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Palmer v. Astrue

October 19, 2009

DAVID H. PALMER, PLAINTIFF,
v.
MICHAEL J. ASTRUE, COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Honorable Richard J. Arcara Chief Judge United States District Court

DECISION AND ORDER

INTRODUCTION

Plaintiff David H. Palmer commenced this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), on August 7, 2007, seeking review of a final determination of the defendant, Michael J. Astrue, the Commissioner of Social Security (the "Commissioner"), disallowing plaintiff's claim for disability insurance benefits under the Social Security Act. The plaintiff claims to be disabled as a result of various mental impairments, including anxiety and depression. The Commissioner moves for judgment on the pleadings on grounds that the decision of the administrative law judge ("ALJ") is correct and supported by substantial evidence. The plaintiff opposes the defendant's motion, and cross-moves for judgment on the pleadings.

For the reasons stated herein, the Court finds that substantial evidence in the record supports the ALJ's determination that the plaintiff is not disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act. Therefore, the Commissioner's motion for judgment on the pleadings is granted and the ALJ's determination is affirmed.

PROCEDURAL HISTORY

Plaintiff filed an application for Social Security disability insurance benefits on May 6, 2005, alleging disability since April 15, 2004. (Tr. 79-81). A hearing was held before ALJ Timothy M. McGuan on August 21, 2006, in which the plaintiff personally appeared. (Tr. 411-428). The ALJ evaluated the plaintiff's claim de novo, and on September 1, 2006, found that he was not disabled. (Tr. 12-31). On September 27, 2006, the plaintiff requested that the Appeals Council review the ALJ's decision. (Tr. 10-11). On June 8, 2007, the Appeals Council denied plaintiff's request for review and, thus, the ALJ's decision became the final decision of the Commissioner. (Tr. 5-7). Plaintiff commenced this action.

BACKGROUND

The plaintiff was 49 years old at the time of his alleged onset date of disability and 51 years old at the time of the ALJ's decision. He has a high school education and previous work history as a tank car loader/repairman for 23 years. He alleges that his disability began in April 2004 due to an onset of depression, anxiety, drug and alcohol dependence, and short-term memory loss. (Tr. 95).

Since April 2004, the plaintiff has been diagnosed at various times with depressive disorder not otherwise specified (Tr. 342, 378), anxiety disorder not otherwise specified (Tr. 378), alcohol dependence (Tr. 200, 239, 304), opioid dependence (Tr. 239, 304), polysubstance abuse in remission (Tr. 342), and sedative dependence. (Tr. 239, 304). He enrolled in various alcohol and drug treatment programs and has been sober since January 25, 2005, but he testified that the programs have been unsuccessful in relieving his mental impairments. (Tr. 417). He further testified that therapy specifically targeting his mental impairments has done "a lot of good." (Tr. 419). He takes Paxil to relieve his stress, anxiety and depression, as well as Trazodone to help him sleep. (Tr. 375-376).

On June 27, 2005, the plaintiff was consultatively examined by Dr. Thomas Ryan. (Tr. 339). Dr. Ryan noted that the plaintiff could follow and understand simple directions and instructions, perform simple tasks, maintain attention and concentration, maintain a regular schedule, learn new tasks, make adequate decisions, and relate with others. (Tr. 341). Dr. Ryan opined that although the plaintiff may have difficulty with some complex tasks and dealing with stress, the results of his evaluation do not appear to be significant enough to interfere with the his ability to function on a daily basis. Id.

In August 2005, a medical consultant for the State Disability Determination Services ("DDS") reviewed the record, completed a Physical Residual Functional Capacity Assessment, and opined that the plaintiff had no physical limitations for work. (Tr. 351). Dr. Hillary Tzetzo, a review physician with DDS, reviewed the record, completed a Mental Physical Residual Functional Capacity Assessment, and opined that the plaintiff had moderate limitations in various mental functions needed for work. (Tr. 353-354).

In May 2006, the plaintiff's treating psychiatrist, Dr. Tanhehco, determined that his depressive disorder prevented him from working in any capacity. (Tr. 386). The ALJ did not give Dr. Tanhehco's opinion controlling weight, however, because Dr. Tanhehco's assessment of the plaintiff was based on the plaintiff's subjective statements. (Tr. 27). Furthermore, his office notes suggested that the plaintiff was doing better, which was inconsistent with his statement that the plaintiff cannot work. Id.

The ALJ also found that the allegations and testimony of the plaintiff were not credible because of their inconsistencies throughout the record. (Tr. 27). For example, the ALJ noted that the plaintiff testified that he started using drugs and alcohol to relieve work-related stress, but the record indicates that he started drinking and doing drugs well before he began work and he continued to use after being fired. Id. Also, the ALJ noted the plaintiff's testimony that his medication made him drowsy, but Dr. Tanhehco's reports indicate that he denied any side effects on multiple occasions. (Tr. 28).

Since the ALJ did not give controlling weight to Dr. Tanhehco and found that the allegations and testimony of the plaintiff were not credible, he relied on the opinion of Dr. Ryan and determined that the plaintiff was ...


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