Plaintiff seeks judicial review of a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner") denying her application for disabled adult child benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act. For the reasons discussed below, the court remands the case for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.
Plaintiff filed an application for disabled child benefits on June 9, 1999, alleging a disability onset date of June 26, 1980.*fn1 Administrative Record ("AR") 94. Her application was denied initially and upon reconsideration. Id. at 58-61, 49-53. A hearing was held on August 30, 2007 before Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") Peter F. Belli. Id. at 456-89. In a decision dated January 25, 2008, the ALJ determined plaintiff was not disabled.*fn2 Id. at 13-22.
The ALJ made the following specific findings:
1. The claimant attained age 22 on June 25, 1984, the day before her 22nd birthday (20 CFR 404.102).*fn3
2. The claimant did not engage in substantial gainful activity from June 26, 1980, the alleged onset date, through June 25, 1984 (20 CFR 404.1520(b) and 404.1571 et seq.) . . . .
3. Prior to attaining age 22, the claimant had the following medically determinable impairment: bipolar affective disorder, and a history of drug abuse (20 CFR 404.1520(c)).
4. Prior to attaining age 22, the claimant did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that significantly limited her ability to perform basic work-related activities for 12 consecutive months; therefore, the claimant did not have a severe impairment or combination of impairments (20 CFR Part 404.1521).
5. The claimant was not under a disability as defined in the Social Security Act, at any time prior to June 25, 1984, the date she attained age 22 (20 CFR 404.350(a)(5) and 404.1520(c)).
Plaintiff requested that the Appeals Council review the ALJ's decision. However, on August 14, 2008, the Appeals Council denied review, leaving the ALJ's decision as the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security. Id. at 6-8.
The parties have discussed the medical evidence at length in their briefs. The following is an abbreviated summary of the most pertinent evidence regarding the time period at issue.
In 1979 Dr. Green examined plaintiff in relation to her joining the Air Force. Id. at 133-36. He concluded that her health was excellent and that she was qualified to join the Air Force. Id. In 1987 Dr. Lackner treated plaintiff for bipolar affective disorder, which he opined had begun in her late teens. Id. at 454. In an undated letter, he stated that she first became his patient when she was 16, that she was "totally disabled," and that her prognosis was "dismally bad." Id. at 169-170. Dr. Sutton, plaintiff's uncle, stated in 1999 that plaintiff had bipolar affective disorder beginning in her teens, that "her life was out of control," that ...