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Santillo v. Colvin

United States District Court, S.D. New York

April 20, 2015



GREGORY H. WOODS, District Judge.

Plaintiff George Carl Santillo Jr. brought this action pursuant to Section 205(g) of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. ยง 405(g), challenging the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security (the "Commissioner") denying his application for disability insurance benefits. The parties have filed cross-motions for judgment on the pleadings. For the reasons set forth below, the Commissioner's motion is denied, Santillo's motion is granted, and the case is remanded to the Commissioner for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

I. Background

A. Procedural History

On June 17, 2009, Santillo filed an application for disability insurance benefits, alleging disability beginning on May 5, 2009, due to bipolar disorder, moodiness, confrontational behavior, social anxiety, rage, rapid mood changes, and chronic obsessiveness. See Doc. 7 (Administrative Record ("AR") at 353. His application was initially denied on November 4, 2009. Id. at 184-87. Santillo subsequently requested a hearing before an administrative law judge ("ALJ"). After holding a hearing at which Santillo and a medical expert testified, ALJ Roberto Lebron issued an unfavorable decision on June 10, 2011. Id. at 166-73. By order dated December 23, 2011, the Appeals Council vacated the ALJ's decision and remanded the matter for further proceedings. Id. at 180-81.

On remand, ALJ Michelle S. Marcus held a supplemental hearing at which she took the testimony of Santillo and a vocational expert. Id. at 109-61. The ALJ issued an unfavorable decision on July 27, 2012, finding that Santillo was not disabled from his alleged onset date of May 5, 2009, through his date last insured of June 30, 2012. Id. at 37-48. The Appeals Council denied Santillo's request for review on March 20, 2013, rendering the ALJ's July 27, 2012 decision the final decision of the Commissioner. Id. at 5-7, 22-23. This action followed.

B. Non-Medical Evidence

At the time that he applied for disability benefits, Santillo was 25 years old; had completed high school, where he was enrolled in special education classes due to a learning disability; and had obtained a certificate in culinary training. Id. at 62-66, 467. Santillo had at least four years of work experience in grocery stores, and his previous job as a stock clerk spanned from late 2006 to April 2007 and involved stocking shelves. Id. at 63-65, 149, 354, 410. Santillo had quit his job as a stock clerk because he did not get along with his manager. Id. at 73, 86.

Santillo lived with his mother and grandmother. Id. at 371. His activities included watching television, feeding and caring for his dog, cleaning, washing dishes, doing laundry, and doing yard work. Id. at 133, 372-75, 399. He had no problems attending to his personal care and hygiene. Id. at 71, 372, 398. He would meet up with friends approximately once a week to go to the mall or to a movie, but otherwise did not participate in social activities. Id. at 376, 401. After his mother passed away in October 2009, Santillo also took care of his grandmother by giving her medication. Id. at 397. Santillo could go out alone, drive a car, and shop for personal items, but needed help budgeting and handling money. Id. at 144, 372-75, 399-400.

According to Santillo's own description of his symptoms, he was unable to work due to depression, rage, mood swings, and anxiety. Id. at 66. He also occasionally had difficulty sleeping and occasionally suffered from panic attacks. Id. at 78-79, 127-28. His depression sometimes made it difficult for him to get out of bed or even function, he experienced rage almost every day, which could be triggered by his going out in public, and his anxiety made it difficult for him to think clearly. Id. at 74, 78. Medication helped relieve his depression, but would make him drowsy. Id. at 68, 75. As a result of his conditions and his related inability to control his emotions or handle criticism, he became very uneasy around large crowds and had problems getting along with family, friends, authority figures, and others. Id. at 138, 376-77. He also had difficulties focusing and paying attention, but could follow spoken and written instructions and finish what he started. Id. at 377. Due to his learning disability, he required a physical demonstration before he could learn a task. Id. at 76. He was able to perform repetitive tasks, but had difficulties with math. Id. at 76-77. Although he could add, subtract, multiply, and divide, he was unable to perform algebraic calculations or determine percentages. Id. at 77. He also had difficulties with reading comprehension. Id.

C. Medical Evidence

According to the medical evidence in the record, on June 11, 2009, Santillo underwent a diagnostic review at Hudson Valley Mental Health ("Hudson Valley"). Id. at 443-45. Santillo reported mood swings, depression, road rage, anger, problems relating to people due to his anger, and past suicidal ideation. Id. at 443-44. The unnamed reviewing professional diagnosed Santillo with Bipolar II disorder, assigned him a Global Assessment of Functioning ("GAF") score of 55, [1] and noted that he had good family support and was motivated to receive help. Id.

On July 22, 2009, Dr. Nilo Hererra of the Mount Kisco Medical Group completed a treatment questionnaire regarding Santillo for the New York State Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance. Id. at 469-80. Dr. Hererra had been seeing Santillo on a monthly basis since May 5, 2009. Id. at 469. Dr. Hererra described Santillo's symptoms as racing thoughts, depression, and difficulty controlling his temper, and diagnosed him with insomnia and depression. Id. Dr. Hererra had previously prescribed Zoloft to Santillo and noted that his symptoms had improved as a result. Id. at 470. Dr. Hererra reported that Santillo had no limitations in his abilities to lift, carry, sit, stand, walk, push, or pull, but was limited with respect to his understanding and memory, sustained concentration and persistence, and social interaction. Id. at 477-78.

In or around June 2009, Santillo began treatment with Dr. Deborah Chung, a psychiatrist. Dr. Chung conducted a psychiatric evaluation of Santillo on July 30, 2009. Id. at 466. She noted that Santillo complained of anger, irritability, lack of motivation, and difficulty sleeping. Id. Santillo reported that his depressive symptoms had begun two or three years earlier after the death of his paternal grandfather and his grandmother's admission to a nursing home; that he experienced mood changes, anger, irritability, and rage, but was not physically violent; and that Zoloft was helping to relieve his symptoms. Id. Santillo also reported that he had quit his previous job due to irritability and impatience with customers. Id.

According to Dr. Chung's treatment notes, Santillo was cooperative with good eye contact and had an appropriate affect and neutral mood, but had increased psychomotor activities and was fidgety and tense. Id. at 467. Santillo's speech was over-productive, rapid, and pressured, but coherent and relevant with no thought disorders. Id. His memory for recent and remote events was intact, his insight and judgment were fair, and he seemed to be functioning with low average intelligence. Id. When manic, Santillo could become angry and hit someone without thinking of the consequences, though he strongly denied any intention to do so. Id. Dr. Chung diagnosed Santillo with Bipolar I Disorder. Id.

On August 27, 2009, Santillo reported to Dr. Chung that he was doing well on Zoloft without any adverse reactions, that group therapy was helping him cope with conflict at home, and that he was neither depressed nor elated. Id. at 561. The following month, Santillo reported that he was doing fairly well most of the time, that he was ...

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