United States District Court, D. Delaware
R. FALLON UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
Oliver Grier ("Grier") filed this action on March
12, 2018 against the defendant Nancy A. Berryhill, the Acting
Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (the
"Commissioner"). Grier seeks judicial review
pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) of the Commissioner's
January 16, 2018 final decision, denying Grier's claim
for supplemental security income ("SSI") under
Title XVI of the Social Security Act (the "Act"),
42 U.S.C. §§ 401-434 and §§ 1381-1383f.
This court has jurisdiction over the matter pursuant to 42
U.S.C. § 405(g).
before the court are cross-motions for summary judgment filed
by Grier and the Commissioner. (D.I. 12; D.I. 16) Grier asks the
court to remand his case for further administrative
proceedings. (D.I. 13 at 20) The Commissioner requests the
court affirm the Administrative Law Judge's
("ALJ") decision. (D.I. 17 at 15) For the reasons
set forth below, Grier's motion for summary judgment is
denied (D.I. 12), and the Commissioner's cross-motion for
summary judgment is granted (D.I. 16).
filed a SSI application on September 27, 2013,  claiming a
disability onset date of August 27, 2013. (D.I. 9-2 at 21;
D.I. 9-6 at 2) His claim was initially denied on January 7,
2014, and denied again after reconsideration on August 14,
2014. (D.I. 9-4 at 2-6, 10-14) Grier then filed
a request for a hearing, which occurred on September 12,
2016. (D.I. 9-2 at 37-67) Administrative Law Judge Jack Penca
issued an unfavorable decision, finding that Grier was not
disabled under the Act on October 11, 2016. (Id. at
21-31) The Appeals Council subsequently denied Grier's
request for review on January 16, 2018, rendering the
ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner.
(Id. at 2-5)
March 12, 2018, Grier brought a civil action in this court
challenging the ALJ's decision. (D.I. 1) On September 4,
2018, Grier filed a motion for summary judgment, and on
November 15, 2018, the Commissioner filed a cross-motion for
summary judgment. (D.I. 12; D.I. 16)
was born on September 3, 1989, and was 23 years old on his
alleged disability onset date. (D.I. 9-2 at 30) Grier
attended school through the eleventh grade, but did not
graduate from high school. (Id. at 49) Grier has no
past relevant work history. (Id. at 30) The ALJ
concluded that Grier has the following severe impairment:
schizophrenia. (Id. at 23)
November 18, 2013, Grier saw Dr. Kimberly Watson ("Dr.
Watson"),  who opined that Grier had bipolar
disorder, social anxiety disorder, and paranoid personality
features. (D.I. 9-9 at 53-56) Grier stated that he
"get[s] paranoid and uncomfortable" around people.
(Id. at 53) Grier registered a Global Assessment of
Functioning ("GAF") score of 57. (Id. at
56) On December 2, 2013, Dr. Watson conducted a Psychological
Functional Capacities Evaluation and found that Grier had
moderate limitations in his abilities to relate to other people
and cope with the pressure of ordinary work. (Id. at
March 16 and 17, 2014, Grier was hospitalized due to his
aggressive behavior and acute psychosis. (D.I. 9-10 at 2, 41)
Grier failed to regularly take his medication and he had
become increasingly paranoid and delusional, believing that
the government had put a computer chip in his head.
(Id. at 41) Following his hospitalization, Grier was
admitted to Delaware Psychiatric Center on March 17, 2014.
(Id.; D.I. 9-11 at 4) On March 19, 2014, Delaware
Psychiatric Center conducted a psychological assessment of
Grier. (D.I. 9-10 at 41-43) Grier was diagnosed with
schizophrenia and his "psychotic symptoms suggest[ed] an
underlying chemical imbalance that require[d] maintenance
with pharmacological interventions." (Id. at
42-43) Grier had a GAF score of 40. (Id. at 44)
was discharged from the Delaware Psychiatric Center on April
22, 2014. (D.I. 9-11 at 4) His discharge notes show his
progressive improvement while on his medications and the
significant improvement of his paranoia symptoms.
(Id. at 6) Grier registered a GAF score of 55.
(Id.) Grier denied suicidal ideations, homicidal
ideations, and auditory hallucinations. (Id.) On
April 28, 2014, Dr. Ralph Kaufman ("Dr.
Kaufman") stated that Grier had problems with
hallucination, delusion, and paranoia, but seemed calm,
cooperative, and conversational. (D.I. 9-12 at 32-34) Grier
experienced auditory hallucinations through May 2014. (D.I.
