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Tecza v. Astrue

June 10, 2009


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Sean J. McLaughlin United States District Judge



Plaintiff, Edward Tecza, Jr., commenced the instant action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) seeking judicial review of the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security denying his application for disability insurance benefits ("DIB") under Title II of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. § 401 et seq. Plaintiff filed an application for DIB on November 9, 2005, alleging disability since January 1, 2002 due to alcoholic hepatitis and depressive disorder (Administrative Record, hereinafter "AR", 56-58; 71). His application was denied and he requested a hearing before an administrative law judge ("ALJ") (AR 30-33; 40). Following a hearing held on October 3, 2007, the ALJ found that Plaintiff was not entitled to a period of disability or disability insurance under the Act (AR 16-26; 377-397). Plaintiff's request for review by the Appeals Council was denied (AR 5-8), rendering the Commissioner's decision final under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). The instant action challenges the ALJ's decision. Presently pending before the Court are cross-motions for summary judgment. For the reasons set forth below, I will deny the Plaintiff's motion and grant the Defendant's motion.


Plaintiff was born on August 31, 1956 and was forty-nine years old as of the date last insured (AR 28). He received his General Education Development ("GED") certificate and attended college part-time for three years (AR 128; 381).

Plaintiff was admitted to the hospital from November 4, 2005 until November 21, 2005 with a chief complaint of abdominal pain (AR 118). He reported that he drank a half-gallon of vodka every two to three days and his family reported that he had been an alcoholic for years (AR 118; 124). He complained of urinary difficulties, swelling and abdominal pain (AR 124). Diagnostic studies revealed findings consistent with cirrhosis of the liver (AR 146). Dr. Stevens diagnosed Plaintiff with acute alcoholic hepatitis, hepatic encephalopathy, portal hypertension, spontaneous bacterial peritonitis, acute renal failure, hyponatremia, hypokalemia and depression (AR 111).

During his hospitalization, Plaintiff was psychologically evaluated by Yogesh Maru, M.D. on November 7, 2005 (AR 127-129). Dr. Maru observed that Plaintiff was sad, depressed, had a poor energy level and poor motivation (AR 127). Plaintiff reported that he had several good jobs in the past and that he had worked for an oil company for approximately 12 years as an accountant (AR 128). He indicated that he had been laid off from work for the past four years and was unable to find work (AR 127). He continued to use alcohol while employed (AR 128). He lived with a roommate for the past 30 years and had no children (AR 127). Plaintiff reported a previous psychiatric admission at the age of 20 or 21 related to his alcohol usage, but was not currently on any antidepressant or psychotropic medication (AR 127). Plaintiff stated that he began drinking in his teens, and drank approximately 15 cans of beer in one sitting, starting all over again the next day (AR 128).

Physically, Dr. Maru noted that Plaintiff's past medical history was significant for alcohol induced hepatitis and he was deeply jaundiced (AR 127). On mental status examination, Plaintiff exhibited poor eye contact, his affect was stable, mildly blunted, his speech was clear with normal rate and volume and his thought process was goal directed (AR 128). His thought processes were slow with poor production of speech and his concentration and past memory were "patchy" in that he was unable to give dates in a temporally correct way (AR 128). His concentration was average, his immediate memory was poor, his insight and judgment were fair and his fund of knowledge was average (AR 128). Dr. Maru diagnosed Plaintiff with depressive disorder not otherwise specified and alcohol dependence and assigned him a Global Assessment of Functioning ("GAF") score of 30 (AR 129).*fn1 He recommended that Plaintiff begin taking Celexa, and be referred to a dual-diagnosis facility for psychiatric treatment and alcohol treatment (AR 129).

Dr. Stevens completed a Department of Public Welfare Employability Assessment Form on November 16, 2005, and opined that Plaintiff was temporarily disabled from November 4, 2005 until November 3, 2006 due to alcoholic hepatitis and depression (AR 109-110).

Plaintiff was treated by nurses through the Visiting Nurses Association ("VNA") of Venango County following his discharge from the hospital (AR 195-231). When initially assessed on November 22, 2005, it was noted that his symptoms were poorly controlled but that a partial to full recovery was expected and a marked improvement in his functional status was expected (AR 219). Plaintiff was able to understand complex or detailed instructions and extended or abstract conversation, his speech pattern and tone was normal and he had no impairment in his ability to express complex ideas, feelings and needs, clearly and completely (AR 220). He reported that he was depressed (sad and tearful) and also had some anxiety (AR 223).

