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David W. Pierce v. Michael J. Astrue

March 16, 2011

DAVID W. PIERCE, PLAINTIFF,
v.
MICHAEL J. ASTRUE, COMM'R OF SOC. SEC., DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Hon. Glenn T. Suddaby, United States District Judge

MEMORANDUM-DECISION and ORDER

Currently before the Court in this action, filed by David W. Pierce ("Plaintiff") against Social Security Commissioner Michael J. Astrue ("Commissioner" or "Defendant") pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) seeking Social Security benefits, are the following: (1) the Report-Recommendation of United States Magistrate Judge Victor E. Bianchini, issued pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b) and Local Rule 72.3(c) of the Local Rules of Practice for this Court, recommending that Plaintiff's motion for judgment on the pleadings be granted, the Commissioner's motion for judgment on the pleadings be denied, the decision of the Commissioner be reversed in part, and the case be remanded to the Commissioner pursuant to sentence four of 42 U.S.C. § 405 (g) for further administrative proceedings; (2) Defendant's Objections to the Report-Recommendation; and (3) Plaintiff's Response to Defendant's Objections. (Dkt. Nos. 14, 15, 16.) For the reasons set forth below, Defendant's Objections are rejected, Magistrate Judge Bianchini's Report-Recommendation is accepted and adopted in its entirety, and Plaintiff's motion for judgment on the pleadings is granted, the Commissioner's motion for judgment on the pleadings is denied, the decision of the Commissioner is reversed in part, and the case is remanded to the Commissioner for further administrative proceedings.

I. RELEVANT BACKGROUND

A. Procedural History

Because neither party has objected to Part II of Magistrate Judge Bianchini's Report-Recommendation setting forth the procedural background of this action, the Court adopts Part II's description of this action's procedural background. (See generally Dkt. No. 14, at [Report-Rec].) Having done so, the Court will proceed to a description of the relevant events giving rise to this action.

On February 1, 2006, Plaintiff applied for supplemental security income ("SSI") and disability insurance benefits ("DIB"). (See Administrative Transcript ["T."] at 35-36, 44-46.)*fn1

On April 25, 2006, his applications were initially denied by the Social Security Administration.

(T. 43.) On April 17, 2008, a hearing was held before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") of the Social Security Administration.

On July 23, 2008, the ALJ issued a decision granting in part and denying in part Plaintiff's applications. (T at 20-33.) In his decision, the ALJ applied the five-step sequential evaluation process for determining whether an individual is disabled,*fn2 and concluded that Plaintiff was disabled with respect to the period between August 30, 2002, and August 16, 2005, but not after that date. (Dkt. No. 14.) More specifically, in reaching this conclusion, the ALJ made the following findings: (1) Plaintiff met the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act as of August 30, 2002, the date of alleged onset; (2) Plaintiff did not engage in substantial gainful activity between August 30, 2002, and April 1, 2007, but had engaged in substantial gainful activity after that date; (3) between August 30, 2002, and August 16, 2005, Plaintiff had residual status post fracture of the right tibia, combined ankle fracture, and drug and alcohol dependence, all of which are considered "severe" impairments under the Act; (4)

Plaintiff did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that met or medically equaled one of the impairments set forth in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix I (the "Listings"); (5) however, from August 30, 2002, through August 16, 2005, Plaintiff lacked all ability to perform sustained work-related physical and mental activities in a work setting on a regular and continuing basis of eight hours a day, for five days a week, or an equivalent work schedule; (6) considering Plaintiff's age (48 as of the alleged onset date), education (high school), work experience (unskilled, nontransferable), and residual functional capacity ("RFC"), there were no jobs that existed in significant numbers in the national economy that Plaintiff could have performed during this time period; (7) accordingly, Plaintiff was disabled with respect to the period between August 30, 2002, and August 16, 2005.

In concluding that Plaintiff was disabled during this time period, the ALJ did not find Plaintiff's substance abuse to be a contributing factor material to the determination of disability. (Id.) The ALJ also found that medical improvement occurred as of August 17, 2005, after which point Plaintiff had the RFC to perform "light work" as defined in 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1567 (b) and 416.967 (b), which did not include his past relevant work, but did include a significant number of jobs in the national economy. (Id.) Thus, the ALJ found that Plaintiff's disability ended on August 17, 2005, and he was therefore not entitled to benefits after that date. (Id.)

Plaintiff appealed from the ALJ's decision to the Social Security Administration's Appeals Council. (T. 2-4.) On June 18, 2009, the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review, making the ALJ's decision the final decision of Defendant. (T 2-4.) On July 17, 2009, Plaintiff commenced this action in federal court. (Dkt. No. 1.)

Generally, in his brief in support of his Complaint, Plaintiff asserts the following fourarguments: (1) the ALJ erred in its assessment of Plaintiff's credibility (Dkt. No. 14 at 7-14); (2) the ALJ failed to adequately develop the administrative record because he did not order a consultative psychiatric examination (id. at 7, 15-16); (3) the ALJ's light work RFC assessment was not supported by substantial evidence (id. at 7, 16-17); and (4) the ALJ erred in its application of the Medical-Vocational Guidelines set forth at 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 2 (commonly called "the Grids" or the "Grid") (id. at 7, 17-18). Generally, in his brief in response to Plaintiff's brief, Defendant ...


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