United States District Court, W.D. New York
DECISION & ORDER
MARIAN W. PAYSON, Magistrate Judge.
Plaintiff Isaiah Ross ("Ross) brings this action pursuant to Section 205(g) of the Social Security Act (the "Act"), 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), seeking judicial review of a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security (the "Commissioner") denying his applications for Supplemental Security Income and Disability Insurance Benefits ("SSI/DIB"). Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c), the parties have consented to the disposition of this case by a United States magistrate judge. (Docket # 6).
Currently before the Court are the parties' motions for judgment on the pleadings pursuant to Rule 12(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. (Docket ## 12, 16). For the reasons set forth below, this Court finds that the decision of the Commissioner is supported by substantial evidence in the record and complies with applicable legal standards. Accordingly, the Commissioner's motion for judgment on the pleadings is granted, and Ross's motion for judgment on the pleadings is denied.
I. Procedural Background
Ross protectively filed for SSI/DIB on October 19, 2010, alleging disability beginning on June 19, 2010, as a result of HIV infection and depression. (Tr. 166, 180). On December 30, 2010, the Social Security Administration denied both of Ross's claims for benefits, finding that he was not disabled. (Tr. 70-71). Ross requested and was granted a hearing before Administrative Law Judge Scott M. Staller (the "ALJ"). (Tr. 80-81, 107-11). The ALJ conducted a hearing on October 20, 2011. (Tr. 43-69). Ross was represented at the hearing by his attorney, Kelly Laga, Esq. (Tr. 43, 79). In a decision dated February 3, 2012, the ALJ found that Ross was not disabled and was not entitled to benefits. (Tr. 19-32).
On May 6, 2013, the Appeals Council denied Ross's request for review of the ALJ's decision. (Tr. 1-6). Ross commenced this action on July 1, 2013, seeking review of the Commissioner's decision. (Docket # 1).
II. Relevant Medical Evidence
A. Treatment Records
1. University of Rochester Medical Center
Treatment notes indicate that Ross was referred to treatment at the Infectious Diseases Department of the University of Rochester Medical Center ("URMC") in August 2010 after testing positive for HIV that same month. (Tr. 450-52). Ross met with Madonna Biritwum ("Biritwum"), MD, a fellow at URMC and Amneris Luque ("Luque"), MD, her supervising physician. ( Id. ). During the visit, Ross reported that he had been very depressed since learning of his diagnosis and had experienced insomnia, difficulty concentrating, reduced energy and loss of appetite. ( Id. ). Ross reported suicidal thoughts, but did not have any intention of harming himself. ( Id. ). His mother, who accompanied him to the appointment, reported that Ross had significant family support. ( Id. ).
Ross reported that he had completed the eleventh grade and had become a certified nurse's assistant ("CNA") in 2005. ( Id. ). According to Ross, he had worked as a CNA until July 2009 when his contract was terminated. ( Id. ). Ross reported that he had found another job, but had quit in February 2010 and had not been employed since that time. ( Id. ). Biritwum and Luque indicated that they would obtain a mental health referral for Ross. ( Id. ).
On September 21, 2010, Ross returned for a follow-up appointment with Biritwum and Luque. (Tr. 419-23). The treatment notes indicate that Ross had been referred for an urgent appointment with a psychiatrist, but that Ross failed to follow-up on the referral. ( Id. ). During the appointment, Ross indicated that his family support was very strong, his appetite and energy were returning, and that he was no longer depressed or suicidal, although he was experiencing some anxiety. ( Id. ). Ross reported that his primary care physician had prescribed Ambien to assist his sleep and requested a renewal of the prescription. ( Id. ). Biritwum and Luque prescribed a different medication to assist with sleeping. ( Id. ).
Treatment notes indicate that Ross met with Julie Miller ("Miller"), LMSWR, on October 5, 2010. (Tr. 276). Miller indicated that she had contacted Strong Behavioral Health for a mental health referral, but Ross had failed to complete the intake evaluation. ( Id. ). Ross informed Miller that he continued to live with his mother, but was hoping to move out. ( Id. ).
On November 2, 2010, Ross saw Miller again and informed her that he was applying for SSI/DIB because he needed money as he had not yet found employment. (Tr. 275). Miller contacted Biritwum and requested that she complete paperwork for Ross. ( Id. ). Ross also reported that the Monroe County Department of Health and Human Services had required him to attend a mental health appointment at Genesee Mental Health Center and that he had obtained a list of mental health providers. ( Id. ). Ross reported that he planned to contact one of the providers the following week. ( Id. ).
That same day Ross met with Biritwum and Luque. (Tr. 415-18). Ross reported that he continued to experience depression, but that he was no longer suicidal and refused a mental health referral. ( Id. ). Ross indicated that "Social Security Services" had insisted that he see a mental health physician, but he had not yet done so. ( Id. ). Ross reported that he was currently taking GED classes twice a week. ( Id. ). Biritwum and Luque assessed that Ross's appetite continued to be poor, that he appeared to have a depressed mood with intermittent anxiety, but that he was sleeping better. ( Id. ). They encouraged Ross to see a mental health physician. ( Id. ).
On December 8, 2010, Ross attended another appointment with Biritwum and Luque. (Tr. 403-06). During the appointment, Ross reported being depressed but not suicidal and that he had an appointment with a mental health provider scheduled for the following day. ( Id. ). Biritwum and Luque assessed no mood disturbance, but noted that Ross continued to suffer from poor sleep. ( Id. ).
Ross returned for an appointment with Biritwum and Luque on March 23, 2011. (Tr. 383-86). During the appointment, Ross reported that he had been working as a CNA in a nursing home for the past month. ( Id. ). Biritwum and Luque assessed no mood disturbance and noted that Ross's appetite was good and he was sleeping well. ( Id. ). On June 8, 2011, Ross returned for a follow-up appointment reporting that he continued to work as a CNA and had successfully obtained his GED. (Tr. 380-82).
On June 8, 2011, Ross attended another appointment with Biritwum and Luque. (Tr. 501-03). The treatment notes indicate that Ross continued to work as a CNA in a nursing home at night. ( Id. ). Ross reported feeling and sleeping well and that he had a good appetite. ( Id. ). Ross exhibited no depression, PTSD, anxiety or suicidal ideation. ( Id. ).
2. Jefferson Family Medicine
Treatment notes indicate that between August 2010 and September 2011, Ross received treatment from Mark A. Brown ("Brown"), MD, at Jefferson Family Medicine. (Tr. 453-79). On August 23, 2010, Ross attended an appointment with Brown and advised Brown that he had recently been diagnosed with HIV. (Tr. 454-55). Ross reported that he initially experienced depression, anxiety and suicidal thoughts after his diagnosis, but that he no longer experienced those feelings. ( Id. ). Ross also reported that he experienced trouble sleeping since learning of his diagnosis. ( Id. ). Brown referred Ross to the Strong Infectious Disease Department for treatment and prescribed Ambien to address his trouble with sleeping. ( Id. ).
On September 23, 2010, Ross attended a follow-up appointment with Brown. (Tr. 456-57). Ross reported that he had been prescribed Buspar by Biritwum and Luque to assist with sleeping. ( Id. ). Ross reported that he was experiencing some depression since his diagnosis and thought about dying, but did not have any active suicidal ideation. ( Id. ). Brown prescribed Trazodone, in addition to the Buspirone to assist Ross's depression. ( Id. ).
Ross attended another appointment with Brown on December 1, 2010. (Tr. 458-60). During the appointment, Ross requested that Brown perform an examination in connection with Ross's SSI/DIB application. ( Id. ). The treatment notes indicate that Brown performed an ...