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Harris v. Colvin

United States District Court, E.D. New York

September 5, 2014

CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.


DORA L. IRIZARRY, District Judge.

On July 11, 2011, Plaintiff Gregory Harris ("Plaintiff") filed an application for Social Security disability insurance benefits ("DIB") and supplemental security income ("SSI") under the Social Security Act (the "Act"). ( See Certified Administrative Record ("R."), Dkt. Entry No. 19 at 152-62.) On August 24, 2011, Plaintiff's applications were denied and he requested a hearing. (R. 80-97.) On February 8, 2012, Plaintiff appeared with counsel and testified at a hearing before Administrative Law Judge Patrick Kilgannon (the "ALJ"). (R. 39-75.) In a decision dated April 4, 2012, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff was not disabled within the meaning of the Act. (R. 23.) On January 2, 2013, the ALJ's decision became the Commissioner's final decision when the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review. (R. 1-5.)

Plaintiff filed the instant appeal seeking judicial review of the denial of benefits, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. ยง 405(g). ( See Complaint ("Compl."), Dkt. Entry No. 1.) The Commissioner moved for judgment on the pleadings, pursuant to Rule 12(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, seeking affirmation of the Commissioner's decision. ( See Mem. of Law in Supp. of Def.'s Mot. for J. on the Pleadings ("Def. Mem."), Dkt. Entry No. 17.) Plaintiff cross-moved for judgment on the pleadings, seeking reversal of the Commissioner's decision regarding SSI benefits, or, alternatively, remand. ( See Mem. of Law in Supp. of Pl.'s Mot. for J. on the Pleadings ("Pl. Mem."), Dkt. Entry No. 14.) Plaintiff does not appeal the Commissioner's decision denying his application for DIB. ( Id. at 1.) For the reasons set forth below, the Commissioner's motion for judgment on the pleadings is granted and Plaintiff's motion for judgment on the pleadings is denied. The instant action is dismissed.


A. Non-Medical and Self-Reported Evidence

Plaintiff was born on October 30, 1965, and has a high school education. (R. 51, 152.) From 2002 to 2009, Plaintiff was incarcerated resulting from a robbery conviction. (R. 50, 54.) Prior to his incarceration, he worked as a car washer, gate guard, and flagger. (R. 52, 55-56.)

1. Disability and Function Reports

In an undated disability report, Plaintiff stated that he suffered from posttraumatic stress disorder ("PTSD"), mood disorder, and antisocial personality disorder. (R. 176.) He was first treated for severe depression and anxiety in 1994 after admitting himself to Kings County Hospital, where he spent seven days. (R. 182.) He also reported auditory hallucinations, which affected his focus and concentration. ( Id. ) He had nightmares, which were caused by physical abuse he suffered in prison, and he could only sleep for three hours a night, which led to constant exhaustion. ( Id. ) Additionally, he became anxious and agitated in crowded places. ( Id. ) He reported that he had stopped working because of these impairments. (R. 176.)

In a function report dated July 11, 2011, Plaintiff said that he groomed, medicated, and fed himself on a daily basis. (R. 201.) He reported that he tried to wash his laundry, but a friend frequently did it for him. (R. 203.) He also shopped for groceries once a month, but it took him three hours to shop. (R. 204.) He had no hobbies or interests and no longer socialized with friends. (R. 205.) He described himself as antisocial. (R. 206.) He also claimed that his conditions affected his ability to walk, sit, see, complete tasks, concentrate, understand, follow instructions, and interact with others. ( Id. ) He could not walk more than six blocks without needing to rest for five minutes and could not focus for more than five minutes. ( Id. )

2. Plaintiff's Testimony Before the ALJ

At the hearing, Plaintiff testified that, after his release from prison in 2009, he worked for a few weeks at a car wash, but was fired after an altercation with a coworker. (R. 52.) He has not worked since then. ( Id. ) As a condition of his parole, Plaintiff lived in a group home, which provided drug testing and meals. (R. 49.) He said that both his sponsor and doctor recommended that he focus on treatment instead of looking for work. (R. 52, 65-66.) He testified that he attended daily Alcoholics Anonymous ("AA") meetings with his sponsor, as well as meetings in a substance abuse program. (R. 61.) He has been drug free for about two years. (R. 63.)

