United States District Court, S.D. New York
REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION
RONLAD L. ELLIS, District Judge.
Pro se Plaintiff Juan Carlos Guilbe ("Guilbe") commenced this action under the Social Security Act ("Act"), 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and 1383(c)(3), challenging a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner") denying his claim for disability benefits. Guilbe asks the Court to modify the decision of the Commissioner and grant him disability insurance benefits ("DIB") and/or supplemental security income ("SSI") benefits, retroactive to the date of the initial disability, or, in the alternative, to remand the case for reconsideration of the evidence. Guilbe argues that the decision of the Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ'') was erroneous and not supported by substantial evidence. On September 4, 2014, the Commissioner moved for a judgment on the pleadings pursuant to Rule 12(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, asking the Court to affirm the Commissioner's decision and dismiss the Complaint. For the reasons that follow, I recommend that the Court GRANT the Commissioner's Motion and DISMISS the case.
A. Procedural History
Guilbe applied for SSI and DIB on August 30, 2011, claiming to have been disabled by depression since September 5, 2010. (Admin. Record ("Record" or "R.") at 84, 94.) The application was initially denied on October 26, 2011, and Guilbe requested a hearing on December 9, 2011. (Id. at 62-70.) ALJ Jerome Homblass ("ALJ" or "ALJ Homblass") held a hearing on May 9, 2012, with Guilbe appearing prose. (Id. at 44.) On June 12, 2012, the ALJ found that Guilbe was not disabled within the meaning of the Act because Guilbe's substance abuse was a material factor contributing to his disability. (Id. at 9-22.)
Guilbe appealed the decision to the Appeals Council on August 13, 2012, and the Appeals Council denied his request for review on September 4, 2013, making the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner. (Id. at 1-6.) Guilbe filed this action on September 20, 2013. The Commissioner answered on March 21, 2014, and filed the present motion on September 4, 2014.
B. ALJ Hearing and Decision
1. Guilbe's Testimony at the Hearing
Guilbe was the only witness at the May 9, 2012 hearing. (R. at 44-59.) He was born on October 16, 1968, making him forty-three years old at the time of the hearing. (Id. at 44-45.) He had been living in a homeless shelter in Brooklyn, New York, for approximately a year and a half because he had lost Section 8 housing two years earlier. (Id. at 45, 47-48.)
Guilbe last worked about two years before the hearing as a fast food cook during the U.S. Open. (Id. at 46.) This job ended after about two weeks, and Guilbe has not worked since. (Id.) Before his job at the U.S. Open, Guilbe worked as a security guard for a Coach warehouse. (Id.) This job lasted approximately seven years, until Guilbe was laid off after September 11, 2001. (Id. at 47.)
Guilbe testified that he could no longer work as a security guard because of back problems and depression. (Id. at 47-48.) He attributed the depression to the loss of his apartment, after which, he began having trouble sleeping and began taking medicine for depression. (Id. at 48.) He testified that he did not feel "ready to work" because of his depression and drug problem, and described "worrying more and about... other people" including his mother, and his three children in Puerto Rico. (Id. at 54-55.) He did not testify further about the symptoms of his depression, as his response to the ALJ's final question regarding the depression was unclear, possibly because of his limited English language skills. (Id. at 56.) Guilbe added, however, that the psychiatrist he was seeing as part of his drug treatment program, believed that he was able to work. (Id. at 54.)
Guilbe testified that he has been addicted to heroin for twenty-five years, and has been in a methadone treatment program at Metropolitan Hospital for almost two years. (Id. at 49-50.) During that time, he had relapsed seven times. (Id. at 57.) At the time of the hearing, he had been clean for two months (before that, after a positive urinalysis, the methadone treatment program raised his dosage from 40 to 70 milligrams). (Id. at 57-58.) He testified that he does not use cocaine, marijuana, or drink alcohol excessively. (Id. at 52-53, 56-57.)
