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Harris v. Barnhart

August 21, 2008


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Michael A. Telesca United States District Judge



In a decision dated April 28, 2006, Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") Larry K. Banks found that Raleigh L. Harris ("plaintiff" or "Harris") was not eligible for Disability Insurance Benefits ("DIB") and Supplemental Security Income ("SSI") as provided in Titles II and XVI respectively of the Social Security Act ("the Act"). The ALJ found that the plaintiff retained the residual functional capacity to perform work that exists in significant numbers in the national economy and, therefore, he was not disabled. The plaintiff seeks a review of the Commissioner's final decision pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).*fn1 The issue presented is whether or not the Commissioner's decision denying plaintiff disability benefits is supported by substantial evidence in the record.


The plaintiff, Raleigh Harris, was born December 26, 1958 and was forty-seven when he filed for Disability and Supplemental Security Income Insurance benefits on March 4, 2003. Harris stated that he was unable to work due to bipolar disorder, back pain, and left knee surgery (Tr 70, 97-98, 345). Based on these alleged impairments, plaintiff claims that he was unable to stand for long periods of time, lift over twenty pounds, and could not perform repeated movements (Tr. 97, 349, 350).

On November 4, 2002 the plaintiff was examined by Doctor Paul Peartree, who found degenerative changes in plaintiff's knee, as well as ACL tears, and meniscal tears. In a report, Doctor Peartree states that the plaintiff "denies significant pain" and has a "partial moderate permanent disability" (Tr. 147, 148). Overall, in Doctor Peartree's opinion, the plaintiff lost 40% use of his knee due to the degeneration (Tr. 147-48).

On March 3, 2003 the plaintiff was involuntarily committed to the Rochester Psychiatric Center ("RPC") after he was arrested for violating an Order of Protection prohibiting him from communicating with his estranged wife. Plaintiff was stabilized, and released on the March 27, 2003. However, following his discharge, he was non-compliant with his prescribed medications and his condition worsened until he was readmitted to the Psychiatric Center on April 23, 2003 (Tr. 149-152). At that time, Harris was given the medications Zyprexa 20 mg, Depakote 750 mg, and Klonopin 1 mg. On May 27, 2003 the plaintiff received a physiological examination by Doctor Igor Kashtan. Previously, Harris had been non-compliant with treatment, and used alcohol, cocaine, and marijuana (Tr. 150). At the time of the appointment, it was noted that Harris "is more compliant with all his medications and unit regulations"(Tr. 151). Furthermore, it was recorded that the plaintiff's physical condition was stable and he continued to remain with good behavior due to the medication. Finally, the psychiatrist stated that it was "crucial for his condition" to remain compliant with all medications (Tr. 152). In a follow up report, Dr. Martin Lineham and Dr. Dawood stated that the plaintiff was "psychiatrically stable" and was not considered a danger to himself or others (Tr. 158).

According to consultative examiner Dr. Michael Obrecht's report on July 21, 2003, the plaintiff was obese, had a normal gait, and only had mild difficulty walking. He was diagnosed with osteoarthritis of the knee, chronic lumbarsacral back pain, and hypertension (Tr. 179). According to Dr. Obrecht, Harris could rise from a chair without help, and did not use any assistive device. Dr. Obrecht determined that plaintiff's prognosis was stable, with a mild to moderate lifting restriction. The plaintiff had full range of motion with his shoulders, elbows, forearms, wrists, hips, knees, and ankles. Harris' joints were found to be table (Tr. 179). Dr. Obrecht strongly suggested trying to loose weight and stop smoking.

The plaintiff was also treated by Dr. Tai Nguyen at Viahealth Medical group in October of 2002. Harris mostly complained of back pain and was prescribed anti-inflammatory drugs and was recommended to refrain from heavy lifting (Tr. 221). On May 19, 2005, Dr. Nguyen found that the plaintiff's back was only mildly tender and nonsteroidal treatment was suggested (Tr. 229). Harris was also seen by State Agency psychiatric consultant George Burnett, on August 29, 2003. Dr. Burnett found that the plaintiff was capable of performing simple, repetitive tasks, because his bipolar disorder was well controlled by medication and he was able to maintain daily functions (Tr. 194).

In the plaintiff's release report from the New York State Office of Mental Health, Dr. Satyavathy Sarakanti stated that "due to non-compliance with treatment and medications he decompensates and as a result his judgment becomes impaired" (Tr. 214).

