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Ralph J. Cirotti v. Michael J. Astrue

August 4, 2011

RALPH J. CIROTTI, PLAINTIFF,
v.
MICHAEL J. ASTRUE, COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY. DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Pisano, District Judge.

NOT FOR PUBLICATION

OPINION

Before the court is an appeal by Ralph J. Cirotti ("Plaintiff") from the final decision of the Commissioner of the Social SecurityAdministration ("Commissioner") denying his request for Disability Insurance Benefits ("DIB") and Supplemental Security Income ("SSI") benefits. The Court has jurisdiction to review this matter under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) and 1383(c)(3) and decides this matter without oral argument. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 78. The issue presented is whether the Commissioner's decision to deny Plaintiff's application for DIB and SSI is supported by substantial evidence. The Court finds that the record provides substantial support for the Commissioner's denial and affirms his decision.

I. PROCEDURAL HISTORY

On August 27, 2007, Plaintiff filed an application for DIB benefits under Title II and Part A of Title XVIII of the Social Security Act (the "Act"), and on September 14, 2007, he requested SSI under Title XVI of the Act claiming various affective mood disorders including depression, high anxiety, bipolar disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder and panic attacks. (R. 125-133).

These claims were initially denied on April 16, 2008, and upon reconsideration. (R. 77-86, 88-93). On May 14, 2008, Plaintiff requested a hearing, which was held on October 1, 2009, before Administrative Law Judge Paula Garrety (the "ALJ"). (R. 94). Plaintiff appeared and testified at the hearing. (R. 42-69). The ALJ issued her decision on October 21, 2009, finding that Plaintiff was not disabled under the Act. (R. 8-18). On October 23, 2009, Plaintiff requested review of the ALJ's decision by the Appeals Council. (R. 7). His request was denied on August 25, 2010.

(R. 1-6).

II. BACKGROUND

A. Plaintiff's Personal Background and Work History

Plaintiff was born on June 3, 1953, and at the time of his hearing before the ALJ he was 56 years old. (R. 125). He is divorced and has shared custody of his two children who live with him on a part time basis. (R. 47). Plaintiff completed a high school education. (R. 148). He worked primarily as a service technician and traveled around the country to repair equipment that made semiconductors. (R. 65). He also worked as a machine operator/tender making boxes and as a packer/capper. (R. 66).

B. Plaintiff's Medical History

1. Dr. Sanjeevani Jain, Treating Psychiatrist

Dr. Jain began to treat Plaintiff in November 2001 and was his main treating psychiatrist. Plaintiff submitted his treatment records with Dr. Jain from April 2007 until February 2010. (R. 214-246, 266-293, 298, 299-306). She diagnosed Plaintiff with mixed type bipolar disorder based on her positive clinical findings that Plaintiff experienced mood swings, anxiety, severe depression, sleep problems and suicidal ideation. She found these symptoms prevented Plaintiff from working. (R. 226, 239, 244). She also determined that Plaintiff's Global Assessment of Functioning ("GAF") score was 60-65, which is indicative of mild difficulty in social and occupational functioning.

Dr. Jain noted that Plaintiff lacked motivation, was in social withdrawal, felt hopeless, and worthless, had tremendous low self-esteem and had repeated episodes of decompensation on and off throughout treatment. (R. 298 and 243). She prescribed Pristiq, Ambien, Xanax, Abilify and Eskalith to calm Plaintiff down and to prevent him from having suicidal thoughts. (R. 51).Dr. Jain concluded from her mental residual functional capacity ("RFC") assessment of Plaintiff that he was markedly limited*fn1 with regard to the category of understanding and memory.*fn2 Within this category, she found that Plaintiff was markedly limited in his ability to understand and remember detailed instructions. However, she found that Plaintiff was mildly limited in his ability to remember locations and work-like procedures, and he was moderately limited in his ability to understand and remember very short and simple instructions. (R. 218).

Dr. Jain also found that Plaintiff was markedly limited in his ability to maintain sustained concentration and persistence in the following areas: 1) his ability to carry out detailed instructions; 2) his ability to perform activities within a schedule, maintain regular attendance, and be punctual within customary tolerances; 3) his ability to sustain an ordinary routine without supervision; 4) his ability to work in coordination with or proximity to others without being distracted by them; and 5) his ability to complete a normal workday and workweek without interruption from psychologically based symptoms and to perform at a consistent pace without an unreasonable number and length of rest periods. (R. 218-219). She found that Plaintiff was mildly limited only in his ability to carry out very simple one or two-step instructions and moderately limited in his ability to maintain attention and concentration for extended periods and to make simple work related decisions. (Id.)

Dr. Jain further determined that, in the category of social interactions, Plaintiff was markedly limited in his ability to interact appropriately with the public, and in his ability to accept instructions and respond appropriately to criticism from supervisors. (R. 218). He was also markedly limited in his ability to get along with co-workers or peers without distracting them or exhibiting behavioral extremes and in his ability to maintain socially appropriate behavior or to adhere to basic standards of neatness and cleanliness. However, she found that he was only moderately limited in his ability to ask simple questions or request assistance. (R. 219).