9-14 at 8)
30, 2014, Grier visited Dr. Kaufman, who noted that Grier
reported some panic attacks, and experienced boredom and
delusions. (Id. at 10) On July 2, 2014, Grier's
case manager at Resources for Human Development
("RHD") completed a Disability Determination
Services Report, summarizing that Grier suffered from poor
concentration and memory, auditory hallucinations, lack of
motivation and energy, mood swings, and paranoia. (D.I. 9-12
at 6-8) Grier's case manager stated that "with
continued care and support from RHD, Grier will be able to
change, recover, and grow," but Grier's
"condition has cause[d] him to not be capable of working
at this time." (Id. at 9) Grier visited Dr.
Kaufman on July 21, 2014 and stated that he felt better but
still heard voices. (D.I. 9-14 at 12) On July 28, 2014, Dr.
Kaufman noted that Grier had a positive response to
medication and felt more alert and confident. (Id.
October 7, 2014, Grier was referred to the Rockford Center
from Wilmington Hospital for psychiatric stabilization after
he experienced auditory hallucinations, severe paranoia,
agitation, and a violent disposition. (D.I. 9-18 at 19) Grier
registered a GAF score of 25 when he was admitted.
(Id. at 20) On October 17, 2014, Grier was
discharged and denied suicidal and homicidal ideation. (D.I.
9-13 at 18) Furthermore, he exhibited fair judgment with
adequate impulse control, and registered a GAF score of 50.
(D.I. 9-18 at 21)
a follow up appointment with Dr. Kaufman on October 20, 2014,
Grier reportedly felt better after being hospitalized and was
lifting weights and doing chores. (D.I. 9-14 at 14) He was
not exhibiting delusional symptoms and had no racing
thoughts, but was slightly anxious. (Id.) Grier
stated that he found large groups of people intimidating.
(Id.) On November 10, 2014, Grier told Dr. Kaufman
that he felt that his schizophrenic symptoms were decreasing
and that he had been enjoying helping his grandfather work in
his garden. (Id. at 19)
January 6, 2015, RyeNeysa Gregory, RN ("Ms.
Gregory") noted that Grier's mental status had not
declined and that his medications were reportedly working.
(Id. at 46) On February 1, 2015, Dr. Kaufman
observed that Grier had a GAF score of 45 and had occasional
problems with hallucinations, delusions, and isolation, but
was calmer and less paranoid. (D.I. 9-15 at 11-12) The
following day, Dr. Kaufman completed a medical certification
form for Grier, wherein he opined that Grier's mental
impairments would last more than twelve months. (D.I. 9-13 at
16) Dr. Kaufman also concluded that Grier was unable to work
at his usual occupation and should not be permitted to
perform any work on a full time basis. (Id.) During
a follow up appointment with Dr. Kaufman on April 6, 2015,
Grier stated that he had been playing basketball and helping
around the house. (D.I. 9-15 at 22) Dr. Kaufman observed that
Grier experienced occasional delusional thinking "that
does not appear to impact him so much." (Id.)
2, 2015, Grier visited Dr. Kaufman and indicated that he had
recently experienced two anxiety attacks and was under the
impression that his medication may have caused them.
(Id. at 30) Dr. Kaufman encouraged Grier to become
more social despite his anxiety. (Id.) During a
follow up appointment on June 15, 2015, Grier reported having
a few panic attacks and anxiety, but followed Dr.
Kaufman's advice on socializing and recently went
fishing. (Id. at 31) From August through November
2015, Grier reported occasional anxiety, but denied
hallucinations and participated in more social activities.
(Id. at 37, 42) On January 11, 2016, Grier stated
that he had been enjoying playing video games with friends
and Dr. Kaufman noted Grier was more outgoing despite his
occasional anxiety. (D.I. 9-16 at 15) On February 8, 2016,
Grier stated that he sometimes felt uncomfortable when he
goes outside. (Id. at 28-29)
March 3, 2016, Grier started seeking Dr. Lavinia Park
("Dr. Park") after being transferred from Dr.
Kaufman. (Id. at 38-39) Grier reported that he
experienced panic attacks and anxiety. (Id. at 38)
Furthermore, Dr. Park noted that Grier's medication
regimen was helpful and that Grier was attempting to use
coping skills to combat his anxiety. (Id.) On March
7, 2016, Dr. Park prepared a medical certification form for
Grier, wherein she opined that Grier's mental impairments
would last more than twelve months and that Grier needed some
supervision. (D.I. 9-13 at 38) Furthermore, Dr. Park
concluded that Grier was unable to work at his usual
occupation and should not be permitted to perform any work on
a full time basis. (Id.) On April 15, 2016, Grier
stated that he was going out more every day and was
continuing to exercise and fish with his family. (D.I. 9-17
at 11-12) On April 20, 2016, Dr. Park noted that Grier had
been challenging himself to be more social by engaging in
activities outside of his home despite his anxiety and
discomfort around other people. (Id. at 13-14) In a
series of follow up appointments from April to June 2016,
Grier reported that he was managing his anxiety well.
