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Kitchen v. Colvin

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

May 18, 2015

TRAVIS L. KITCHEN, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, ACTING COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM

JOHN E. JONES, III, District Judge.

BACKGROUND

The above-captioned action is one seeking review of a decision of the Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner") denying Plaintiff Travis L. Kitchen's claim for social security supplemental security income benefits for the period October 1, 2005, through September 30, 2009.

Supplemental security income (SSI) is a federal income supplement program funded by general tax revenues (not social security taxes). It is designed to help aged, blind or other disabled individuals who have little or no income.

The issues raised in this appeal implicate two SSI applications filed by Kitchen. As will be mentioned below the alleged disability onset date was amended by Kitchen to September 9, 2007, during proceedings on a second SSI application, and he was found disabled as of September 9, 2007, by a different administrative law judge based on that second application, although not receiving benefits from that date forward.[1] Consequently, the relevant time period is from September 9, 2007, until December 13, 2012, the date an administrative law judge issued a decision on the first SSI application after a remand to the Commissioner by this court.

The complaint in the above-captioned case was filed on February 20, 2014, and the administrative record on April 22, 2014.[2] Supporting and opposing briefs were filed and the case became ripe for disposition on December 22, 2014, when Kitchen filed a reply brief.

Counsel for the parties are familiar with the five-step sequential evaluation process that the Commissioner utilizes and the standard of review. The instant appeal only presents a legal issue.[3]

For the reason set forth below the court will remand the case to the Commissioner with directions that if Kitchen meets the financial eligibility requirements he should be awarded benefits starting on September 9, 2007, instead of October 1, 2009.

DISCUSSION

Kitchen, who was born in the United States on May 29, 1972, graduated from high school in 1990 and can read, write, speak and understand the English language and perform basic mathematical functions, including counting change, handling a savings account and using a checkbook and money orders. Tr. 52, 67, 72 and 563.[4] During his elementary and secondary schooling, Kitchen attended regular education classes. Tr. 72. After graduating from high school, Kitchen did not complete any other type of training or schooling. Id. Although Kitchen worked briefly as a laborer at a factory, he has no past relevant employment.[5] Tr. 78 and 456. Records of the Social Security Administration reveal that Kitchen had employment in 1993, 1996, and 1999, and his total earnings were $3104.55. Tr. 456. His highest annual income was $2070.30 in 1999. Id. Kitchen has not worked since June, 1999. Tr. 68. Sometime in 1999, Kitchen was charged with several state criminal offenses, including sexual abuse of children, and was found guilty and sentenced to a minimum term of imprisonment of 4 years and 10 month to a maximum of 14 years and 8 months. Tr. 112. In September of 2005, Kitchen was released on parole to a community corrections center located in Scranton. Tr. 104.

Kitchen protectively filed[6] his first application for supplemental security income benefits on October 1, 2005. Tr. 51-57. In the application Kitchen claimed that he became disabled on September 30, 2005.[7] Tr. 52. Kitchen alleged that he was unable to engage in substantial gainful activity because of congenital club feet, spontaneous dislocation fracture of the radial head of the left elbow, schizoaffective disorder, bipolar disorder, antisocial personality disorder and intermittent explosive disorder. Tr. 38. The application was initially denied by the Bureau of Disability Determination[8] on May 8, 2006. Tr. 38-42. On May 24, 2006, Kitchen requested a hearing before an administrative law judge. Tr. 43. After 14 months had elapsed, a hearing was held on July 24, 2007. Tr. 307-332. On September 8, 2007, the administrative law judge issued a decision denying Kitchen's application. Tr. 16-26. On November 1, 2007, Kitchen filed a request for review with the Appeals Council of the Social Security Administration's Office of Disability Adjudication and Review, and on February 5, 2010, the Appeals Council concluded that there was no basis upon which to grant Kitchen's request for review. Tr. 9-12 and 304-306. Thus, the administrative law judge's decision stood as the final decision of the Commissioner.

On October 18, 2010, Kitchen filed a complaint in this court and the case was assigned to Judge Nealon. Kitchen v. Astrue, Civil No. 10-2150 (M.D.Pa. Oct. 21, 2012). On February 3, 2012, Judge Nealon granted the appeal and remanded the case to the Commissioner for further proceedings. Id., Docs. 19 & 20, Memorandum and Order issued on February 3, 2012. The Appeals Council on April 26, 2012, referred the case to the same administrative law judge to conduct a second hearing and with instructions, inter alia, to "[o]btain evidence from a medical expert to clarify the nature and severity of the claimant's impairments and to determine whether an earlier onset date is warranted." Tr. 436.

Prior to the remand order, Kitchen on September 9, 2009, filed with the Social Security Administration a new application for SSI benefits. Tr. 349 and 396. A hearing on that application was held before a different administrative law judge on July 12, 2011. Tr. 396 and 725-761. At that hearing Kitchen amended his alleged disability onset date to September 9, 2007. Tr. 728-729. On August 30, 2011, the administrative law judge issued a decision finding that Kitchen's impairments - multiple bilateral tarsal coalitions[9] with bilateral degenerative osteoarthritis, congenital pes planus (flat-footed), history of right carpal coalition of the right wrist, status/post carpal tunnel release, status post left elbow surgery, bipolar disorder not otherwise specified, and post traumatic stress disorder - met the requirements of Listing 1.02A, "Major dysfunction of a joint(s)(due to any cause)." Tr. 396-401. Specifically, the administrative law judge stated in pertinent part as follows:

A review of the claimant's record indicates that he previously filed [an SSI] application for benefits, alleging a disability onset date of June 1, 1999.[10] This application was denied initially and at the hearing level in an unfavorable decision by Administrative Law Judge Richard Zack dated September 8, 2007. By Notice dated February 5, 2010 the Appeals Council denied the claimant's request for review of Judge Zack's decision thereby making that decision the final and binding decision of the Commissioner. The undersigned does not find a basis for reopening the claimant's prior [SSI] application[].... Accordingly, the period through the date of that decision is precluded from review by application of the doctrine ...

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