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Trump v. Colvin

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

June 22, 2015

DAVID TRUMP, Plaintiff
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, ACTING COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant

MEMORANDUM

HON. JOHN E. JONES III JUDGE

BACKGROUND

The above-captioned action is one seeking review of a decision of the Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner") denying Plaintiff David Trump’s claim for social security disability insurance benefits and supplemental security income benefits.

Disability insurance benefits are paid to an individual if that individual is disabled and “insured, ” that is, the individual has worked long enough and paid social security taxes. The last date that a claimant meets the requirements of being insured is commonly referred to as the “date last insured.” It is undisputed that Trump met the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act through September 30, 2013. Tr. 16, 18 and 218.[1]

Supplemental security income 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.

Trump protectively filed[2] applications for disability insurance benefits and supplemental security income benefits on December 8, 2010. Tr. 16, 107-108, 196-209 and 213. Trump alleged that he became disabled on September 17, 2010, because of mental impairments.[3] Tr. 196, 203 and 223. Trump does not allege that he suffers from any physical impairments and in the present appeal[4]only mentions bipolar disorder, as his mental impairment.[5] Tr. 223; Doc. 11, Plaintiff’s Brief, p. 3. The applications were initially denied by the Bureau of Disability Determination[6] on February 15, 2011. Tr. 16 and 109-117. On April 4, 2011, Trump requested a hearing before an administrative law judge. Tr. 16 and 122-123. After over 14 months had passed, a hearing was held on June 22, 2012. Tr. 16 and 29-76. Trump was represented by counsel at the hearing. Id. On July 25, 2012, the administrative law judge issued a decision denying Trump’s applications. Tr. 16-25. As will be explained in more detail infra the administrative law judge found that Trump failed to prove that he met the requirements of a listed impairment or suffered from work-preclusive functional limitations through the date of the decision. Id.

On September 25, 2012, Trump filed a request for review with the Appeals Council and after over 12 months had elapsed the Appeals Council on October 8, 2013, concluded that there was no basis upon which to grant Trump’s request for review. Tr. 7-9. On April 10, 2014, the Appeals Council set aside the earlier decision in order to consider additional information and after so doing again found that there was no basis upon which to grant Trump’s request for review.[7] Tr. 2-6.

Trump then filed a complaint in this court on May 13, 2014. Supporting and opposing briefs were submitted and the appeal became ripe for disposition on November 19, 2014, when Trump filed a reply brief.

Trump, who was born in the United States on June 20, 1963, [8] graduated from high school in 1981 and can read, write, speak and understand the English language and perform basic mathematical functions, including counting change and using a checkbook and money orders. Tr. 108, 203, 222-223, 236 and 346. During his elementary and secondary schooling, Trump attended regular education classes. Tr. 224. After graduating from high school, he attended college for 1 to 2 years and took courses in real estate sales, business and culinary arts. Tr. 224, 286, 294 and 346. He updated his course work in real estate sales in 2007. Tr. 224.

Trump’s work history covers 31 years of which 20 years involved self-employment as a realtor. Tr. 214, 224 and 244. Trump in a document filed with the Social Security Administration stated that he worked as a realtor from 1987 to 2007; as a cashier for a department store from 2005 to 2006; as an aide at a group home during 2008; and as aide for a paralyzed individual from 2008 to 2010. Tr. 244-248.

The records of the Social Security Administration reveal that Trump had earnings in the years 1978 through 1990, 1992 through 2003, and 2005 through 2010. Tr. 214. Trump’s annual earnings range from a low of $2314.62 in 1993 to a high of $65, 829.00 in 2002. Id. During the years 1995 through 2003, Trump’s earnings averaged $38, 790.45, from self-employment as a realtor. Id. Trump had no reported earnings in 2004; in 2005 he earned $3318.69 working as cashier at Kohl’s Department Store; in 2006 he earned $10, 337.00 as a cashier at Kohl’s Department Store and from self-employment as a realtor; in 2007 he earned $6410.27 as a residential service worker for Bell Socialization Services, Inc, and Anytime Home Care, Inc., both located in York, Pennsylvania; in 2008 he earned $14, 437.70 as a residential service worker for Bell Socialization Services, Inc., and as a residential aide assisting a paralyzed individual for United Cerebral Palsy of South Central Pennsylvania, Inc.; and in 2009 and 2010 he earned $18, 311.76 and $17, 428.04, respectively, also working as an aide assisting a paralyzed individual for United Cerebral Palsy of South Central Pennsylvania, Inc. Tr. 216-217. Trump’s total earnings during his 31 years of employment were $542, 167.11. Id.