Guilbe takes public transportation to the methadone treatment center seven days a week, at 8:00 a.m. (Id. at 49-50.) After leaving the treatment center, Guilbe visits his mother, with whom he is close. (Id. at 51.) He spends the day with his mother, cooking meals, going grocery shopping, taking his mother to appointments, caring for her dogs, and cleaning her house. (Id. at 51-52.) He also attends group sessions at the treatment center. (Id. at 52.)
2. Medical Evidence
a. Metropolitan Hospital Center (March - June 2011)
Dr. Faith Aimua, a psychiatrist, saw Guilbe on March 1, 2011, at the Metropolitan Hospital Center Behavioral Health Walk-In Clinic. (R. at 109.) Dr. Aimua recorded Guilbe's primary complaint as insomnia, but he also indicated that he had a tom ligament in his knee. (Id.) Guilbe reported that he was "stressed out" and "sad" because of the loss of his apartment six months earlier. (Id.) He did not report any change in appetite, feelings of hopelessness, suicidal or homicidal ideation, or any psychotic symptoms. (Id.) He did not report any prior psychiatric history or suicide attempts, and also denied any feelings of anxiousness or anger problems. (Id.) Guilbe reported that he was working "odd jobs" since losing his job two years earlier. (Id.) Although Guilbe reported that he had not used heroin for about a year, he also said that he had recently relapsed to using about a bag of heroin every other day. (Id.) Dr. Aimua noted that Guilbe's mental status examination was unremarkable and he did not "need psychiatry treatment at this time." (Id. at 109-10.) She did not prescribe any medications. (Id.) A urinalysis performed that day was positive for THC (tetrahydrocannabinol),  cocaine, methadone, and opiates. (Id. at 120, 122.)
On March 1, Dr. Harold Goodman, a psychiatrist, also saw Guilbe. (Id. at 112.) Dr. Goodman recorded largely the same results as Dr. Aimua. Guilbe's assessment was normal, with the exception of his insomnia. (Id.) His mood was consistent with his circumstances and there was no evidence of personality disorder or psychosis. (Id.) Dr. Goodman recorded that Guilbe showed no "barriers to learning" and stated that he was ready to learn, actively sought information, and had some college education. (Id. at 113.)
Dr. Goodman saw Guilbe again at Metropolitan Hospital Center ("MHC") on April 25. (Id. at 114.) The evaluation results were similar. Guilbe was "self-referred" and his primary complaint was "depressed feelings." (Id.) He was not taking any medications. (Id.) Dr. Goodman recorded Guilbe's history of heroin abuse and his use of heroin the day before his visit to the clinic. (Id. at 116.) A urinalysis performed that day was positive for THC, cocaine, methadone, and opiates. (Id. at 123, 125.)
On June 3, Marta Herrera, a registered nurse, saw Guilbe. Herrera diagnosed Guilbe with drug-induced mood disorder and dependent personality disorder. (Id. at 118.) She also noted that Guilbe was substance dependent. (Id.) She prescribed antidepressant medication. (Id.)
b. Evaluation by Consulting Psychologist (October 2011)
Guilbe met with Dr. Michael Alexander, a psychologist, on October 7, 2011. (R. at 130.) He reported that he had been unemployed since the summer of2010. (Id.) Dr. Alexander noted that Guilbe "had not really looked [for work] since then" and it was "apparent" that he had not done so because of his drug and alcohol use. (Id.) Guilbe was not taking medication at the time because although he had a prescription for Celexa,  he had stopped because he had insufficient medical insurance. (Id.) Guilbe reported difficulty sleeping and a five-year history of "dysphoric mood" but no further symptoms of depression, including suicidal or homicidal thoughts. (Id.)
The results of Guilbe's mental status examination were unremarkable. (Id. at 131.) He was cooperative, friendly, alert, and polite, with adequate social skills and manner ofrelating to others. (Id.) He appeared well-groomed, with appropriate and casual mode of dress and normal gait, posture, and motor behavior. (Id.) Guilbe also showed appropriate eye contact. (Id.) Dr. Alexander reported that Guilbe used adequate conversational language, and his thought processes were coherent and goal-directed. (Id.) His affect was full, his mood was neutral, and his attention, ...