W.D.N.Y. Decides Trauma Related Cases

Kristi Khughes May 14, 2018

As discussed elsewhere in the April 2018 Disability Law News, many of our clients have experienced significant trauma, which has contributed to their symptoms and impairments. [See article on page 10 about the recently released Social Security Administration Fact Sheet on Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).] Two decisions from the Western District of New York reflect the consequences clients can experience a result of trauma.


U.S. District Court Judge Michael Telesca remanded for the calculation of benefits where the plaintiff was disabled as the result of PTSD, depression, and anxiety. Cintron v. Commissioner of Social Security, 2018 WL 507156 (W.D.N.Y. Jan. 23, 2018). The plaintiff was a victim of domestic violence who had been stalked by her abuser even after she moved from Puerto Rico to New York under a witness protection program. Judge Telesca found the ALJ erred in ignoring the opinions of the plaintiff’s therapists, who described the plaintiff’s symptoms, including intrusive thoughts, excessive worry, forgetfulness, suicidal ideation, inappropriate interaction with others, and occasional violent outbursts. He held the ALJ had “cherry-picked” entries in their treatment notes supporting a finding of not disabled while ignoring notations that the plaintiff’s PTSD and anxiety symptoms continued to interfere with her functioning. Judge Telesca also found the ALJ erred in finding the plaintiff not fully credible, criticizing among other things, the ALJ’s reliance on the plaintiff’s trips to Puerto Rico to testify against her abuser in a murder trial as evidence of her ability to cope.


In Reyes v. Colvin, 2017 WL 3404762 (W.D.N.Y. Aug. 9, 2017), Magistrate Judge Marian Payson also remanded for calculation of benefits in a case where the plaintiff began experiencing depression and psychoses after a second trimester miscarriage. Although the plaintiff was not diagnosed with PTSD, she experienced many of the symptoms associated with PTSD, including nightmares, disassociation, anger, and hallucinations.


Magistrate Payson found the ALJ erred in rejecting the opinions of the plaintiff’s treating therapist and nurse practitioner. Acknowledging those opinions were not entitled to controlling weight, the Magistrate nevertheless determined the ALJ did not provide good reasons for rejecting them. She also rejected the ALJ’s reliance on GAF scores to support his claim the opinions were “greatly overstated.” She concluded the opinions were entitled to significant weight, and in combination with the evidence of record, constituted substantial evidence to support a finding of disability. Magistrate Payson disagreed with the ALJ’s finding that the plaintiff’s alleged activities of daily living did not support her claim of disability, noting the ALJ failed to acknowledge the plaintiff’s inability to care for her children during periods of increased hallucinations and disassociation. The Magistrate criticized the ALJ for appearing to equate the plaintiff’s alleged ability to care for her children with ability to work.


Both plaintiffs were represented on appeal by Kate Callery of the Empire Justice Center.