Finally, Dr. Jain found that Plaintiff was also markedly limited in his ability to respond appropriately to changes in the work setting, to set realistic goals or make independent plans, to be aware of normal hazards and to take appropriate precautions and in his ability to travel to unfamiliar places or use public transportation. (R. 219-220).

2. Dr. Marc Friedman, Psychologist

Dr. Friedman examined Plaintiff on April 15, 2008. (R. 193-195). Plaintiff was alert and able to provide a coherent history. He told Dr. Friedman about his diagnosis of anxiety and bipolar disorder. (Id.) Plaintiff recalled that his depression began around the time his wife suddenly left him. During that period, his father passed away and he found his brother dead in his apartment. (R. 194).Plaintiff made self disparaging comments and remarked that he lost confidence in himself. (R. 193-194). He also reported panic attacks which occurred about once a week. During those episodes he felt that "people are watching him, he perspires a lot, has rapid heartbeat and needs to escape." (R.193). In addition, Plaintiff expressed a lack of joy and motivation when performing routine chores, such as washing the dishes or doing the laundry.

(R. 195). He stated he lost interest in taking care of his yard and garden, activities he used to enjoy. Instead, he spends considerable time watching TV. (Id.)

With regard to Plaintiff's cognitive abilities, Dr. Friedman determined that his long-term memory was slightly impaired, and his short-term memory and concentration were mildly impaired. (R. 194). Plaintiff was able to compute serial sevens until seventy-two and was able to repeat five digits forward, but could only compute four digits backward. (Id.)Dr. Friedman diagnosed Plaintiff with bipolar disorder, current episode depressed panic disorder and assigned him a GAF score of 45. (R. 195). He found his intelligence to be average. (R. 194).

3. Dr. Clara Castillo-Velez, State Agency Psychological Consultant

On April 16, 2008, Dr. Castillo-Velez administered a psychiatric review and an RFC assessment of Plaintiff. (R. 196-213). In her psychiatric review, she determined that Plaintiff suffered from a mood disturbance, accompanied by bipolar disorder and symptoms of depressive syndrome, under the "A" criteria of the Listing § 12.04-affective disorders.*fn3 (R. 199). She found that Plaintiff suffered from decreased energy and feelings of guilt or worthlessness, two of the four symptoms necessary to definitively diagnose a patient with depressive syndrome.

Dr. Castillo-Velez concluded that under the "B" criteria of Listing § 12.04, Plaintiff was moderately limited in his functional capacities, such as in his ability to perform activities of daily living and in his ability to maintain concentration, persistence or pace.*fn4 (R. 206). She also found that Plaintiff did not suffer any extended episodes of decompensation. (Id.)

Dr. Castillo-Velez also performed a mental RFC assessment. In Section I of the RFC assessment, she determined that Plaintiff was moderately limited in his understanding and memory. (R. 210). Within this category, she found that although Plaintiff was moderately limited in his ability to understand and remember detailed instructions, he was not significantly limited in his ability to remember locations and work-like procedures, or in his ability to understand and remember very short and simple instructions. (Id.)

Dr. Castillo-Velez further found that Plaintiff was moderately limited in his ability to maintain sustained concentration and persistence. (Id.) Within the category of concentration and persistence, she found that Plaintiff was moderately limited in the following: 1) his ability to carry out detailed instructions; 2) his ability to maintain attention and concentration for extended periods; 3) his ability to perform activities within a schedule, maintain regular attendance and be punctual within customary tolerances; 4) his ability to sustain an ordinary routine without special supervision; 5) his ability to work in coordination with or proximity to others without being distracted by them; 6) his ability to make simple work-related decisions; and 7) his ability to complete a normal workday and workweek without interruptions from psychologically based symptoms and to perform at a consistent pace without an unreasonable number and length of rest periods. (R. 210-211). However, Dr. Castillo-Velez found that Plaintiff was not significantly limited in his ability to carry out very short and simple instructions. (R. 210).

In addition, Dr. Castillo-Velez determined that Plaintiff was moderately limited in his social interactions. (R. 211). Specifically, she found that Plaintiff was moderately limited in his ability to accept instructions and respond appropriately to criticism from supervisors and in his ability to get along with co-workers or peers without distracting them or exhibiting behavioral extremes. However, she found Plaintiff was not significantly limited in his ability to interact appropriately with the general public, in his ability to ask simple questions or request assistance, or in his ability to maintain socially appropriate behavior or to adhere to basic standards of neatness and cleanliness. (Id.)

Finally, Dr. Castillo-Velez found that, within the adaptation category, Plaintiff was moderately limited in his ability to respond appropriately to changes in the work setting and in his ability to set realistic goals or make independent plans, but was not significantly limited in his ability to be aware of normal hazards and to take appropriate precautions or in his ability to travel in unfamiliar places or use public transportation. (Id.)

Based on the above conclusions, Dr. Castillo-Velez found that Plaintiff's long-term memory was slightly impaired, his concentration was mildly impaired and his short-term memory was fair. (R. 212). The doctor subsequently concluded that Plaintiff maintains the requisite ...


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