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Young v. Colvin

United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania

April 16, 2015

STEVEN M. YOUNG, Plaintiff,


TERRENCE F. McVERRY, District Judge.

I. Introduction

Steven M. Young ("Plaintiff" or "Young") brought this action for judicial review of the decision of the Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner"), which denied his application for supplemental security income ("SSI") under Title XVI of the Social Security Act ("Act"), 42 U.S.C. ยงยง 1381-1383(f). The parties have filed cross-motions for summary judgment (ECF Nos. 8 and 10), which have been fully briefed (ECF Nos. 9, 11 and 12) and are ripe for disposition. For the following reasons, Plaintiff's motion will be GRANTED IN PART, the Commissioner's motion will be DENIED, and the case will be REMANDED for further consideration.

II. Background

Administrative Law Judge David F. Brash ("ALJ") found that Plaintiff has a large number of severe physical impairments. However, because Plaintiff's appeal solely focuses on the ALJ's evaluation of his mental impairments, this Memorandum Opinion will address only Young's mental impairments.

Plaintiff was born on December 28, 1965.[1] He is a high school graduate. He has past relevant work experience as a phone operator and machine operator, which the ALJ found that he was unable to perform. Young also was a professional musician. Young has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since the applicable protective filing date of April 6, 2011.

A. Procedural History

Plaintiff had filed prior applications for benefits which were denied and became final. Thus, the applicable time period for this matter commences on April 6, 2011. After Plaintiff's claims were denied at the administrative level on May 18, 2011, he requested a hearing, which was held on March 27, 2013 (almost two years later) in Erie, Pennsylvania. At the hearing, Plaintiff was represented by counsel and testified, as did an impartial vocational expert ("VE").

On April 16, 2013, the ALJ rendered a decision unfavorable to Plaintiff, finding that he was not disabled through the date of the ALJ's decision. R. 16-30. The ALJ's decision became the final decision of the Commissioner when the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request to review the decision of the ALJ.

On August 5, 2014, Plaintiff filed a Complaint in this Court, in which he seeks judicial review of the decision of the ALJ. The parties' cross-motions for summary judgment then followed.

B. Medical Evidence

Young claims that he is unable to work due to depression. Young first began to receive mental health treatment in 2008-2009 at Stairways Behavioral Health ("Stairways"). R. 290. He continued to receive behavioral health blended case management services at Stairways, at least through March 25, 2013. Pursuant to a letter from Stairways Blended Case Manager Jennifer Stellmach, to be eligible for such services Young must have "a persistent, Severe Mental Illness, a mental health treatment history, and difficulty functioning appropriately in the community." R. 508. Ms. Stellmach's letter notes that Young is unable to engage in Education/Vocation due to his medical condition. Id.

In his oral testimony at the hearing, Young explained that his depression causes problems with motivation and concentration. In a week's time, he is active enough on only two days to get through his daily activities. On the remaining five days, he keeps to himself in his room and does not want to be around people. R. 51. He has very low energy and suffers poor sleep patterns. R. 53. Young believed that he would not be able to maintain regular attendance at a job. Young testified that he had been unable to keep his sponsored employment as a part-time custodian at Stairways. R. 45. At the hearing, the VE testified that if a person was assumed to be off-task more than 15% of a work-day or absent more than two or three days per month then there would be no jobs available in the national economy. R. 66.

From April 12, 2010 through January 17, 2013, Young was treated at Erie Psychiatric Associates. His treating physician was psychiatrist Matthew Dejohn, D.O., and his therapist was Jen Girtz. To be sure, many of the items on the treatment form checklists reflect that Young was often within normal limits for appearance, behavior, thought-process, orientation, etc. Nevertheless, the record reflects a continuous depressed mood and a diagnosis of major depressive disorder, severe, recurrent. R. 293. Dr. Dejohn made continuous efforts to find an effective treatment, but without success. He initially prescribed Celexa and Ambien.[2] In July 2010, Dr. Dejohn added Depakote. In September 2010, Dr. Dejohn increased the dosage of Celexa, with initially positive results which did not last. See R. 282 (Young felt the "fog lift") and R. 281 (Young reported return of depression and sleep problems). In December 2010, Dr. Dejohn reduced the dosage of Celexa and added Zoloft. R. 275. In March 2011, Dr. Dejohn increased the dosage of Zoloft. R. 267. In July 2011, Dr. Dejohn again increased the dosage of Zoloft. R. 448. In September 2011, Dr. Dejohn added a prescription for Lamictal. R. 446. In October ...

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