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Robert L. Treadwell v. Michael J. Astrue

March 22, 2012

ROBERT L. TREADWELL,
PLAINTIFF,
v.
MICHAEL J. ASTRUE, COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Hayes, Judge:

ORDER

The matters before the court are the Motion for Summary Judgment or Remand by Plaintiff Robert Treadwell (ECF No. 12), the Cross Motion for Summary Judgment by Defendant Michael Astrue, Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, (ECF No. 18), and the Report and Recommendation by the Magistrate Judge (ECF No. 20). PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

On April 4, 2006, Plaintiff filed an application for disability insurance benefits with the Defendant Commissioner of Social Security Administration alleging onset of disability on December 31, 2003. Administrative Record ("A.R.") 201-205. Plaintiff's claim was denied at the initial level and again upon reconsideration. A.R. 108-11, 116-20. On November 6, 2008, an administrative hearing was held at which Plaintiff appeared with counsel and testified before an administrative law judge ("ALJ"). A.R. 43-105.

On December 31, 2008, the ALJ issued a written decision finding that Plaintiff was not disabled. A.R. 29-41. The ALJ found that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since the alleged disability onset date of December 31, 2003. The ALJ found that Plaintiff had severe impairments of osteoarthritis, patella femoral chondromalacia bilateral, depression, and anxiety disorder with Posttraumatic Stress Disorder ("PTSD") features. The ALJ found that these impairments did not meet or equal a listed impairment. The ALJ found that Plaintiff retained the residual functional capacity to physically lift or carry up to 10 pounds frequently and 20 pounds occasionally, perform occasional postural activities, and avoid ladders, ropes, heights, or moving machinery. The ALJ found that Plaintiff suffered mental limitations that limit him to simple, unskilled tasks with no more than minimal contact with others. In making the mental impairment and limitation determinations, the ALJ rejected the opinions of Plaintiff's treating doctors and adopted the opinion of the non-examining medical expert. Finally, the ALJ found that Plaintiff was unable to perform any past relevant work but that jobs exist in the national economy that he can perform, given his age, education, work experience, and residual functional capacity.

The ALJ's decision became the final decision of the Defendant Commissioner when the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review. A.R. 1-4, 18-21.

On September 28, 2010, Plaintiff commenced this action seeking judicial review of Defendant's decision pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). (ECF No. 1).

On April 1, 2011, Plaintiff filed a Motion for Summary Judgment. (ECF No. 12). Plaintiff contends that the ALJ erred in rejecting the opinions of Plaintiff's treating doctors and that the ALJ improperly weighted the opinion of the non-examining medical expert regarding Plaintiff's mental impairment and limitations. On May 11, 2011, Defendant filed an Opposition to Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 19) and a Cross-Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 18). Defendant contends that the ALJ properly evaluated Plaintiff's mental capacity and provided sufficient reasoning for rejecting the opinions of Plaintiff's treating doctors.

On January 6, 2012, the Magistrate Judge issued a Report and Recommendation recommending that the Motion for Summary Judgment filed by Plaintiff be denied and the Cross-Motion for Summary Judgment filed by Defendant be granted. (ECF No. 20). On January 27, 2012, Plaintiff filed objections to the Report and Recommendation. (ECF No. 21).

FACTUAL BACKGROUND

I. Plaintiff's Educational and Employment History

Plaintiff was born on September 26, 1964. Plaintiff was 39 years old at the date of onset of his alleged disability on December 31, 2003. A.R. 201. Plaintiff dropped out of high school and later got his GED. A.R. 48-49. Plaintiff enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps and served in the Combat Marine Infantry as an assault weapons specialist. A.R. 87. While on duty, Plaintiff suffered a fall with rockets strapped to his back and experienced an explosion that left him blinded for weeks. After leaving the military, Plaintiff attended cosmetology and culinary school and attempted work in telemarketing, canvassing, engraving trophies and selling cosmetology products. Plaintiff stated that his physical injuries prevented sustained work in these fields. A.R. 49-50.

II. Plaintiff's Medical History

The findings of the ALJ regarding Plaintiff's physical functioning capabilities is not a subject of dispute in the motions for summary judgment or objections to the Report and Recommendation. The ALJ found that Plaintiff suffered severe physical impairments of osteoarthritis and patella femoral chondromalacia bilateral. Neither party has opposed these findings or the ALJ's conclusions stemming from these findings. The subject of dispute in the motions for summary judgment and objections to the Report and Recommendation concern the ALJ's findings regarding Plaintiff's mental functioning capabilities.

The records show that Plaintiff received mental health treatment at the San Diego Department of Veterans Affairs from 2003 to 2008. Plaintiff was treated by the following staff (among others not listed): Dr. Diego Jarrin, internalist; Dr. Michael Essex, psychiatrist; Dr. Michael Torricelli, psychiatrist; Dr. Daniel Kim, psychiatrist; Madeline Gershwin, Registered Nurse at the Posttraumatic Stress Clinic; Dr. Jeff Sanders of the Psychiatric Emergency Clinic, and; Dr. Ryan Trim, postdoctoral psychologist.

