The opinion of the court was delivered by: VICTOR MARRERO, District Judge
Plaintiff Dorothy Williams ("Williams") seeks judicial review of the
decision of the Commissioner of Social Security (the "Commissioner")
rejecting an application for Supplemental Security Income ("SSI")
benefits that Williams filed in March 2000 (the "2000 Claim") on behalf
of her son Brandon Torres ("Torres"), who suffers from asthma. Both
parties agree that the Administrative Law Judge (the "ALJ") who conducted
a hearing on Williams's application erred by, inter alia,
inadequately developing and considering the evidence on the record.
Because the Commissioner's decision is not supported by substantial
evidence, and in light of the already extensive delay in adjudicating
this application, remanding this case to the ALJ for further
administrative proceedings as to the 2000 Claim would serve no useful
purpose. Accordingly, in a Decision and Order dated March 30, 2004, the
Court denied the Commissioner's motion for remand and granted Williams's
motion for judgment on the pleadings as to the 2000 Claim, and remanded
the 2000 Claim to the Commissioner for the sole purpose of awarding
benefits. The Court indicated that it would make its findings, reasoning
and conclusions available separately.
Doctors first diagnosed Torres as asthmatic when he was six months old.
He is now seven years old, was hospitalized twice for asthma when he was
very young, and has suffered asthma attacks throughout his life. Torres
generally begins to cough and wheeze after ten to fifteen minutes of
physical activity. His asthma is also triggered by hot or cold weather,
rain, laughter, cats, dogs, perfume, strong smells, and colds.
Williams first filed an SSI claim on behalf of Torres in June 1998 (the
"1998 Claim"), when Torres was one year old. She asserted that Torres was
disabled due to asthma. An administrative law judge rejected that
application, and the ALJ's decision became the final decision of the
Commissioner on January 4, 2001.
On March 22, 2000, Williams filed a second SSI claim on behalf of
Torres, the claim at issue in the present case. The 2000 Claim was denied
initially and upon reconsideration. Williams requested a de novo hearing, which was held
before an administrative law judge on April 12, 2001. At the hearing,
Williams's counsel presented evidence on Torres's asthma, including
Torres's medical history, symptoms, and treatment. Williams presented
additional medical evidence to the ALJ after the hearing, and also
requested that the ALJ reopen the 1998 Claim. The ALJ issued a decision
on July 26, 2002 denying the 2000 Claim. The ALJ did not rule on
Williams's request to reopen the 1998 Claim. The ALJ's decision became
the final decision of the Commissioner in April 2003 when the Appeals
Council denied Williams's request for review.
Williams now seeks judicial review of the Commissioner's decision on
the 2000 Claim. Both parties agree that the ALJ erred during the hearing
by inadequately developing and considering the evidence on the record and
by failing to rule on Williams's request to reopen the 1998 Claim. The
parties dispute the appropriate remedy. The Commissioner has moved for
remand for further consideration of the evidence and development of the
record. Williams has filed a cross-motion for judgment on the pleadings.
On appeal from a final decision of the Commissioner, the Court may "enter, upon pleadings and transcript of record, a
judgment affirming, modifying, or reversing" the Commissioner's decision
"with or without remanding the case for a rehearing." 42 U.S.C. § 405
(g). When the administrative record contains gaps requiring further
development of the evidence, or when the ALJ has applied an incorrect
legal standard, the usual course is to remand the case to the
Commissioner for further proceedings. See Rosa v. Callahan,
168 F.3d 72, 82-83 (2d Cir. 1999). But, when there is uno apparent basis to
conclude that a more complete record might support the Commissioner's
decision, " the Court may reverse the Commissioner's decision and remand
solely for a calculation of benefits. Id. at 83; see also.
Curry v. Apfel, 209 F.3d 117, 124 (2d Cir. 2002).
A child under age 18 may receive SSI benefits if his income and assets
are below a certain threshold and if he "has a medically determinable
physical or mental impairment, which results in marked and severe
functional limitations, and which can be expected to result in death or
which has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of
not less than 12 months." 42 U.S.C. § 1382 (a)(1) & 1382c(a)(3)
(c)(i). The Commissioner employs a three-step inquiry to determine
whether a child is disabled. See 20 C.F.R. § 416.924.
First, the Commissioner examines whether the child is engaged in "substantial
gainful activity." Id. Second, the Commissioner determines
whether the child has a severe medically-determinable impairment.
See id. Finally, the Commissioner considers whether the child's
impairment "meets, medically equals, or functionally equals" any of the
several hundred medical conditions listed in Appendix 1 to Part 404,
Subpart P of Title 20 of the Code of Federal Regulations ("Appendix 1").
The listing for asthma in Appendix 1 imposes two relevant requirements
which Torres must meet to receive SSI benefits:
Persistent low-grade wheezing between acute
attacks or absence of extended symptom-free
periods requiring daytime and nocturnal use of
sympathomimetic bronchodilators with one of the
. . .
2. Short courses of corticosteroids that average
more than ...