United States District Court, N.D. California, San Jose Division
ORDER DENYING THE COMMISSIONER'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT AND GRANTING POPE'S MOTION FOR REMAND [Re: Docket Nos. 16, 17]
RONALD M. WHYTE, District Judge.
Plaintiff Mark Pope ("Pope") brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) for judicial review of the final decision by the Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner") denying his claims for disability insurance benefits under the Social Security Act. Presently before the court are the parties' cross-motions for summary judgment and Pope's motion in the alternative to remand. Having considered the papers submitted by the parties and the entire administrative record, and for the reasons set forth below, the court DENIES the Commissioner's cross-motion for summary judgment and GRANTS Pope's motion for remand.
A. Procedural Background
Pope unsuccessfully filed a series of prior applications for Social Security disability benefits and Supplemental Security Income ("SSI") on June 13, 2005, August 15, 2006, and August 28, 2006, which were all denied by the administration. Pope filed the current application for SSI on January 21, 2011, contending severe, disabling paranoid schizophrenia beginning January 1, 1996. The Social Security Administration initially denied Pope's claim on May 27, 2011, and again on reconsideration on August 23, 2011. Pope then filed a written request for hearing by an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"), accompanying his request with an addendum that he was hearing voices worse than before and had severe anxiety in public places. The hearing occurred on January 12, 2012. Pope was accompanied by counsel, Lisa Douglas, and an impartial vocational expert ("VE"), Robin Scher. On March 5, 2012, the ALJ denied Pope's claim, and the appeals counsel denied his request for review of the ALJ's decision. Pope now seeks judicial review of the ALJ's decision under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).
B. Pope's Age, Education, and Vocational History
Pope was born on September 30, 1967. Claimant reports that he received "special education" while in school, and has completed the 12th grade. From 1986 until 1998 Pope worked for a moving company. The job mainly involved loading furniture on and off of a moving truck. After this date, Pope did a few "odd jobs, " generally non-specialized labor, never making more than $2000 per year. In 2010, Pope worked one week for Edible Arrangements, a catering company, but allegedly was unable to continue working for longer because of his disabling symptoms. At the time of his ALJ hearing, Pope volunteered as a janitor about three hours a day, five days a week for the Downtown Streets Team, a program created to provide homeless individuals with volunteer work experience as well as housing, food vouchers, and other necessities to help participants work toward permanent employment. It was Pope's case manager through Downtown Streets Team who noticed Pope was having a debilitatingly hard time comprehending instructions and concentrating, and who believed Pope incapable of continuing the program. The same case manager originally suggested that Pope apply for SSI.
Pope has been in and out of prison during his 20s and 30s, generally on drug-related charges, but also for six theft arrests, and at least one DUI. Pope was most recently arrested in 2007 for drug usage while on parole. Pope served a total of three months in prison.
C. Pope's Medical History
Pope alleges that he was first diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia after the death of his grandmother in 1994, when he began experiencing auditory hallucinations. Secondary to his auditory hallucinations, Pope states that he became increasingly depressed and was hospitalized for depression in 1997. His medical records reflect reported symptoms of schizophrenia, including auditory hallucinations, as early as 2003 when he was prescribed the antipsychotic Risperidone by a psychiatrist in Solano Country Prison. Certified Administrative Record ("AR") 231.
Pope has a history of drug and alcohol use and abuse, apparently intermittently continuing until sometime in late 2007. Pope, however, was treated for his psychotic symptoms during periods of sobriety. AR 231, 236, 238-39. According to Pope, his symptoms have not decreased since achieving sobriety, and his auditory hallucinations are severely distracting, often preventing him from interacting with others or sleeping in his own home. Since 2003, Pope has been in and out of prison and has received extensive treatment for his symptoms.
On December 14, 2005, while in custody for a petty theft charge, Pope was treated by a "mental health interdisciplinary treatment team" consisting of K. Kumar, M.D., S. Parroff, Ph.D., and a non-physician. AR 233. The treatment team's notes reflect that Pope was under the influence alcohol and reflect a diagnosis of depressive disorder and "substance-induced psychosis." Id. The doctor again prescribed Risperidone. Id.
In 2006 through 2007, at a parole outpatient clinic, Pope met several times with treating psychiatrist Hamid Sial, M.D. and treating psychologist Steven Dolezal, Ph.D. AR 234-49. The record also reflects that Pope was a "no show" to several appointments. AR 234-35, 238. In July 2006, Pope told Dr. Sial that he was "struggling with his paranoia and voices." AR 240. Dr. Sial prescribed Risperidone and Zoloft. AR 239-40. In September 2006, Pope told Dr. Sial that he was benefiting from his mediation, the Zoloft was "useful in reducing his depression, " he was "working out' at the gym, " he had "a girlfriend, " and he was "clean and sober." AR 239. Following that appointment, sometime in the Fall of 2006, Pope came into the clinic "unscheduled because he had run out of medications." AR 238. At that appointment, Pope reported "relatively stable psychotic symptoms" when taking Risperidone 1mg, but experienced some sedative side effects with Risperidone. Id. Pope also reported "occasional auditory hallucinations." Id. Dr. Sial decided to continue Pope on the same medications, but decreased the dose of Risperidone and advised Pope to follow up with Dr. Dolezal for psychotherapy. Id.
Pope met with Dr. Dolezal twice in April 2007. At the first appointment, Pope stated that he had tested positive for drugs in November 2006 (cocaine and alcohol), and stopped his medication in December 2006. AR 236. Pope claimed to be paranoid and requested medication, but Dr. Dolezal observed "no indication of lack of concentration, distraction, or other obvious signs of responding to internal stimuli." Id. Dr. Dolezal referred Pope to psychiatry. Id. At the second visit a week later, Pope reported "good general physical health" but that his symptoms were increasing. AR 235. Pope denied any substance abuse and stated that he "indend[ed] to find a job and focus on self-sufficiency." Id. The remaining records from Dr. Sial's treatment in 2007 indicate that Pope failed to show up for his appointments. AR 234-35.
On September 3, 2008, Pope was admitted to San Quentin prison ("SQ"). AR 231. Interdisciplinary progress notes from a cell visit on October 7, 2008 indicate that Pope complained of hearing voices talking to him, which started up "3 weeks ago after [his] admission at SQ." Id. Pope reported that, before arriving at SQ, he had not heard the voices for four months. Id. The evaluating licensed clinical social worker stated: "It is unclear if inmate has a substance induced psychosis" because "if his statement is correct that the [auditory hallucinations] started 3 weeks [ago] after the admission at SQ it is debatable if the [auditory hallucinations] could have been caused by prior substance abuse since he denies AH immediately after arrival at SQ." Id.
Starting in January 2011, Pope began treatment with his primary treating physician Daryn Reicherter, M.D. AR 315, 281-87. In March 2011, Dr. Reicherter saw Pope for a second time and prescribed Haldol to treat Pope's symptoms. AR 282. Again in April 2011, ...