(Id. at 15-16, 19-20, 23-26, 28-31)
16, 2016, Grier stated that he enjoyed going out much more
than he had previously, but still experienced anxiety. (D.I.
9-21 at 3-4) Furthermore, Grier reported that he felt like he
had been making progress and that his anxiety had improved.
(Id.) During a psychiatric evaluation with Dr. Park
on July 8, 2016, Grier reported that he had been swimming and
doing yard work. (Id. at 5) Grier stated he was
"not so scared about the community" and recognized
the importance of challenging himself socially. (Id.
at 5) Grier explained that he was afraid of people hearing
his thoughts, but felt like he was making progress.
(Id.) He stated that he was attempting to walk
around the neighborhood by himself. (Id.)
August 10, 2016, Dr. Park noted that Grier experienced
anxiety, paranoia, and panic attacks, but was managing these
symptoms well with medication. (Id. at 7-8) Grier
was staying active and was happy with his weight loss.
(Id.) Dr. Park also completed a Mental Impairment
Questionnaire which noted that Grier's abilities were
"poor" in a number of areas, including: working in
coordination with or in proximity to others without being
unduly distracted, dealing with stress of semiskilled and
skilled work, interacting appropriately with the general
public, and travelling in an unfamiliar place. (Id.
at 10-16) Dr. Park opined that Grier had marked difficulties
in maintaining social functioning and concentration,
persistence, and pace. (Id. at 15) Dr. Park
indicated that despite compliance with medication, Grier
continued to experience high levels of anxiety and panic
attacks. (Id. at 11) Furthermore, Dr. Park asserted
that Grier's anxiety related disorder results in the
"complete inability to function independently outside
the area of [his] home." (Id. at 15)
Hearing Before ALJ Penca
testified that he currently lives at his mother's house
with his mother, brother, sister, nephew, and uncle. (D.I.
9-2 at 43) Grier testified that he currently sees Dr. Park
once per month for his schizophrenia, paranoia, anxiety, and
depression. (Id. at 43-45) Grier stated that he saw
Dr. Kaufman for approximately three and a half years before
transferring to Dr. Park's care. (Id. at 44) He
testified that he takes a large number of medications, but
feels that they are becoming less effective. (Id. at
45, 55) Grier testified that he was previously hospitalized
after he punched a hole in his mother's wall and stopped
taking his medication because of the voices in his head.
(Id. at 47) Grier stated that he still hears voices
and that they sometimes cause him to become upset and make
him "want to go on a rage like outburst."
(Id. at 47-48)
stated that he starts his days by taking his medication,
pacing around his mother's house, and opening up the
windows to check outside. (Id. at 51) If the weather
is nice, Grier spends about five to ten minutes outside
before coming back inside the house. (Id.) He
testified that he leaves the house approximately two times
per week: once when he goes to the store with his mother and
once when he visits his grandparents' house.
(Id. at 48) When he goes to the store with his
mother, he does not drive and goes inside the store for
approximately five minutes before returning to the car to
wait for his mother to finish shopping. (Id. at 48,
54) He occasionally goes to various stores, including
7-Eleven, Getty, the Dollar Store, and Shop Rite.
(Id. at 56) Grier sometimes spends time with his
cousin, but only if his cousin comes over to his house.
(Id.) Grier also testified that he does not believe
he is capable of working, because he does not feel
comfortable with the community and is scared of other people.
(Id. at 48, 54)
asked if he had experienced any change in his condition,
Grier testified that he believed his condition was worsening.
(Id. at 53) Grier testified that he does not want to
continue "do[ing] nothing," but wants to
"enjoy life and go out and do things."
(Id.) Grier does not have any plan with his doctor
to get him out of the house more or become employed.
Grier's Mother's Testimony
Rae Grier ("Ms. Grier"), Grier's mother,
testified that Grier has no hobbies and no friends.
(Id. at 58) She stated that Grier continually paces
around the house and when people come over, he confines
himself to his room. (Id.) He rarely leaves the
house, and when he does, he is usually only able to stay
outside for five minutes at a time. (Id.) She
testified that Grier occasionally visits his
grandparents' house and helps them with yard work.
(Id. at 63) Ms. Grier stated that Grier recently
spent time with his brother and cousins watching a football
game, but intermittently left to spend time alone in the
kitchen or in his room. (Id.)
Grier testified that Grier is currently medication compliant
and occasionally does household chores and cooks for himself.
(Id. at 59, 61-62) However, Grier needs to be
reminded to take baths and cut his hair. (Id. at 61)
She also testified that she does not believe Grier would be
medication compliant if he had to take care of himself.
(Id. at 61-62) Grier can remember instructions, but
forgets things frequently. (Id. at 62) She does not
think that Grier can work because of his paranoia, random
emotional breakdowns, and inability to stay focused.
(Id. at 59-60, 62)
Vocational expert ...