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EGAS, v. MASSANARI

July 6, 2001

JOHN M. EGAS, PLAINTIFF,
v.
LARRY G. MASSANARI, ACTING COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY,[FN1] DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Ruben Castillo, Judge

  MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Plaintiff John M. Egas seeks judicial review of the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security, Larry G. Massanari, denying his applications for disability insurance benefits and supplemental and security income under Titles II and XVI of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. § 423, 1382. Egas claims that the Administrative Law Judge's ("ALJ") decision to deny him benefits should be reversed and set aside because it was not supported by substantial evidence. Because we find that the ALJ reasonably concluded that Egas could perform a significant number of jobs in the national economy and was, therefore, not disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act, we affirm the ALJ's decision, deny Egas' motion for summary judgment, (R. 12-1), and grant the Commissioner's cross-motion for summary judgment, (R. 13-1).

RELEVANT FACTS

Egas was born on June 21, 1961, and he has an eleventh grade education. Egas alleges a disability since October 31, 1997. Before filing his claim, Egas had worked from 1979 to 1994 as a packet and order filler, inspector and laborer.

I. Egas' Hearing Testimony

Egas testified at a Social Security Administration ("SSA") hearing held in Oak Brook, Illinois on May 14, 1999 before ALJ Robert Hanson. At this hearing, Egas' attorney testified that Egas was unable to work because of various psychiatric disorders consisting of depression, social phobia and agoraphobic condition. Egas testified that these disorders caused him to sweat, shake and panic when he left home, was at a job meeting or standing in a store. He stated that one of his main symptoms was the sensation that people were staring at him and he described the way he felt as "having a heart attack" or like he was "going to lose control." (R. 11-1, Admin. R. at 47, SSA Hr'g Tr.) Egas also said that his condition prevented him from concentrating or understanding simple instructions. He further stated that taking the drug Paxil reduced his depressive symptoms but made him feel tired in the middle of the day. Egas' typical day involved getting his son off to school and performing household chores such as cooking, washing dishes, vacuuming and mopping floors. Finally, Egas testified that he only left the home when he went to the doctor and he did not go shopping, perform any yard work, socialize or take his son anywhere.

II. Vocational Expert Thomas Dunleavy's Testimony

Vocational Expert Dunleavy was asked two hypothetical questions by the ALJ regarding Egas' vocational profile and residual functional capacity. The first question involved a hypothetical individual of Egas' age, education and work experience who had a remote history of substance abuse, and anxiety and depressive disorders which limited the individual to simple, repetitive work that did not involve unusual stress, work in small, confined spaces, contact with the general public or more than superficial contact with co-workers. In answer to this question, Dunleavy testified that such an individual could work as an office cleaner or a night watchman and that approximately 5500 to 7000 such jobs existed in the Chicago metropolitan area. The second question involved a hypothetical individual who, as a result of increased distress from leaving his home, had significant difficulty attending to simple tasks, tolerating minimal levels of stress or adapting to simple changes in occupational routine. In answer to this question, Dunleavy testified that such an individual would be precluded from performing any kind of work.

III. Medical Evidence

Four doctors performed psychiatric examinations of Egas from May 1998 through May 1999. In May 1998, Dr. Mahim Voras performed a psychiatric examination of Egas at the request of the Illinois Disability Determination Service ("IDDS"). Egas related a history of avoiding situations which required him to be around people. Dr. Vora observed that Egas displayed no abnormal psychomotor activity, that he was sociable, maintained good eye contact, related well and demonstrated appropriate behavior throughout the thirty-minute interview. He also noted that Egas was not withdrawn, was able to understand and carry out instructions and handled the stress of the interview well. Dr. Vora diagnosed dysthymic disorder and social phobia.

On June 28, 1998, IDDS Dr. E. Kuester completed a psychiatric review of Egas. Dr. Kuester found that Egas was moderately limited in his ability to maintain attention and concentration for extended periods, to work in close proximity to others without distraction and to interact appropriately with the general public. He reported that Egas could go out, drive, do chores and keep appointments. Dr. Kuester found that Egas suffered from dysthymia, social phobia (agoraphobia) and substance abuse in remission, but he concluded that these impairments only slightly restricted Egas' daily living activities, that they seldom produced deficiencies of concentration and that they moderately limited his ability to maintain social functioning.

In July 1998, Egas began treatment with psychiatrist Dr. McGrath. Dr. McGrath's intake interview notes reveal that Egas was applying for disability and that one of his treatment goals was to "get to work." (Id at 165, July 4, 1998 McGrath Notes.) Egas presented with symptoms of social phobia, agoraphobia and depression, and he was diagnosed with panic disorder and agoraphobia. Egas was prescribed Paxil which helped him sleep and have fewer arguments with his wife, but which also caused side effects of sweating, constipation, diminished appetite and shaking. Over the course of the next three months of treatment, Egas' Paxil medication was increased and Dr. McGrath reported that Egas was calmer, less irritable and that his agoraphobia was "a little better," but that Egas described deteriorating sleep and anxious periods in enclosed areas.*fn2 (Id. at 160, Sept. 2, 1998 McGrath Notes.)

In November 1998, IDDS psychologist Dr. D.G. Hudspeth completed a fourth psychiatric review of Egas. Dr. Hudspeth found that Egas suffered from dysthymia, anxiety disorder and substance abuse in remission, and that his impairments moderately limited his ability to understand, remember and carry out detailed instructions, his ability to work in close proximity to others without distraction and his ability to interact appropriately with the general public. Dr. Hudspeth opined that Egas "could perform simple and routine tasks in the work setting" provided he was not required to deal with the public and that his contact with co-workers was limited. (Id. at 168, Hudspeth Functional Capacity Assessment.) He reported that Egas' impairments moderately limited his ability to maintain social functioning but only slightly limited his daily living activities. Dr. Hudspeth also noted that Egas seldom experienced deficiencies of concentration, persistence or pace and that there recently had been treatment which indicated an improvement in Egas' condition.

Finally, on May 12, 1999, Dr. McGrath assessed Egas' ability to perform work-related activities. Dr. McGrath reported that Egas had phobia, agoraphobia and major depression. He noted that since beginning treatment, Egas' depression had diminished but his phobias remained and he rarely left home. Dr. McGrath opined that Egas' condition would eventually respond to treatment. Dr. McGrath found that Egas' impairments moderately limited his ability to understand and remember very short and simple instructions, maintain attention and concentration for extended periods, perform activities within a schedule, maintain regular attendance, ask simple questions, maintain socially appropriate behavior, neatness and cleanliness and be aware of normal hazards. ...


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