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Vaccarella v. Astrue

June 15, 2009


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



Plaintiff Richard Vaccarella ("Plaintiff") brings this action pursuant to Title II of the Social Security Act, §§ 216(i), 223 (codified at 42 U.S.C. § 401 et. seq.), claiming that the Commissioner of Social Security improperly denied his application for disability benefits. Specifically, the plaintiff alleges that the decision of the Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") who heard his case was erroneous because it was not supported by substantial evidence in the record.

The Commissioner moves for judgment on the pleadings pursuant to Rule 12(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, on grounds that the ALJ's decision was supported by substantial evidence and made in accordance with applicable law. For the reasons set forth below, I hereby deny the Commissioner's motion for judgment on the pleadings, and remand this claim to the Commissioner for further proceedings consistent with this decision.


Plaintiff Richard Vaccarella's disability claim originates from injuries received as the result of a work accident in 1992. His left arm was crushed while operating a machine at his job in a floor molding factory. (Transcript of Administrative Proceedings at pages 19, 95, 99, 178, 180) (hereinafter "T."). The plaintiff thereafter underwent 16 surgeries on his left arm involving numerous bone and arterial grafts from his hips and right leg as well as transplants of skin and tissue. (T. 16, 37, 182-84, 206). He returned to work with the same company in a modified capacity in 1995 as a quality control specialist. (T. 96, 144-150). In this capacity, plaintiff was required to handle, grab or grasp big and small objects for measuring and weighing purposes, and was on his feet the entire day. (T. 97, 178).

On June 15, 1995, plaintiff resigned from his employment. Prior to resigning, on May 10, 1995, plaintiff initially applied for and was granted a period of disability and disability insurance benefits. While receiving disability benefits, plaintiff suffered deterioration of his condition resulting in pain in his left hand. (T. 96, 144-50, 181-82). On March 30, 1998, Dr. Owen J. Moy, his treating hand surgeon, reported that x-rays of plaintiff's arm showed osteopenic changes in all bones, irregularity of the articular surfaces of the metacarpal phalangeal joint, and he noted plaintiff was "having increased symptoms in his hand." (T. 147). In October 1998, Dr. Moy determined that in light of plaintiff's ankylosed wrist, limited range of motion, loss of grip strength and both oppositional and appositional pinch strength, plaintiff had suffered an 80% loss of use of his left hand. (T. 149).

Plaintiff received disability benefits until April 2002, when the Social Security Administration determined that plaintiff was no longer entitled to benefits because his medical condition had improved. (T. 14, 37). Plaintiff filed a request for benefit reinstatement on March 6, 2002, which was denied on May 14, 2002. (T. 14, 36-37, 39-53). Plaintiff did not pursue further appeals of that denial.

On April 30, 2003, when plaintiff was twenty-eight years old, he protectively filed his current application for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits for a claimed disability beginning on June 1, 1999 due to dysfunction of his left arm and hip pain. (T. 38, 68-70). Following denial of his application, plaintiff requested a hearing before an ALJ, and a hearing was held on October 1, 2004. (T. 54-58, 175; see T. 175-212). Plaintiff was represented by counsel at the hearing, and a vocational expert was also present and testified. (T. 177).

At the hearing, plaintiff alleged additional impairments including chronic right leg pain, as well as psychological impairments of depression and panic attacks. (T. 186-203). The record indicates that he had undergone treatment from February 2002 through the date of the hearing for psychological impairments resulting from the injury to his arm and the consequences of his surgeries. On February 27, 2002, plaintiff saw Dr. K. Rajendran, a psychiatrist who found that the plaintiff showed symptoms of anxiety, depression, inability to concentrate or cope with daily life, hearing voices argue in his head, inability to sleep, loss of weight, increased heart rate, diarrhea, and flashbacks of the accident. (T. 153-54). Dr. Rajendran diagnosed plaintiff as having post traumatic stress disorder ("PTSD"), major depression, recurrent, with psychosis with severe anxiety. Prognosis: Guarded. Id. This was confirmed by treating psychiatrists Dr. Meliton Tanhehco, a staff psychiatrist at Niagara Falls Memorial Medical Center, and Dr. Anjun Haque. Plaintiff was admitted to the hospital with depression and thoughts of suicide, along with a history of mood disorders. His condition was diagnosed as schizophrenia paranoid disorder, and serious impairments in social or occupational functioning. (T. 131-41).

In a decision dated June 13, 2005, the ALJ found that the plaintiff had a severe impairment due to dysfunction of his left arm, PTSD, and major depressive disorder with psychotic features.

(T. 16-23). The ALJ was not persuaded, however, that plaintiff suffered from severe schizophrenia paranoid disorder, nor from severe hip or leg pain but gave him the benefit of the doubt and found that plaintiff's anxiety disorder, difficulties with concentration, PTSD, major depressive disorder with psychotic features were secondary to plaintiff's marijuana use. (T. 17). As a result of these findings, the ALJ determined that plaintiff was not disabled. Plaintiff's appeal of the ALJ's decision to the Social Security Appeals Council was denied on July 2, 2007, and on July 25, 2007, plaintiff filed this action.


I. Jurisdiction and Scope ...

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