On November 25, 2005 and December 5, 2005, Plaintiff was fully oriented and exhibited no new or worsening symptoms (AR 206-207; 214-215).

Plaintiff was seen by Dr. Stevens for follow-up on December 7, 2005 (AR 259). Dr. Stevens reported that Plaintiff was doing well at home, had not started drinking again and had no new problems (AR 259). Plaintiff was in no acute distress and was fully oriented (AR 259). Dr. Stevens noted that Plaintiff's alcoholic hepatitis was resolving (AR 259).

Records from the VNA indicate that on December 13, 2005 Plaintiff reported that he was depressed and anxious, but the nurse found that he was alert, oriented, able to focus and shift attention and recall task directions independently (AR 200). He was able perform most activities of daily living, although he needed assistance in preparing light meals and carrying large loads of laundry (AR 201).

Plaintiff underwent a clinical psychological disability evaluation performed by Robert Craig, Ph.D. on March 3, 2006 (AR 232-236). Dr. Craig diagnosed Plaintiff with alcohol dependence, in partial remission and depressive disorder NOS and assigned him a GAF score of 45 (AR 235).*fn2 Dr. Craig concluded that Plaintiff's mental impairments did not affect his ability to understand, remember and carry out instructions and that any moderate mental limitations that existed would improve over time (AR 238-239). He also concluded that his social withdrawal was largely caused by years of alcohol abuse (AR 238-239).

On April 6, 2006, Roger Glover, Ph.D., a state agency reviewing psychologist, completed a Mental Residual Functional Capacity Assessment form, and found that Plaintiff was not significantly limited in a number of areas, but was moderately limited in his ability to carry out detailed instructions, maintain attention and concentration for extended periods, perform activities within a schedule, maintain regular attendance and be punctual, sustain an ordinary routine without special supervision, work in coordination with others without being distracted, complete a normal work week without exacerbation of his psychological symptoms, maintain socially appropriate behavior and respond appropriately to changes in the work setting (AR 240-241). On a Psychiatric Review Technique form completed the same date, Dr. Glover concluded that Plaintiff had a moderate restriction of activities of daily living; mild difficulties in maintaining social functioning and in maintaining concentration, persistence or pace; and had no repeated episodes of decompensation of extended duration (AR 253).

Dr. Glover found that the medical evidence established Plaintiff suffered from alcohol dependence and a depressive disorder, but that his basic memory processes were intact (AR 242). Dr. Glover concluded that the Plaintiff was able to work at a consistent pace, make simple decisions, maintain regular attendance, be punctual and complete a normal workweek without exacerbation of psychological symptoms (AR 242). He noted that his daily activities and social skills were functional from a psychiatric standpoint and that he was self-sufficient (AR 242). Dr. Glover indicated that Plaintiff could sustain an ordinary routine and adapt to routine changes without special supervision, was capable of understanding and remembering instructions, concentrating, interacting with others and adapting to changes in the workplace (AR 242). Dr. Glover concluded that, as of Plaintiff's last date insured, December 31, 2005, he could "meet the basic mental demands of competitive work on a sustained basis despite the limitations resulting from his impairment" (AR 242).

Plaintiff returned to Dr. Stevens on April 19, 2006 for follow-up on his alcoholic hepatitis (AR 257). Dr. Stevens reported that he was doing well and had not had any alcohol since November 2005 (AR 257). Plaintiff reported that he stopped taking the Celexa due to side effects (AR 257). He was in no acute distress, was alert and oriented and physical examination revealed only trace edema bilaterally (AR 257). Dr. Stevens reported that his alcoholic hepatitis had resolved as of that date (AR 257).

On June 28, 2006, Dr. Glover completed a second Mental Residual Functional Capacity Assessment form and a Psychiatric Review Technique form (AR 260-275). Dr. Glover's opinion remained unchanged from his April 2006 assessment (AR 273-275). He concluded that as of December 31, 2005, Plaintiff was capable of meeting the mental demands of competitive work ...

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