An employment questionnaire completed by Bell Socialization Services, Inc., reveals that Trump worked for that company from October 5, 2007, through August 29, 2008, and he lost his job with that company because of work performance. Tr. 182-184. The employer did not elaborate on the specifics of Trump’s work performance which resulted in his discharge. Id. The employer in answering the questionnaire also stated that in general Trump’s attendance was fine and he customarily worked 40 hours per week. Id.

At the administrative hearing Trump testified that his position with Cerebral Palsy of South Central Pennsylvania ended because the individual he was taking care of passed away. Tr. 35. However, in a document filed with the Social Security Administration, Trump stated that he stopped working on September 17, 2010, “[b]ecause of [his] condition(s).” Tr. 223.

A vocational expert identified Trump’s past relevant employment history[9] as follows: (1) a residential care aide, described as semiskilled, medium work; and (2) a realtor, described as skilled, light work.[10] Tr. 69-70.

At the administrative hearing held on June 22, 2012, Trump testified that he had a driver’s license and drove one to two times per week; he goes food shopping with a friend and does his laundry at a laundromat; he went to his 30-year high school class reunion in 2011 and he had a “good time” as “[i]t was nice to rekindle relationships with several different people;” he takes cello lessons every Wednesday and plays the handbells for his church choir; he enjoys reading, spending time with his family, and traveling; he reads two hours per day with breaks; and he read the entire Twilight series and other sagas. Tr. 37-41 and 44-45.

Trump testified that he could no longer perform work as a residential aide because he had “no energy” and “sleeps a lot.” Tr. 36. He also testified that his last mental breakdown was during a camping trip in 2010, but he was not taking his medications at the time. Tr. 46. Since that incident, Trump testified that he had diligently taken his medications and went to individual counseling and group therapy weekly. Tr. 49-50. Trump’s friend and roommate, Elaine Shealy, corroborated Trump’s testimony but stated that he has a meltdown once every three years. Tr. 56. The record does reveal that Trump had inpatient treatment at The Meadows Psychiatric Center for 3 days in January of 2005 and for 17 days in June-July, 2007.[11] Tr. 285-297. At discharge in 2005 his Global Assessment of Functioning (GAF) score was 60 and at discharge in 2007 his GAF score was 71.[12] Id.

In a “Function Report - Adult” dated January 1, 2011, Trump stated that he takes care of a cat; he had no problems with personal care, such as dressing, bathing, shaving, and feeding himself; he does not need any reminders to take care of personal needs and grooming; he rakes leaves in the fall and takes the trash out; he goes outside “multiple times during the day;” he is able to drive a car and ride in a car; he shops in stores and is able to count change and pay bills; he spends time talking on the phone daily with friends and face-to-face not as frequent; he attends church; he does not need reminders to go places; and he has no problems getting along with family, friends and neighbors. Tr. 233-238. Trump also reported that he never was fired from a job because of problems getting along with other people and that he is respectful “to authority figures when [his] medication is in order.” Tr. 239. In the “Function Report - Adult” completed by Trump when asked to check items which are affected by his illnesses or conditions did not check the following: lifting, squatting, bending, reaching, walking, sitting, kneeling, talking, hearing, stair climbing, seeing, memory, understanding, following instructions and using his hands. Tr. 238. Trump did check that he had problems with standing, completing tasks, concentration and getting along with others. Id. Trump also noted that his medications make him sleepy and he sleeps periodically throughout the day. Tr. 233.

When Trump was interviewed face-to-face by an employee of the Social Security Administration on December 13, 2010, with respect to his applications, the interviewer noted that Trump was cooperative, pleasant, appropriately dressed and groomed; and Trump had no problems with hearing, reading, breathing, understanding, coherency, concentrating, talking, answering questions, sitting, standing, walking, seeing, using his hands and writing. Tr. 219-220.

For the reasons set forth below we will affirm the decision of the Commissioner denying Trump’s applications for disability insurance benefits ...


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