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Uffre v. Astrue

April 18, 2008


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Gabriel W. Gorenstein, United States Magistrate Judge


Plaintiff Maira Uffre brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) for review of the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security (the "Commissioner") denying her claim for Supplemental Security Income ("SSI"). The parties have consented to this matter being determined by a United States Magistrate Judge pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c). The Commissioner has moved for an order remanding the case to the Commissioner to correct certain legal errors it concedes were made by the administrative law judge ("ALJ"). Uffre has moved for judgment on the pleadings pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(c), and requests remand solely for calculation of benefits. For the reasons stated below, Uffre's motion is denied, and the Commissioner's motion is granted. The case is remanded to the Commissioner to address the deficiencies in the record identified in this order.


A. Procedural History

Uffre filed for disability benefits in the Fall of 2002.*fn1 Her application was denied on March 27, 2003. R. 30-33. Uffre appealed the denial, R. 34, and a hearing was held before an ALJ on March 1, 2004. R. 19-28. The ALJ found that Uffre was not entitled to disability benefits, R. 8-18, and the Appeals Council denied her request for review, R. 4-6.

Uffre then filed suit in this Court on October 28, 2004, appealing the Commissioner's decision. See Uffre v. Barnhart, No. 04 Civ. 8482 (RCC) (GWG) (filed Oct. 28, 2004). By stipulation and order, that case was remanded to the Commissioner on April 4, 2005. In compliance with the stipulation and order, the Appeals Council ordered, among other things, that the ALJ request additional evidence and clarification from Uffre's doctor and social worker. R. 340-41. The ALJ held a second hearing on April 7, 2006. R. 361-84. The ALJ again denied Uffre's application on June 1, 2006. R. 302-16. Uffre filed the instant action in this Court on September 27, 2006. See Complaint, filed Sept. 27, 2006 (Docket # 1).

B. Evidence Presented at the First Hearing Before the ALJ

1. Uffre's Written Statements and Testimony

Uffre's testimony and written statements set forth the following: Uffre was born on July 4, 1959, R. 29, and came to the United States in 1990, R. 43. She cannot speak English, but can write more than her name in English. R. 51. She has two children. R. 23. In her application for benefits, Uffre wrote:

The reason why [I'm] applying for SSI is because I can't go to work because I have several medical problems. I have been treated for depression, anxiety, [and] panic attack[s]. I also have been diagnosed with three fibroid[*fn2 ] . . . . Also I have difficulty sleeping, palpitations[,] terrible low back pain[,] chest pain[.]

R. 59. According to Uffre's testimony, these conditions first affected her in 1994, and first caused her to be unable to work in 1996. R. 52. She worked as a cashier from 1991 to 1992, as a meat wrapper at a grocery store from 1992 to 1993, and as a home attendant and home maker from 1993 to 1996. R. 53. She was not strong enough to do the daily house chores of a home attendant and frequently got dizzy. R. 52. She "can't walk to [sic] much because [she] get[s] fatigue[d] due to [her] asthma [and] [her] knee hurts due to [her] arthritis." R. 78.

Uffre testified that she was fired from her last job as a home maker in 1996 for signing her own time sheet, despite being authorized to do so by the family she worked for. R. 22. She did not look for another job after that because she "got pregnant . . . . [and] had to be going to the hospital a lot, because [she had] three fibroids in [her] uterus. . . . [a]nd had to keep resting throughout [her] pregnancy." R. 22.

Uffre also testified that she stopped working because of her depression and panic attacks.

R. 23. She stated that her depression was caused by abuse she suffered from her first and second husbands. R. 24. The husband who is the father of Uffre's two children comes to her residence every two weeks to visit their children. R. 24-25.

2. Medical Reports and Notes

The following is a summary of the records available to the ALJ at the first hearing, which was held in 2004. R. 19.

Uffre has been regularly counseled and treated at the Alianza Dominicana, Inc. Children/Adolescent and Family Support Clinic since September 2002. R. 185; see R. 145-205. The clinic records show that Uffre at various times has complained of depression, anxiety, isolation, stress, insomnia, and panic attacks. See R. 148, 151, 153, 156-57, 161. Dr. Francisco Rodriguez and social worker Sonaya Martinez have diagnosed Uffre as having a "major depression d[isorder] recurrent mod[erate] [and a] panic disorder with agoraphobia" on diagnosis Axis I,*fn3 heart murmur and fibroid on Axis III, isolation and financial problems on Axis IV, and a GAF assessment of 65 on Axis V.*fn4 See R. 212; see also R. 152, 155, 160, 173, 176, 195. They indicated that Uffre's depression causes her appetite disturbance and weight changes, sleep disturbance, decreased energy, feelings of guilt or worthlessness, and difficulty concentrating or thinking. R. 212. Dr. Rodriguez, however, signed a form -- apparently filled out by another clinician -- which notes that Uffre did not exhibit any "physical symptoms." R. 195. The clinic records include various notations that Uffre was taking the drugs Paxil, Paxil CR, Celebrex, and Ambien. See R. 161, 164, 169, 170, 204, 212. In a summary report, Dr. Rodriguez and Ms. Martinez indicate that Uffre's ability to function in a workplace environment is "seriously" affected by her condition. R. 214-16, 218. On May 18, 2004, Dr. Rodriguez and Ms. Martinez wrote a letter clarifying their Axis V GAF assessment of 65. R. 275. They stated that the actual number would be "in the range of 55-52 if [Uffre] were placed in a stressful environment, affecting her performance at work. This will have a drastic affect on her psychologically. It is my opinion that . . . Uffre should not be placed in a stressful work environment." R. 275.*fn5

The only other submission from a treating physician, Dr. Jose Ortiz, simply states that "Uffre has a history of chronic back pains." R. 134. There is nothing further in the record from Dr. Ortiz.

Dr. Richard King, a psychiatrist, examined Uffre for purposes of her disability application. He diagnosed Uffre with "[a]djustment disorder of adult life, anxious and depressed mild degree" on Axis I, and no diagnosis on Axis II. R. 125. He noted that Uffre was taking the drugs Paxil-CR, Buspar, Motrin, and Celebrex, and used an Albuterol inhaler. R. 124. Dr. King concluded that "the claimant has a satisfactory ability to understand, carry out and remember instructions, and a satisfactory ability to respond appropriately to supervision, co-workers and work pressures in a work setting." R. 125.

Dr. Martha Valdiva, of HS Systems, Inc., also examined Uffre for the purposes of her application. She ...

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