Plaintiff visits a therapist weekly and a psychiatrist biweekly. (R. 59.) He takes Prozac and Seroquel for his conditions. (R. 63.) He was molested as a young man, which caused PTSD and nightmares; however, therapy and medication have led to fewer nightmares and better sleep. (R. 59, 64-65.) He has experienced difficulty with memory and concentration, but therapy has improved both. (R. 65.)

B. Medical Evidence

1. Medical Evidence Prior to the Alleged Onset Date (September 12, 2002)

There is no medical evidence in the record prior to Plaintiff's alleged onset date, September 12, 2002. Plaintiff reported that he received treatment for depression during his incarceration, but there are no records of such treatment. (R. 233.)

2. Medical Evidence After the Alleged Onset Date (September 12, 2002)

Plaintiff primarily sought treatment from CitiCare, Inc. ("CitiCare"). Elizabeth Dubois, N.P., first examined Plaintiff on September 27, 2010. (R. 306-08.) Nurse Dubois reported that he was in a "general good state of health." (R. 306.) His physical signs were normal. ( Id. ) His constitution was "pleasant, normal, alert and oriented." ( Id. ) He had no signs of acute distress. (R. 307.) Nurse Dubois referred him for a psychiatric examination. (R. 308.)

Dr. Jacques Jospitre, M.D., a psychiatrist at CitiCare, examined Plaintiff on September 29, 2010. (R. 295-97.) Plaintiff reported that his mood was fine, and that he slept about six hours per night. (R. 295.) He had a good appetite and energy, but he also had frequent flashbacks to his time in prison. ( Id. ) He reported a history of drug use. ( Id. ) Dr. Jospitre noted that Plaintiff was "disorganized" and "difficult to interview, " and that he may have experienced a "dissociative episode" during the examination. (R. 295.) He was inappropriate at times and displayed paranoia when asked to sign a medical release. ( Id. ) Dr. Jospitre diagnosed Plaintiff with PTSD, psychosis not otherwise specified ("NOS"), and polysubstance dependence. (R. 296.) Subsequently, Nurse Dubois examined Plaintiff. (R. 302-05.) She noted that he was well developed, with no signs of acute distress. (R. 304.)

Tom Kearns, Ph.D., a licensed clinical social worker at CitiCare, examined Plaintiff on February 15, 2011. (R. 298.) He noted that Plaintiff was frustrated with his drug treatment and wanted more opportunities to discuss his issues. ( Id. ) Dr. Kearns and Plaintiff met again on March 8, 2011. (R. 293.) Plaintiff told Dr. Kearns that a male cousin molested him when he was eleven years old and that he had suffered from trauma in prison. ( Id. ) He used drugs for twenty years. ( Id. ) Dr. Kearns noted that Plaintiff's affect was blunted and his mood was depressed; however, he had appropriate grooming, normal judgment, and good memory. ( Id. )

Plaintiff met with Dr. Jospitre on March 15, 2011. (R. 299-301.) Dr. Jospitre reported that Plaintiff was brighter, calmer, and more stable than he was during his first visit. (R. 300.) He also was less anxious and in a better mood. ( Id. ) Dr. Jospitre examined Plaintiff again on March 22, 2011. (R. 289.) Plaintiff reported less anxiety and better sleep. ( Id. ) He was hopeful about his future. ( Id. )

In a letter to CitiCare dated May 20, 2011, Juan Vega, a credentialed alcoholism and substance abuse counselor ("CASAC") at ACI Drug and Alcohol Treatment Center, wrote that Plaintiff was attending drug and alcohol counseling sessions Monday through Friday each week. (R. 262.) He also received mental health treatment once a month for depression. ( Id. ) Mr. Vega wrote that Plaintiff was "high functional, " but that a lack of housing could impact his recovery and goals. ( Id. ) Plaintiff was scheduled to complete his treatment by August 2011 and intended to apply for a commercial driver's license. ( Id. )

On May 24, 2011, Dr. Kearns reported that Plaintiff was succeeding at his job and feeling less stressed. (R. 288.) Plaintiff intended to participate in CASAC training in Fall 2011. ( Id. ) Nurse Dubois also examined him, indicating that he was pleasant, alert, and well oriented. (R. 292.)

