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Ronnie F. Baker v. Michael J. Astrue

November 8, 2012

RONNIE F. BAKER,
PLAINTIFF,
v.
MICHAEL J. ASTRUE, COMMISSIONER OF REMAND OF SOCIAL SECURITY,
DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Charles F. Eick United States Magistrate Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Pursuant to sentence four of 42 U.S.C. section 405(g), IT IS HEREBY ORDERED that Plaintiff's and Defendant's motions for summary judgment are denied and this matter is remanded for further administrative action consistent with this Opinion.

PROCEEDINGS

Plaintiff filed a complaint on April 12, 2012, seeking review of the Commissioner's denial of benefits. The parties filed a consent to proceed before a United States Magistrate Judge on May 15, 2012. Plaintiff filed a motion for summary judgment on September 27, 2012. Defendant filed a motion for summary judgment on October 29, 2012. The Court has taken both motions under submission without oral argument. See L.R. 7-15; "Order," filed April 13, 2012.

BACKGROUND

Plaintiff asserts disability since April 1, 1992, based on a combination of alleged psychological and physical impairments, including post traumatic stress disorder ("PTSD") and back pain (Administrative Record ("A.R.") 29-914). Plaintiff claims to have experienced symptomatology of disabling severity since at least 1992 (A.R. 31-46).

The Administrative Record contains evidence spread over several decades concerning the cause and the effects of Plaintiff's PTSD. Plaintiff assertedly "experienced numerous traumatic events while working as a photographer in Vietnam" during the Vietnam War (A.R. 574). Plaintiff reportedly had to "take pictures of young children and women who had been killed . . . [and] once had to take pictures of 'huge stacks of dead bodies' while the general was standing beside him crying" (A.R. 585). As a result of these reported traumas, Plaintiff allegedly has had "symptoms of re-experiencing, avoidance, numbing, and hyperarousal which have interfered with his life significantly" (A.R. 574; see also A.R. 585).

In 1984, a licensed clinical social worker authored some partially illegible handwritten notes describing very serious effects of PTSD allegedly experienced by Plaintiff (A.R. 820-46). Plaintiff reportedly resigned from a job in early 1984 because of homicidal impulses toward his supervisor (A.R. 820). Plaintiff said he had flashbacks to Vietnam when he closed his eyes (A.R. 831). Plaintiff said he was thinking of dressing in combat fatigues to play war in the woods (A.R. 820, 838). Plaintiff also reportedly had suicidal ideation, planning to drive a car off the Bay Bridge (A.R. 830). Plaintiff claimed that, when he was alone and thinking about his impulses, it seemed to him that he was rational, although he was also afraid he might be "crazy" (A.R. 833, 838). The social worker consulted a doctor, who also interviewed Plaintiff (A.R. 834). Although the doctor and the social worker concluded Plaintiff "was not committable [sic] at this time," they recommended that Plaintiff be hospitalized in a veterans' program for PTSD treatment. However, Plaintiff declined or "sabotaged" planned hospitalizations, after expressing a fear of being held in a "psych ward and maybe never getting out" (A.R. 839-40).

In 1998, Plaintiff requested a psychiatric "assessment," apparently at the direction of a "Nevada judge," after Plaintiff was caught three times "feeding slugs into a slot machine" (A.R. 238). Plaintiff then presented with "blunted affect and some suspiciousness" and admitted to "transient paranoia" (A.R. 238). The person who then interviewed Plaintiff wrote: "r/o bi-polar mood disorder r/o cluster A personality disorder r/o psychotic process" (A.R. 238). A 2004 "Progress Note" reads (strangely): "ptsd; pt states quit all care and has ben [sic] on his own trying to take care of it and doing better than before. state being watchful about speena from Donald trump" (A.R. 230). In 2007, a "4 question Primary Care PTSD screen" reportedly was "negative" (A.R. 231). In 2008, Plaintiff refused recommended mental health treatment for "chronic sleep disorders and stress" (A.R. 272-73).

An undated progress note, perhaps from 2009, states "ongoing symptoms since Vnam. Several outpt treatment at no. Calif. VAMC in 1998 and 2007" (A.R. 775). On January 28, 2009, an examining psychologist described Plaintiff's "Chief Complaint" as "Depressed mood, easily startled, takes a while to calm down. Becomes hot sweating in response to anxiety. Also his [s]kin breaks out in rash. Vigilant, concerned about safety. Fears 'somebody will come and get me.' Used to have guns all over the house, sit up on the roof with a rifle. Self-isolates" (A.R. 227).

On July 27, 2009, Plaintiff entered outpatient treatment for "combat related PTSD" (A.R. 390, 847). Dr. Bradley Warren, a treating psychiatrist, opined on August 17, 2010, that Plaintiff "has manifested the classic symptoms of PTSD and the accompanying psychosocial stressors that accompany this disorder . . . His prognosis for full recovery or for returning to employment is not good" (A.R. 847). Dr. Shawn Lance, a treating internist, opined on September 3, 2010, that Plaintiff "remains disabled due to his medical and psychiatric conditions, some of which are due to his military service in combat" (A.R. 897). Dr. Lance described Plaintiff's "medical problems" as "chronic pain due to lumbar spondylosis, migraine headache, intermittent recurrent kidney stones, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)" (A.R. 897).

The Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") found, inter alia:

(1) Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since April 1, 1992 (A.R. 15); (2) as of May 18, 2009, Plaintiff was disabled by reason of severe PTSD, chronic migraines, degenerative disc disease, and chronic urolithiasis (A.R. 18-20); and (3) prior to May 18, 2009, Plaintiff had no severe impairments whatsoever (A.R. 15-18).*fn1 The ALJ did not consult a medical advisor ...


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