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Wright v. Astrue

April 21, 2009


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Baylson, J.


Plaintiff, Barry Wright, seeks judicial review of the decision by the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration ("Defendant") denying his application for Social Security disability insurance benefits and supplemental security income under Titles II and XVI of the Social Security Act ("the Act"). For the reasons described below, the Court will affirm the decision of the Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") and deny Plaintiff's request for benefits or a new hearing.

I. Background Information

A. Facts and Procedural History

Plaintiff applied for social security benefits on May 30, 2006. (R. 93-104). Plaintiff asserts that he became disabled on July 28, 2005 after an accident at work caused Plaintiff to suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder ("PTSD"). (R. 249). Plaintiff, a longshoreman, was operating a machine when the cab in which he was sitting caught on fire. Plaintiff was forced to quickly flee the cab, though he escaped without suffering any physical injury. (R. 251). Plaintiff was admitted to the hospital on July 31, 2005 for confusion, anxiety, and memory impairment.

(R. 163). Shortly thereafter, on August 2, 2005, he started therapy with Dr. Doyle for PTSD. (R. 256). He has not returned to work since the accident. (R. 31-32).

Plaintiff's initial application was denied on August 24, 2006. (R. 65). Plaintiff then sought a hearing before an ALJ, which was held on September 13, 2007. (R. 20). At the hearing, the ALJ heard testimony from Plaintiff, a medical expert who had reviewed Plaintiff's medical file, and a vocational expert. (R. 25-54). On September 26, 2007, the ALJ issued a decision denying benefits. (R. 8).

The ALJ concluded that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since July 28, 2005 and that Plaintiff was suffering from a severe impairment, PTSD, under the Act. (R. 13). However, the ALJ also found that Plaintiff did not have an impairment or combination of impairments meeting or medically equivalent to the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1, and therefore turned to an analysis of Plaintiff's residual functional capacity ("RFC"). (R. 13-14). After examining the record and evaluating the hearing testimony, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiffcould perform a full range of work at all exertional levels limited to simple, repetitive, routine tasks with low social contact.(R. 14). Although those limitations indicated Plaintiff could not perform his past relevant work, the ALJ found, based on the testimony of the vocational expert, that there were jobs in the national economy that met those criteria. The ALJ therefore determined that Plaintiff was not disabled under the Act. (R. 17-18).

Plaintiff has filed a timely request for review of that decision.

B. Information in the Record

After the work accident, Plaintiff sought treatment from Dr. Doyle, a board certified psychiatrist. Dr. Doyle treated the Plaintiff from August 2005 until May 2007, when Plaintiff moved to Georgia to live with his brother. (R. 56, 222-56). Dr. Doyle allegedly saw Plaintiff over sixty times during that period. Most of Dr. Doyle's treatment notes indicate "moderate" anxiety and depression and diagnose Plaintiff with PTSD, which Dr. Doyle concluded rendered Plaintiff "totally disabled." (Id.). However, several of the treatment notes also indicated that Dr. Doyle and Plaintiff had discussed Plaintiff's gradual return to work and that Plaintiff was hopeful to do so. (R. 228-29). Dr. Doyle's notes emphasize that Plaintiff suffered from additional aggravating stressors, including his daughter's suffering from sickle cell anemia, the lack of resolution of his workers compensation claim, the death of a co-worker in a work-related accident, and Plaintiff's financial difficulties. (R. 222-56).

On July 24, 2006, in an evaluation of Plaintiff's limitations, Dr. Doyle concluded that Plaintiff had moderate impairments with regards to his ability to understand and remember detailed instructions, carry out detailed instructions, and make judgments on simple work-related decisions. (R. 274). Dr. Doyle also found that Plaintiff had moderate restrictions on his ability to interact appropriately with the public and to respond appropriately to changes in a routine work setting but had marked restrictions on his ability to interact appropriately with supervisors and co-workers and to respond appropriately to work pressures in a usual work setting. (R. 274). In contrast, in a similar medical source statement on August 6, 2007, Dr. Doyle concluded that Plaintiff was extremely impaired with regards to all of those abilities. (R. 391-92). Dr. Doyle's assessment did not provide any reasoning for the decline in Plaintiff's abilities to engage in work-related activities.

Plaintiff was also seen by an examining psychiatrist, Dr. Reiger, for a pending workers' compensation claim that was related to the same July 2005 accident. Dr. Reiger examined Plaintiff on three separate occasions: September 21, 2005; December 15, 2005; and May 3, 2006.

(R. 221). Dr. Reiger agreed with Dr. Doyle that Plaintiff suffered from PTSD as a result of the work-related accident and that Dr. Doyle's treatment was reasonable and necessary. However, Dr. Reiger disagreed that Plaintiff was totally disabled. Instead, Dr. Reiger opined that Plaintiff could return to work as long as it did not involve the same type of equipment. (R. 211, 221). In the last examination, Dr. Reiger concluded that Plaintiff could expect no further improvement from treatment and was no longer disabled. Dr. Reiger also suspected, based on Plaintiff's performance ...

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