Notably, on June 7, 2011, Dr. Kearns reported that Plaintiff was "moving in a... positive direction." (R. 286.) He was enjoying his new work at a car wash and interacting well with others. ( Id. ) Dr. Kearns made similar remarks in a progress note dated June 21, 2011. (R. 287.) In a functional assessment completed at that appointment, Dr. Kearns diagnosed Plaintiff with PTSD, psychosis NOS, and polysubstance dependence. (R. 264-65.) He stated that Plaintiff struggled with flashbacks, anxiety, and anger issues. (R 264.) Dr. Kearns concluded that Plaintiff was temporarily unemployable, but was "on track to be employed." ( Id. )

On June 22, 2011, Plaintiff told Social Worker Venus Keye ("SW Keye") that he was "feeling down, depressed, or hopeless" for "several days." (R. 234.) He had little interest in doing things, trouble sleeping, and low energy. ( Id. ) He did not have any trouble concentrating. ( Id. ) He could wash clothes, watch TV, make beds, read, and socialize, as well as dress, bathe, and groom himself. (R. 235.) He fished, and played and watched basketball. ( Id. ) He also maintained contact with friends, prayed at his mosque, and attended Narcotics Anonymous ("NA") and AA meetings three times weekly. (R. 235-36.) SW Keye noted that Plaintiff's depression was mild. (R. 234.) She also noted that Plaintiff had appropriate appearance and hygiene. (R. 236.) He had no significant limitations on travel, and he interacted appropriately with others. ( Id. ) However, Plaintiff reported that difficulty interacting with others was a barrier to his employment. ( Id. )

The same day, Hun Han, M.D., examined Plaintiff. (R. 242.) Dr. Han found that Plaintiff's physical signs were normal. ( Id. ) He noted no pain or physical limitations with regard to sitting, walking or reaching. (R. 243.) Dr. Han referred Plaintiff to Robert London, Ph.D, a psychiatrist, for an evaluation.

On June 27, 2011, Plaintiff met with Dr. London, who diagnosed him with PTSD, mood disorder, antisocial personality disorder, and a history of substance abuse. (R. 253.) Dr. London noted that Plaintiff's manner was cooperative, his speech was normal, and his thought was logical. (R. 250.) He had no suicidal thoughts, but had recurring recollections of traumas suffered as a child and during incarceration. ( Id. ) Dr. London opined that Plaintiff's chronic mental illnesses resulted in substantial limitations to his ability to work for at least twelve months. (R. 253.) Dr. Han's final report, dated June 28, 2011, incorporated Dr. London's opinion. (R. 247.)

In a progress note dated July 5, 2011, Dr. Kearns indicated that Plaintiff was "moving towards [] more stable living" and "doing a very good job." (R. 285.) His work was good and he was making friends. ( Id. )

3. Medical Evidence After SSI Application Date (July 11, 2011)

E. Kamin, M.D., an agency psychological consultant, reviewed Plaintiff's medical files on August 22, 2011. (R. 269-82.) He indicated that Plaintiff's impairments were not severe. (R. 269.) He found that there were no limitations on Plaintiff's daily living, mild limitations on his social functioning, mild limitations on his concentration, persistence, and pace, and insufficient evidence of repeated periods of deterioration. (R. 279.)

On September 9, 2011, Plaintiff began an intensive outpatient drug treatment program at the Dr. Martin Luther ...

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