Plaintiff was then referred for outpatient treatment through United Health System. (Tr. 260-64.) Plaintiff was treated by psychiatrist Dr. Muhammad Dawood and psychologist Dr. Martin G. Lineham. Plaintiff told Dr. Lineham that he last drank on July 4, 2003. (Tr. 266.) On July 10, 2003, plaintiff was doing better, appeared motivated, and had been consistent in the prior week with doctor's appointments. (Tr. 267.) It was noted that he was "settling into" his security guard job. (Id.)

Plaintiff missed six scheduled appointments and did not return for treatment until January 6, 2004. (Tr. 268-73.) It was noted that plaintiff was hospitalized on December 23, 2003 for two weeks with psychotic symptoms. (Tr. 273.) Plaintiff's symptoms were currently under control having been taking medication regularly. (Id.) Plaintiff missed an appointment on January 19, 2004 reportedly because he was "getting too busy to come." (Tr. 273.) He showed up an hour late to his appointment on January 21, 2004, and left while waiting to see if the doctor could see him at that time. (Tr. 274.) On January 26, 2004, plaintiff was psychiatrically stable. (Tr. 275.) He was a "no show" for his next appointment on February 10, 2004. (Id.) Plaintiff was reported as stable on his appointments when complaint with his medications. (Tr. 276-77.) Cocaine and cannabis use was reported on March 5, 2004, and plaintiff told Dr. Lineham that "he does not let this interfere with his life." (Tr. 277.) On March 9, 2004, subtherapeutic Depakote levels were noted. (Tr. 278.) On March 17, 2004, Dr. Dawood reported that plaintiff had "poor compliance with treatment" but that plaintiff was "stable on low dose of medication and tolerating medications fairly well. (Tr. 258.) Current GAF was 55. (Tr. 259.)

On April 6, 2004, plaintiff told Dr. Dawood that he had not used drugs or alcohol since November 2003. (Tr. 279.) He was looking for work and had gone on a job interview the day before. (Id.) Plaintiff was a "no show" for appointments on April 15, May 4, and June 3, 2004. (Tr. 280-81.) He cancelled an appointment on June 16, 2004, claiming that he had car problems. (Tr. 282.) On July 19, 2004, Dr. Lineham responded to a call from a police liaison, after plaintiff had been found wandering in other people's backyards. Dr. Lineham called the Mobile Crisis Team and plaintiff was then taken by the team for further evaluation. Id. Plaintiff was a no show for his initial prescreen appointment for CDTP. (Tr. 283.)

On August 6, 2004, it was reported that plaintiff was seen urinating in his landlord's backyard in the presence of her four year old daughter and some neighborhood children. (Tr. 284.) It was also reported that he later exposed himself to the landlord's daughter. The police were contacted and plaintiff agreed to go back to Unity Psychiatric Emergency Center for evaluation. Id. Plaintiff did not show up for follow-up appointments. (Tr. 285.)

On November 30, 2004, psychiatrist Dr. Satyavthy Sarakanti reported that plaintiff was mental hygiene arrested on August 27, 2004 for being found walking down the street with a table leg and a ball speaking incoherently and being hyper religious. (Tr. 212-18.) Plaintiff was transferred to the New York State Office of Mental Health in Rochester for treatment. He was readmitted to Rochester Psychiatric Center on October 1, 2004. Plaintiff was noted to be non-compliant with treatment and medications and using drugs and alcohol and decompensated as a result to the extent that he got into legal difficulties. Plaintiff was discharged on November 19, 2004 in stable condition with a "much improved" condition and a GAF of 60. Id.

On November 23, 2004, plaintiff was seen by Dr. Dawood and Dr. Lineham. (Tr. 286-87.) He was psychiatrically stable. (Id.) Dr. Dawood advised rehabilitation for drug and alcohol use and explained that it was important for the plaintiff to remain drugs free for the treatment of dipolar disorder. (Tr. 287.) Low Depakote level was noted again on February 10, 2005. (Tr. 290.) Plaintiff reported that he was compliant with medications and drug and alcohol free on March 11, 2005. (Tr. 291.) Plaintiff attended therapy sessions and was stable for the next few months. (Tr. 291-99.)

In April 2005 and 2006, Dr. Lineham indicated in a form that plaintiff should not work at that time and that his restrictions were expected to last ...

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