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Clarence Thomas v. Michael Astrue

September 27, 2012

CLARENCE THOMAS,
PLAINTIFF,
v.
MICHAEL ASTRUE, COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY,
DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Barbara A. McAuliffe United States Magistrate Judge

ORDER ON PLAINTIFF'S SOCIAL SECURITY COMPLAINT

BACKGROUND

Plaintiff Clarence Thomas ("Plaintiff") seeks judicial review of a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner" or "Defendant") denying his application for supplemental security income ("SSI") benefits and disability insurance benefits pursuant to Titles II and XVI, respectively, of the Social Security Act. The matter is currently before the Court on the parties' briefs, which were submitted, without oral argument, to the Honorable Barbara A. McAuliffe, United States Magistrate Judge.

FACTS AND PRIOR PROCEEDINGS*fn1

Plaintiff filed an application for benefits on August 29, 2007, claiming he is unable to work due to depression and a past gunshot wound. AR 150. Plaintiff's applications were denied initially and on reconsideration, and he requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"). AR 12-19. ALJ Stephen Webster held a hearing and subsequently issued an order denying benefits on November 25, 2009, finding Plaintiff was not disabled. AR 12-19. This appeal followed.

Relevant Mental Impairment Evidence

The record is summarized here in chronological order with particular regard to the medical record relevant to Plaintiff's mental impairment claims. Nonetheless, the record as a whole was reviewed and will be specifically referenced as necessary to this Court's decision. AR 207-313.

Plaintiff first began receiving mental health treatment after his first application for social security benfits was denied. On December 4, 2007, he was seen by examining psychiatrist Shireen Damania, M.D., for a psychiatric evaluation. AR 207-11. Dr. S. Damania noted that at that time, Plaintiff was not receiving any psychiatric treatment or taking any psychotropic medications. AR 209. Dr. S. Damania also noted that Plaintiff was currently "employed," in shipping, via "temporary services." AR 208, 210. Plaintiff asked for a note for his employer, to document the medical appointment. AR 208. Dr. S. Damania recounted Plaintiff's complaints of depression and problems with his left hand due to a past gunshot wound. AR 209. At the time of the appointment, Plaintiff was "neatly dressed and groomed," with a "neatly trimmed mustache;" he denied having any suicidal or homicidal ideations. AR 210. Dr. S. Damania diagnosed a depressive disorder, alcohol abuse in remission, and polysubstance dependence in remission. AR 211. As to Plaintiff's functional limitations, Dr. S. Damania opined that Plaintiff could understand, remember, and carry out three and four-step job instructions in a work-like setting. AR 211.

On January 2, 2008, State agency psychologist J. Levinson, Ph.D., reviewed Dr. S. Damania's report. Dr. Levinson noted that Plaintiff had no history of psychological treatment. AR 224. Based on Dr. S. Damania's report, Dr. Levinson opined that Plaintiff did not have a "severe" psychological impairment. AR 212, 224.

On January 16, 2008, Plaintiff was seen by examining internist Rustom Damania, M.D., for an internal medicine evaluation. AR 226-32. At that time, Plaintiff complained of fatigue, chronic left hand pain, abdominal pain, an umbilical hernia, diarrhea, and growths ("keloid formations") on the ear lobes. AR 227. Plaintiff reported that he had last worked on December 19, 2007. AR 228. After a physical examination, Dr. R. Damania diagnosed a bullet injury to the left hand from 1979 (now possibly mild osteoarthritis), status post laparotomy in 2001 for bullet wound (now a small umbilical hernia), intermittent diarrhea of unknown cause, and growths on both ear lobes. AR 231. As to Plaintiff's functional limitations, Dr. R. Damania opined that Plaintiff could lift and carry twenty pounds occasionally and ten pounds frequently, could stand and walk for six out of eight hours, with normal breaks. AR 232.

Also in January 2008, Plaintiff began attending the Fresno County Mental Health Facility for evaluation and treatment. AR 241, 242. On January 17, 2008, Plaintiff met with social worker Brian Arkelian and stated that he was in the process of applying for SSI and that he could not hold a job because background checks revealed that he had been in and out of jail on ten different occasions. AR 209, 249.

On February 5, 2008, State agency physician James Glaser, M.D., opined that Plaintiff did not have a "severe" physical impairment. AR 234. He noted that Plaintiff was not entirely credible because he alleged fatigue to Dr. R. Damania, but not to Dr. S. Damania, and because Plaintiff was working until December 2007, despite his claim of disability. AR 234.

On April 10, 2008, Plaintiff was evaluated by Evelyn Aquino-Caro, M.D. AR 236. Plaintiff reported that he had not worked since last year and that he was "isolating self in his room" and sleeping "with a knife under his pillow for fear of being attacked by somebody." AR 236. Dr. Aquino-Caro prescribed medications and periodic face-to-face meetings. AR 237. In a contemporaneous form prepared for State General Relief benefits, Dr. Aquino-Caro opined that Plaintiff could not work for 6 months. AR 253.

On April 28, 2008, the Fresno County Mental Health Facility noted that Plaintiff was not attending his group therapy sessions "because of some of his problems and because he is in the process of applying for his SSI." AR 275. Plaintiff was encouraged to follow up with his physician and reminded to keep appointments with his psychiatrist. AR 276.

On April 30, 2008, State agency physician E. Murillo, M.D., opined that, based on the existing medical evidence, Plaintiff did not have a severe mental impairment. AR 254. State agency physician Brian Ginsburg, M.D., also opined that Plaintiff did not have any severe physical impairment. AR 254.

On May 10, 2008, on a form for State disability benefits, Dr. Aquino-Caro stated that Plaintiff was diagnosed with major depression versus mild psychosis and that he was on medications Lexapro and Seroquel. AR 256. She indicated that Plaintiff was incapable of performing his regular or customary work. AR 256. On July 3, 2008, Dr. Aquino-Caro saw Plaintiff for the second time. AR 268. Dr. Aquino-Caro's diagnosis was unchanged and Plaintiff's medications were adjusted.

In September 2008, it was again noted that Plaintiff "has not been able to attend groups as planned." AR 274. Dr. Aquino-Caro saw Plaintiff in September 2008, diagnosed recurrent major depression with psychotic features and adjusted his medications. AR 266.

In a January 6, 2009 form for State General Relief benefits, a social worker (signature illegible) stated that Plaintiff was "afraid to be around people, wears P.J.'s all day, freq. suicide thoughts, poor judgment, unable to remember simple instructions." AR 292. The social worker indicated that Plaintiff was unable to work through July 5, 2009, ...


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