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Rodriguez v. Astrue

United States District Court, Second Circuit

October 23, 2013




Lisandro Rodriguez ("Plaintiff') seeks review of the decision by defendant Commissioner of Social Security (the "Commissioner") to deny him Child Disability Benefits ("CDB") and Supplemental Security Income ("SSI") based on the finding that Plaintiff was not and is not disabled for purposes of the Social Security Act. After a hearing on March 16, 2010, Administrative Law Judge Mark Solomon (the "ALJ") affirmed the Commissioner's denial of benefits to Plaintiff on April 26, 2010. Thereafter, on October 18, 2011, Plaintiff filed this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). (ECF No. 1.)

The parties have cross-moved for judgment on the pleadings, pursuant to Rule 12(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. (ECF Nos. 8, 15.) This case was transferred to the undersigned on June 6, 2013. (ECF No. 19.) For the reasons set forth below, Plaintiffs motion for judgment on the pleadings is DENIED, and Defendant's cross-motion for judgment on the pleadings is GRANTED.


A. Medical Background

This is a case where Plaintiff seeks benefits under the Social Security Act on the grounds that he suffers from "undifferentiated schizophrenia, an adjustment disorder, attention deficit hyperactive disorder, and major depressive disorder." (Compl. ¶ 4, ECF No. 1.) Plaintiff alleges that he became disabled and unable to work on or about January 1, 1987 (id.); because Plaintiff was born on May 11, 1968 (Admin. R. ("R." or "Record") at 41, ECF No. 6[1]), Plaintiff would have been 18 at that time. According to the record, however, Plaintiff began receiving treatment for schizophrenia as an out-patient at the New York-Presbyterian Adult Psychiatric Clinic on May 13, 1992, at which time he would have just turned 24. (R. at 215.)

As of August 8, 2005, Plaintiffs condition was being treated with Zyprexa. (R. at 214.) On October 27, 2006, Plaintiff filled out new patient paperwork at Inwood Community Services, and on January 29, 2007, he was evaluated at Inwood by psychiatrist Dr. Mercedes Brito.[2] (R. at 239-240). Dr. Brito diagnosed Plaintiff with schizophrenia, noting a friendly manner, normal posture, and a calm mood, but poor eye contact, flat affect, minimal speech, and below-average cognitive function. (R. at 239)[3] In a review on Feburary 26, 2007, Dr. Brito notes Plaintiff was taking Zyprexa and Abilify for his condition, and determined that his treatment regimen did not need to be modified. (R. at 285.)

In March and April of 2007, Plaintiff met with a social worker at Inwood and "expressed discomfort" because he was not working and had to borrow money from his mother and sister. (R. at 281.) He discussed "possible avenue[s] to explore for employment" with the social worker. (R. at 280.) In September 2007, he told Dr. Brito he felt "balanced" and was doing "well." (R. at 259). In October 2007, Plaintiff met with another social worker, who noted that Plaintiff's "interpersonal social skills are more enhanced." (R. at 264.) In January 2008, Plaintiff spoke to a social worker and stated that he planned to seek job placement through the Career Services Department at his college. (R. at 262.) During the same month, Plaintiff met with Dr. Brito again, who wrote in her notes that Plaintiff was "doing well" and had "no insomnia." (R. at 257.) In February 2008, Plaintiff missed at least two sessions with a social worker due to school work and exams. (R. at 260.) He reported continuing to look for work and that he had applied for a position as a library assistant. (R. at 260.) In September 2008, Dr. Brito noted that Plaintiff had moved to Pennsylvania, where he was painting, "doing well, " and looking for a job. (R. at 249.) In October 2008, Plaintiff stated to Dr. Brito that he was uncomfortable being around people. (R. at 246.) In January 2009, Plaintiff expressed interest to a social worker in using Vocational Educational Services for Individuals with Disabilities to help him find a job. (R. at 400.)

