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Cruse v. Astrue

March 23, 2010


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Nora Barry Fischer United States District Judge

Judge Nora Barry Fischer


This matter comes before the Court on the parties' cross motions for summary judgment pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56. (Docket Nos. 9 and 10). Plaintiff, Daniel N. Cruse ("Plaintiff"), proceeding pro se , initiated this action on September 28, 2009 pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) and 42 U.S.C. § 1383(c)(3), seeking judicial review of the final determination of the Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner") denying his claim for disability and supplemental social security income ("SSI") under Title XVI of the Social Security Act ("SSA") 42 U.S.C. §§ 401-433, 1381-1383(f). The record has been developed at the administrative level. (Docket Nos. 7-1 - 7-7).*fn1 Upon consideration of the entire record in this case, and for the following reasons, the Court finds that the Administrative Law Judge's ("ALJ") decision is supported by substantial evidence. Accordingly, Plaintiff's motion [9] will be denied, and Defendant, the Commissioner's motion [10] will be granted.

Procedural Background

Plaintiff protectively applied for SSI on May 17, 2007, alleging disability due to flat feet, depression, a panic disorder, diabetes, and obesity beginning that date. (R. at 81-87). Plaintiff's claim was initially denied on July 30, 2007. (R. at 63-64). Thereafter, Plaintiff filed a timely request for a hearing before an ALJ on August 9, 2007. (R. at 70). A videotaped hearing was held on March 30, 2009 before ALJ Alma S. Deleon. (R. at 48.). Plaintiff, having full knowledge of his rights, declined the representation of counsel. ( Id. at 34, 48-59). A vocational expert, Samuel L. Evan, also testified. (R. at 59-62). On April 29, 2009, the ALJ issued a decision finding that Plaintiff was not disabled within the meaning of the Act. (R. at 8-16). The Appeals Council subsequently denied Plaintiff's request for review, thereby making the ALJ's decision the decision of the Commissioner in this case. (R. at 1-4).

Plaintiff now seeks review of that decision by this Court. His Complaint, filed on October 5, 2009, is handwritten and solely states that "[o]n July 28 th, 2009, my social security [b]enefits were denied, I feel I have a valid claim, that should be heard." (Docket No. 5). After Defendant Commissioner filed its Answer and the administrative record on December 14, 2009 (Docket Nos. 6 and 7), this Court issued an order requiring Plaintiff to file his motion for summary judgment with brief in support by January 14, 2010, and requiring the Commissioner to file its cross motion for summary judgment by February 3, 2010. (Docket No. 8). Plaintiff filed his motion on January 7, 2010, without a supporting brief. (Docket No. 9). His motion consists of a one-page letter to the Court explaining that he has new medical evidence about his "flat feet,"*fn2 and claims that he is unable to "hold down a job." ( Id. ). Attached to his motion, Plaintiff provided the report of Dr. J.E. Jani, D.P.M,*fn3 and a document which appears to be the related form requesting a copy of this report. (Docket No. 9 at 2-3). In response, the Commissioner filed its motion for summary judgment and brief in support on February 3, 2010. (Docket Nos. 10 and 11).

Factual Background

Plaintiff was 45 years old when he applied for SSI, and 47 years old at the time of the administrative hearing. (R. at 51).He had completed high school and one year of college. (R. at 51-52). He testified that his weight on the date of the hearing was 450 pounds. ( Id. ). He has no past relevant work. ( Id. ). He affirmed that the medical evidence in the record before the ALJ was complete, and that his prison medical records did not include any additional medical findings. (R. at 53-54).

The medical evidence demonstrates that Plaintiff last received treatment for his flat feet at Children's Hospital in Pittsburgh in 1973. (R. at 267). There is no evidence of ongoing treatment during the relevant time period. As to Plaintiff's diabetes, on June 5, 2007, Dr. Rachel Hess*fn4 reported that Plaintiff was "doing well." (R. at 216). She further reported that he had controlled hypertension, non-cardiac chest pain, was obese and currently had polysubstance (alcohol and cocaine) abuse and depression. ( Id. ). Dr. Hess indicated that Plaintiff's panic attacks had decreased as his depression was being controlled with the use of Effexor.*fn5 ( Id. ). During a visit on June 9, 2007, Dr. Jason Bierenbaum*fn6 noted similar findings and specifically reported that Plaintiff seemed to be doing better, and he had not used cocaine since his last visit and was drinking much less. (R. at 217). His weight on that date was 411 pounds. ( Id. ). A foot exam during that visit revealed normal findings. (R. at 218).

On July 15, 2007, Plaintiff received a psychological evaluation by Dr. Chantal Deines*fn7 who noted that upon Plaintiff's arrival, he presented as morbidly obese at 415 pounds, and was neatly dressed. (R. at 230, 235). He reported to the doctor that he has trouble losing weight and had not worked in 15 years, although he was trained in bricklaying, automotive school, and "a small bit of computer repair." ( Id. at 231, 233). He further reported that he had previously seen a psychiatrist upon a referral by his primary care physician but that he felt "it was a waste of time" and that he would not go back. ( Id. ). Dr. Deines noted that Plaintiff "presented as an extremely large fellow with good eye contact and good social skills," while he exhibited no obvious anxiety or difficulty breathing. (R. at 233). He further noted that Plaintiff's gait was noticeably disrupted by his excessive weight and that he has extreme difficulty ambulating. ( Id. ). Dr. Deines further noted that Plaintiff did not appear to be suffering from depression at that time, but more from his panic disorder. (R. at 235). He was very much dependent on alcohol, perhaps as a way of self-medicating for his anxiety.

( Id. ). Dr. Deines diagnosed Plaintiff with alcohol dependence, cocaine abuse, panic disorder with agoraphobia,*fn8 depression, and an eating disorder. (R. at 236).

A mental residual functional capacity ("RFC") assessment was completed by Dr. Douglas Schiller, Ph.D.,*fn9 on July 23, 2007. (R. at 248). Dr. Schiller opined that Plaintiff can perform simple, routine, repetitive work in a stable environment, with short and simple instructions. (R. at 249). Additionally, he opined that Plaintiff appeared to possess the ability to meet the basic mental demands of competitive work on a sustained basis despite the limitations resulting from his impairments. (R. at 249).

After reviewing Plaintiff's medical records and hearing testimony from Plaintiff and a VE, Samuel E. Edelman, M.Ed.,*fn10 the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff had not been disabled within the meaning of the Act at any time through the date of her decision. (R. at 16). The ALJ also found that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since May 17, 2007, the alleged onset of his disability, and that he suffered from the severe impairments of diabetes mellitus, obesity, depression, anxiety, and substance abuse. (R. at 10). The ALJ determined, however, that Plaintiff's impairments either alone or in combination, did not meet or equal the criteria of any of the listed impairments set forth in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. (R. at 11).

The ALJ also found that Plaintiff retains the residual functional capacity to perform light work as defined by 20 C.F.R. ยง 416.967(b), that involved no more than occasional pushing or pulling with his lower extremities. (R. at 12). Plaintiff requires work that involves minimal interactions with supervisors and peers, limited contact with the general public, no complex decisions, and no detailed instructions. ( Id. ). Additionally, the ALJ found that ...

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