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Akens v. Astrue

June 8, 2009


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



Plaintiff, Edward Akens ("Akens") filed this action pursuant to the Social Security Act, codified at 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and 1383(c)(3), seeking review of a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner"), denying his application for Disability Insurance Benefits ("Disability"), and Supplemental Security Insurance ("SSI"). On November 20, 2008, both the Commissioner and plaintiff moved for judgment on the pleadings pursuant to Rule 12(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.

For the reasons that follow, this Court finds that the Commissioner's decision is supported by substantial evidence. Accordingly, plaintiff's motion for judgment on the pleadings is denied and defendant's motion for judgment on the pleadings is granted.


Plaintiff is a 55 year old man with a high school education. (Tr. 130) He filed an application for Disability on November 5, 2003 alleging that he had been disabled since October 9, 2002 because of depression. (Tr. 114-116) His application was denied initially on February 5, 2004 (Tr. 75-78) Plaintiff requested a hearing which was held on March 14, 2006 at which plaintiff appeared before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") and was represented by counsel and a vocational expert appeared and testified. (Tr. 375-399) By decision dated June 20, 2006, the ALJ found plaintiff was not disabled. (Tr. 66-76) The Appeals Council remanded the case on November 24, 2006 directing the ALJ: (1) to give further consideration to the treating source opinion pursuant to . . . 20 C.F.R. 404.1527 and SS Rulings 96-2p and 96-5p and explain the weight given to such opinion evidence." (Tr. 42); (2) to specifically evaluate the intensity, persistence and limiting effects of the alleged symptoms by considering objective medical evidence, medical opinions, prior work record, precipitating and aggravating factors, the type, dosage, effectiveness and side effects of medications, treatment other than medications and other measures used to relieve symptoms.; (3) to evaluate the severity of the depression pursuant to 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520a and criteria B of the regulations; and (4) to make a function-by-function assessment of plaintiffs ability to do work-related mental activities. In a detailed decision dated April 26, 2007, the ALJ responded to the issues outlined in the Appeals Council order. (Tr. 41-42)

A supplemental hearing was held on March 6, 2007 at which plaintiff appeared and testified as well as a vocational expert. By Decision dated April 26, 2007, the ALJ again denied plaintiff's claim. (Tr. 17-25) The decision of the ALJ became final when the Appeals Council denied review on April 10, 2008. (Tr. 8-11) Plaintiff commenced this action on May 5, 2008 claiming that he was disabled by depression for the closed period from October 2, 2002 until June 1, 2004.

A. Medical Background

Akens began experiencing anxiety attacks in the 1990s following his sister's death. (Tr. 326) In October, 2002, plaintiff stopped working after he had a mental breakdown at work. Akens testified that he "flew off the handle" over an issue with the Dean of Students at the school where he worked. This led to his breaking down in his boss' office and his leaving work. (Tr. 383)

The medical notes of Dr. William Platzer, plaintiff's primary care physician, in January, 2002, report that plaintiff was prescribed BuSpar and Effexor to treat depression, lack of ambition and troubles at his job. (Tr. 195) At this time, Akens refused counseling. In August, 2002 Dr. William Platzer again examined plaintiff noting his long history of depression, anxiety and temper problems. Dr. Platzer reported that plaintiff had difficulty taking orders at work as well as poor sleep habits. Dr. Platzer diagnosed depression and anxiety, prescribed Effexor and Xanax, and recommended that plaintiff see a psychiatrist. (Tr. 190)

In October, 2002, plaintiff began treatment with Dr. Maryanne Hamilton, a psychologist. Dr. Hamilton found Akens to suffer from "severe depression, anger with aggressive thoughts in the face of minor frustrations, extreme irritability at home, emotional overreaction at work, severe sleep disruption, difficulty motivating himself to do anything, attention problems and difficulty concentrating." (Tr. 326) Dr. Hamilton treated plaintiff with weekly counseling sessions for a "fairly long term history of emotional and behavioral instability." (Tr. 332) Dr. Hamilton diagnosed plaintiff with "moderate recurrent major depression" and alcohol dependency in full remission. (Tr. 327) Akens continued treatment with Dr. Hamilton between October 2002 and June 2004. (Tr. 326-357) In December, 2002, Dr. Hamilton noted that plaintiff "was unable to work until further notice." (Tr. 337)

Dr. Hamilton referred plaintiff to Dr. Ellis Levy, a psychiatrist, in October 2002. (Tr. 323, 353) Dr. Levy noted that plaintiff had experienced poor sleep, poor concentration, inability to perform at work, ideas of reference (the feeling that casual incidents and external events have a particular and unusual meaning that is specific to the person) and constant anger. (Tr. 323) Dr. Leve diagnosed major depressive disorder complicated by severe anxiety symptoms. He noted that Akens had a partial response to Effexor and he prescribed Zyprexa. (Tr. 323) In December, 2002, Dr. Levy changed the prescription from Zyprexa to Seroquel and added Trazadore to improve sleep. (Tr. 324)

In March, 2003, Dr. Hamilton reported that plaintiff's condition was stabilizing in regard to medications and his mood was improving. (Tr. 346) In May, 2003, Dr. Hamilton saw that plaintiff was becoming "more focused" and he was thinking of ways to make money. Dr. Hamilton reduced his sessions from weekly to bi-weekly. (Tr. 349) By June, 2003, Akens was seen by Dr. Hamilton as "more engaged" with focused thinking and able to problem solve. (Tr. 350)

In December. 2003, Christine Ransom, Ph.D. conducted an independent medical examination at the request of the Social Security Administration. (Tr. 204-207) Dr. Ransom noted that plaintiff suffered from "moderate" major depressive disorder. (Tr. 207) She found that Akens' memory was moderately impaired but that he could follow and understand simple directions, perform simple rote tasks, maintain attention and concentration for simple tasks and consistently perform simple tasks and learn simple new tasks. (Tr. 207) Dr. Ransom qualified her opinion by stating that Akens ...

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