On February 19, 2009, roughly three weeks after filings his applications for CDB and SSI benefits, Plaintiff was evaluated by consulting psychologist Dr. Rochelle Sherman. (R. at 333.) Dr. Sherman noted that Plaintiff helped his mother do the cooking, cleaning, and shopping, and Plaintiff reported having an adequate network of friends and social contacts. (R. at 333.) Dr. Sherman found that Plaintiff maintained eye contact, did not display any unusual mannerisms, and was oriented as to time, place, and person. (R. at 333.) Dr. Sherman further noted that Plaintiff denied having paranoid or suicidal ideations, but did report having problems with sustained eye contact, anxiousness, and nervousness. (R. at 333.) Dr. Sherman concluded that Plaintiff appeared capable of adequate interactions with supervisors and coworkers in a standard work setting, and appeared capable of performing work activities in a low-stress setting. (R. at 334.) Dr. Sherman diagnosed Plaintiff with an anxiety disorder and ruled out a schizoaffective disorder. (R. at 334.)

On April 14, 2009, Dr. Hector Goa evaluated Plaintiff.[4] (R. at 370.) According to Dr. Goa's notes, Plaintiff was referred by his therapist for a Comprehensive Psychiatric Evaluation with special emphasis on his capacity to work. (R. at 370.) Dr. Goa found that Plaintiff was friendly and cooperative, with clinically normal intellectual function. (R. at 371, 374.) Dr. Goa also found that Plaintiff was depressed and anxious, with a flat affect and poor concentration, experienced auditory hallucinations at night, and had extreme psychosocial stress that made him potentially dangerous to others. (R. at 372-375.) Dr. Goa diagnosed Plaintiff with paranoid schizophrenia, major depressive disorder, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, with a GAF score of 30. (R. at 370-376.) Dr. Goa opined that Plaintiff was "definitely unable to work" and that his condition "runs a deteriorating course over time." (R. at 376.)

At the request of Plaintiffs counsel in this action (see R. at 497), on June 29, 2009, Dr. Brito completed a Psychiatric/Psychological Impairment Questionnaire for Plaintiff. (R. at 531.) Dr. Brito indicated on the Questionnaire that Plaintiff had a GAF score of 50. (R. at 531.) Dr. Brito also made findings that Plaintiff suffered from, among other issues, "illogical thinking or loosening of associations, " "psychomotor agitation or retardation, " and "difficulty thinking or concentrating." (R. at 532.) Dr. Brito noted on the Questionnaire that Plaintiff required emergency room treatment on two occasions for his symptoms (R. at 533), [5] and indicated that Plaintiffs mental activity was "markedly limited" in every subcategory of "Understanding and Memory, " "Sustained Concentration and Persistence, " and "Social Interactions." (R. at 533-535.) According to the Questionnaire, "markedly limited" meant that the symptoms "effectively preclude [d] the individual from performing the activity in a meaningful manner." (R. at 533.) Finally, Dr. Brito also indicated on the Questionnaire that Plaintiffs "impairments [are] likely to produce good days' and bad days" and estimated that, should Plaintiff find employment, Plaintiff was likely to be absent from work more than three times per month as a result. (R. at 537-538.)

In an August 4, 2009 psychiatric review, Dr. Brito noted that Plaintiff had sold two of his paintings and was keeping himself busy by painting. (R. at 495.) On August 25, 2009, Dr. Brito reaffirmed her diagnosis of undifferentiated schizophrenia, and determined Plaintiff to have a GAF of 65. (R. at 521-523.) On September 1, 2009, Plaintiff visited a social worker, who noted that Plaintiffs sleeping pattern was normal. (R. at 492.)

On February 25, 2010, Dr. Brito again stated in a letter that Plaintiffs condition was undifferentiated schizophrenia. (R. at 542-43.) Dr. Brito also stated that her clinical findings included poor memory, sleep disturbance, and emotional lability, and she reaffirmed the validity of her findings on the June 29, 2009 Questionnaire. (R. at 542-43.)

B. Personal Background and Testimony

Plaintiff began undergraduate studies in 1986 or 1987, but did not receive his Bachelor's degree (in Fine Arts) until 2008. (R. at 41-42, 333.) He was last employed in 2005, doing paid work-study at a college he attended. (R. at 42, 61.) Previously, Plaintiff had been employed as a security guard from 2000 to 2001, ...

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