On September 3, 2003, Plaintiff was examined by Dr. Jarrin. Plaintiff reported that his prozac medication was not helping his mood and that he would sometimes behave strangely and uncontrollably, hearing voices and feeling irritable. Dr. Jarrin's impression was that Plaintiff suffered a "mood disturbance with psychotic features" and referred Plaintiff to psychiatry for a consultation. A.R. 566-67.

On May 27, 2004, Plaintiff was examined by Dr. Jarrin. Plaintiff reported "frustration with psychiatric issues," a recent altercation with police, and "significant anger and frustration with people." A.R. 548-49. Dr. Jarrin consulted with Plaintiff regarding Plaintiff's mood disorder medication and referred Plaintiff to behavioral counseling and further psychiatric counseling.

On December 23, 2004, Plaintiff was examined by Dr. Jarrin who noted Plaintiff's history of depression and that Plaintiff missed his last psychiatry appointment. A.R. 538-39.

On January 27, 2005, Plaintiff was seen by Dr. Jarrin. Plaintiff reported recurrent "thoughts of traumatic events of his past and nightmares," and stated that he was confrontational and prone to outbursts. A.R. 535-37. Dr. Jarrin instructed Plaintiff to discuss his medications for emotional stability and symptoms of PTSD with psychiatry.

On March 1, 2005, Plaintiff failed to attend a clinic group orientation meeting that was scheduled for him. A.R. 534.

On July 18, 2005, Plaintiff was examined by Dr. Jarrin who noted that Plaintiff "is doing better with regards to his psychiatric issues." A.R. 532-33. Plaintiff reported that he only drinks alcohol on weekends and has been better at controlling his anger. Dr. Jarrin stated that Plaintiff would continue with his mood-stabilizing medications (carbamazepine and risperidone) and counseling groups.

On August 9, 2005, Plaintiff was evaluated at the Posttraumatic Stress Disorder Clinic where he was diagnosed with "severe PTSD" and "recurrent Major Depressive Disorder." A.R. 309. The records show that Plaintiff reported two significant non-combat accidents while in the military that both meet stressor criteria for PTSD. Plaintiff was found to meet symptom criteria for PTSD in all categories of experience, avoidance, and hyperarousal. Plaintiff's mood was depressed, concentration impaired, and task completion was met with difficulty. Dr. Essex and R.N. Gershwin stated that Plaintiff is "totally disabled" and "severely incapacitated by both his physical and psychological conditions." A.R. 309.

On September 22, 2005, Plaintiff was examined by Dr. Essex and reported that, while he does not feel good when alone, he enjoys his dogs and has been able to keep his anger under control. Dr. Essex conducted a mental status exam and concluded that Plaintiff was "doing fairly well" and would continue his current medications. A.R. 421.

On January 5, 2006, Plaintiff was seen by Dr. Jarrin and reported improved feelings of anxiety and volatility but persistent problems with sleep. A.R. 664-66. Plaintiff also was examined by Dr. Essex on January 5, 2006. Dr. Essex conducted a mental status exam and found that Plaintiff was in a good mood and "showing improvement with combined therapy and medications." A.R. 340-41.

On March 3, 2006, Plaintiff was examined by Dr. Jarrin and denied homicidal or suicidal ideation. A.R. 334-35.

On April 6, 2006, Plaintiff was examined by Dr. Essex who noted Plaintiff's "slow steady progress." A.R. 404. Dr. Essex conducted a mental status exam and found Plaintiff's mood "somewhat depressed." A.R. 404. Dr. Essex stated that Plaintiff "appears to be doing well with his current medication and therapy program" but that "he continues to be quite impaired." A.R. 404. Dr. Essex maintained Plaintiff on his current medications and therapies.

On May 3, 2006, Plaintiff met with R.N. Gershwin for individual supportive psychotherapy for PTSD. A.R. 403. Plaintiff reported discomfort with the cognitive behavior therapy group "because the room is too small and there are too many people." A.R. 403. Plaintiff expressed his intention to drop the group.

On July 7, 2006, Plaintiff was examined by Dr. Jarrin and reported feeling frustrated and stressed over the past few months. A.R. 400-02. Dr. Jarrin noted Plaintiff's diagnosis of Depressive Disorder and PTSD.

On July 13, 2006, Plaintiff was examined by Dr. Essex who conducted a mental status exam. Dr. Essex stated Plaintiff's PTSD diagnosis and maintained Plaintiff on his current medications. A.R. 399.

As of November 1, 2006, Plaintiff dropped out of his cognitive behavioral therapy group. A.R. 712 (comment by R.N. Gershwin).

On November 7, 2006, Plaintiff was examined by Dr. Essex who found Plaintiff's "affect bright" and "mood good." A.R. 848. Dr. Essex noted Plaintiff's PTSD diagnosis and ...


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