. at 41-44).
On September 21, 2012, the ALJ issued a written decision denying benefits. (R. at 9-23). Plaintiff's request for review by the Appeals Council was denied (R. at 1-6), rendering the Commissioner's decision final under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Plaintiff filed the instant action on March 26, 2014 (ECF No. 3), and the parties subsequently filed cross-motions for summary judgment. (ECF Nos. 9, 11). The matter has been fully briefed and is ripe for disposition.
A. General Background
Plaintiff was born on August 13, 1985, and was 25 years old on the alleged disability onset date. (R. at 19). He graduated high school in 2003 and attended college at California University of Pennsylvania until 2008. (R. at 34, 313, 508, 522). In 2010, Plaintiff took additional college courses online through Kaplan University. (R. at 34, 36, 219, 438).
In the summer of 2010, Plaintiff worked for the United States Census Bureau, going door-to-door and assisting residents with filling out a questionnaire. (R. at 166). From 2010 through 2012, Plaintiff assisted his father in a retail clothing store by hanging clothes, cleaning, and working a cash register. (R. at 219, 235, 241, 250, 253, 259, 263, 283, 291, 522, 534, 545, 559, 561). Plaintiff worked for his father approximately five hours per day, two days per week. (R. at 522, 534).
At the time of the administrative hearing, Plaintiff lived with his mother and visited with his brother and sister on a weekly basis. (R. at 33). Plaintiff had no problems with personal care and was able to assist his mother with household chores including cooking, cleaning, and laundry. (R. at 39, 172). Plaintiff reported that he engaged in recreational activities such as going to the gym two or three times a week, using his computer to study computer programming and the Japanese language, interacting on Facebook and online dating websites, and playing video games. (R. at 27-28, 30-31, 516-22, 529-37). Through a referral from his therapist, Plaintiff also traveled to a rehabilitation "clubhouse" approximately three times a week and performed tasks such as running a cash register, cooking, and selling candy. (R. at 27-28). Plaintiff used public transportation to travel to the clubhouse and other locations around the city. (R. at 30-31, 40, 174, 514, 516).
B. Medical Background
The record reflects that Plaintiff initially presented for mental health treatment on December 15, 2009 at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC) Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic (WPIC) and was diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder. (R. at 271-278). Upon discharge, Plaintiff was assessed with a Global Assessment of Functioning ("GAF") score of 50. (R. at 274). Plaintiff was instructed to commence treatment in the form of individual and group therapy and was prescribed Risperdal and Zoloft. (R. at 206).
At a follow up appointment on January 6, 2010, Plaintiff arrived neatly groomed and was pleasant and cooperative. (R. at 499). He maintained eye contact, was fully oriented, and had organized thoughts and goals. (R. at 499). However, he also appeared anxious and tense and displayed poor concentration, poor insight, ...