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William Stewart v. Michael J. Astrue

February 1, 2012


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Dora L. Irizarry, United States District Judge:


Plaintiff William Stewart filed an application for disability insurance benefits ("DIB") and supplemental security income ("SSI") under the Social Security Act (the "Act") on June 15, 2007. (Compl. at ¶ 7.) By a decision dated August 4, 2009, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff was not disabled within the meaning of the Act. (Id. at ¶¶ 10, 11.) On April 28, 2010, the ALJ's decision became the Commissioner's final decision when the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review. (Id. at ¶ 12.) Plaintiff then filed the instant action seeking reversal of the Commissioner's decision. (Id. at 1, 4.) The Commissioner now moves for judgment on the pleadings pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(c), seeking affirmation of the denial of benefits because Plaintiff is not entitled to DIB and SSI under the Act since he was not disabled prior to December 31, 2005, the date Plaintiff's insured status expired. Plaintiff cross-moves for judgment on the pleadings, seeking reversal of the Commissioner's decision and remand of this action for additional proceedings. For the reasons set forth below, the Commissioner's motion is denied, plaintiff's motion is granted and the matter is remanded for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.


I.Non-medical and Testimonial Evidence

A.Hearing Testimony, dated 04/14/2009

Plaintiff testified that he started a photocopy shop with a business partner in 1989, (Administrative Record ("A.R.") at 31-32, 101); however, since the events of September 11, 2001, he was no longer able to work because he had difficulty concentrating, (id. at 35). Moreover, Plaintiff stated that, after September 11, 2011, he began drinking heavily every day because of the stress. (Id. at 38.) At the time of the hearing, he asserted that he drank a beer once in a while, but that his drinking did not impact the business. (Id. at 37, 41.) Plaintiff also stated that he began treatment for depression and anxiety in October of 2003, and his business partner handled much of the work at the copy center thereafter. (Id. at 36, 40.) Plaintiff stated he was forced to close the business in May 2005 because, due to the events of September 11, 2011, there were no longer enough customers to sustain its operation. (Id. at 34, 109.) Unable to pay his rent, Plaintiff lost his apartment and was forced to live with his mother. (Id. at 29, 91.)

B.Function report, dated 06/04-2007

In a function report completed on April 3, 2007, Plaintiff complained that he was no longer capable of concentrating, motivating himself or remembering things. ( 90.) He needed reminders from his mother to take his medication and, although Plaintiff went grocery shopping once or twice a month, his mother and sisters prepared his food. (Id. at 29-30, 90-91, 93.) Plaintiff reported that he wanted to be left alone and did not do much at all. (Id. at 94.)

II.Psychiatric/Medical Evidence

Plaintiff sought various psychiatric and medical treatments from 2003 to 2009. At the Jewish Board of Children and Family Services ("JBFCS"), Plaintiff was evaluated by several psychiatrists, including Dr. Michael Merkin, Dr. Zinaida Luft, Dr. Jesse M. Hilsen, Dr. Richard Arking and Dr. Sander Koyfman. Plaintiff also received medical treatment from his primary care physician, Dr. Sultan Khan.

A.Evidence Prior to Plaintiff's Alleged Onset Date of May 25, 2005

On October 16, 2003, Plaintiff sought psychiatric treatment at JBFCS, where he was evaluated by Dr. Merkin. (A.R. at 141-64.) Plaintiff reported that, since September 11, 2001, everyday life had become a real struggle for him. (Id. at 141.) Dr. Merkin found that Plaintiff had a life-long history of depression, which was untreated except for a brief trial of Zoloft four years prior, with minimal effects. (Id. at 163.) Dr. Merkin noted that by witnessing the Twin Towers coming down on September 11, 2001 and subsequently losing his business, Plaintiff's depression had "deepened." (Id.) Plaintiff also had a history of abuse as a child. (Id.)

B.Evidence Between May 25, 2005, Plaintiff's Alleged Onset Date, and December 31, 2005, Plaintiff's Last Insured Date

A discharge summary by Dr. Merkin from JBFCS dated July 18, 2005, indicates that Plaintiff had regularly attended therapy sessions and medical visits. (A.R. at 136.) Plaintiff's treatment focused on depressive symptoms and anxiety caused by the failure of his business, his experiences related to September 11, 2001 and his plans to end his business. (Id.) Upon admission to treatment at JBFCS on October 16, 2003, Dr. Merkin diagnosed Plaintiff with major depressive disorder, recurrent. (Id. at 139.) A diagnosis of personality disorder was also made in October 2004. (Id.) Plaintiff reported that his anxiety had been significantly reduced early on by his medication regimen. (Id. at 136.) Dr. Merkin noted that Plaintiff had demonstrated some improvements over the course of his treatment; however, the recent loss of Plaintiff's apartment and store, coupled with his move back to his mother's house, precipitated an increase in Plaintiff's depressive symptoms. (Id.) Plaintiff's attendance at JBFCS also decreased after his move. (Id.)

In July 2005, Plaintiff ceased treatment and indicated that he was planning to travel and visit friends for the remainder of the summer. (Id.) In the discharge summary, Plaintiff's overall treatment progress was reported as regression. (Id. at 137.) Dr. Merkin noted that Plaintiff was taking Zoloft (150 mg) and Ambien (10 mg). (Id.) At discharge, Plaintiff's "GAF" (Global Assessment of Functioning) score was 50*fn1 . (Id. at 139.) Dr. Merkin strongly recommended that Plaintiff seek a psychiatric appointment over the summer to prevent the interruption of his medication regimen. (Id. at 136.) On September 29, 2005, Plaintiff began treatment with his primary care physician, Dr. Khan, who saw Plaintiff every three to four months and ultimately diagnosed Plaintiff with anxiety and depression. (Id. at 173.)

C. Evidence After December 31, 2005, Plaintiff's Last Insured Date

i. Dr. Kahn

The record includes treatment notes from Dr. Khan from February 10, 2007 through February 10, 2009. (A.R. at 301-16.) In a note dated June 12, 2007, Dr. Khan reported that Plaintiff had a "history of depression, anxiety disorder, [and] hypercholesterolemia." (Id. at 318.) Dr. Khan advised Plaintiff to see a psychiatrist. (Id.) In a report dated July 26, 2007, Dr. Kahn reported that Plaintiff had chronic anxiety and depression. (Id. at 173.) Treatment consisted of Zoloft, Ambien and weekly psychotherapy. (Id. at 174.)

In a supplemental questionnaire dated February 10, 2009, Dr. Kahn reported that Plaintiff had a moderate degree of restriction of daily activities, deterioration in personal habits, and constriction of interests. (Id. at 320.) Dr. Kahn also wrote that Plaintiff had "moderate severe" limitations with respect to his ability to comprehend and follow instructions, perform work requiring frequent contact with others, and perform work where contact with others was minimal. (Id.) Similarly, Plaintiff experienced "moderate severe" impairments with respect to his ability to perform complex and varied tasks and full-time ...

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