SOCIAL SERVICES LAW

Disability Income Benefits • Weight of Evidence • Medical Reports • Medical Improvement

Rockel v. Colvin, PICS Case No. 14-0292 (E.D. Pa. Feb. 10, 2014) Padova, J. (20 pages).

Rockel’s challenge to the denial of his claim for disability income benefits based on depression, social anxiety, back problems, insomnia and mood swings was sustained and the matter was remanded to the commissioner of Social Security for reconsideration and further findings.

Rockel applied simultaneously for SSI and disability income benefits. He was 40 years old and had been employed as a custodian and as a machine helper. He alleged he became disabled on December 20, 2005 by major depression, social anxiety, back problems, inability to sleep and mood swings. His claims were denied, so he filed a request for a hearing and a hearing was held on April 24, 2008. The ALJ found that Rockel was disabled from Dec. 20, 2005 through Jan. 1, 2008, but that his condition had improved on Jan. 2, 2008 and that his disability ended on that date. Rockel sought reconsideration of the finding that he was no longer disabled, providing a report from his treating psychiatrist. After a second hearing, the ALJ found that Rockel had been disabled through May 20, 2008 but that his disability ended on that date. The ALJ found that from Jan. 2, 2008 through May 20, 2008, Rockel was unable to meet the basic mental demands of competitive employment on a regular full time basis, but that beginning on May 21, 2008 he demonstrated decreased depressive and anxiety symptoms, felt well enough to engage in a broad range of daily activities, that he had a RFC to perform light work and that there were a significant number of jobs in the national economy that he could perform.

Rockel filed a request for review and eventually, this action, questioning whether the ALJ gave adequate weight to the medical onions and findings of his psychiatrist and whether the ALJ erred in finding that he was no longer disabled after May 20,2008 as a result of medical improvement.

The record before the ALJ contained three documents from the psychiatrist dated April 8, 2008, June 10, 2008 and Aug. 10, 2010 all of which found that Rockel was unable to work. The ALJ rejected the psychiatrists opinion based on Rockel’s treatment records from April 1, 2008 through Sept. 27, 2010. However, review of those records shows that they support the psychiatrists assessment. Although the ALJ noted that the treatment records showed that Rockel actively participated in group therapy and had good interaction with his peers, Rockel did not begin group therapy until July 2010, more than two years after the ALJ found that his condition had medically improved. Additionally, the records of Rockel’s individual therapy between September 2008 and Nov. 9, 2009 reflect waxing and waning symptoms rather than sustained medical improvement. These records also discuss Rockel’s social phobia, low stress tolerance, extreme irritability, anger, poor sleep and habit of starting fights. The records also show that Rockel had fatigue, appetite change, tension, decreased motivation and emergency room trips for digestive issues. During this time, Rockel was prescribed Restoril, Effexor Xr, Ativan, Pristiq, and Seroquel. Thus, the ALJ erred by not giving great weight to the psychiatrist’s findings thatstated that Rockel was totally disabled by bipolar disorder-depressed, panic disorder without agoraphobia, social anxiety disorder, obsessive –compulsive disorder and adult ADHD.

Since the ALJ erred by not giving adequate weight to the psychiatrist’s opinions and findings and to the medical records that supported those findings, the ALJ’s opinion that Rockel was no longer disabled as of May 21, 2008 due to medical improvement was not supported by substantial evidence.