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Santiago v. Astrue

June 10, 2008


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Charles J. Siragusa United States District Judge



Plaintiff Ana L. Santiago ("Santiago"), brings this action pursuant to the Social Security Act, (codified in relevant parts at 42 U.S.C. § 401 et. seq. and 42 U.S.C. § 1381 et. seq.) claiming that the Commissioner of Social Security improperly denied her application for benefits under Title XVI of the Act, 42 U.S.C. § 1385. Specifically, Santiago alleges that the decision of an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"), which denied her benefits was erroneous and not supported by the substantial evidence contained in the record, or was contrary to law. She seeks a reversal of that decision and a remand only for calculation of benefits. The Commissioner moves for reversal pursuant to sentence four of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) and remand for a rehearing, but not calculation of benefits. For the reasons stated below, the Court reverses the Commissioner's decision denying benefits, and remands the case to the Commissioner for a calculation of benefits.*fn1


By application dated January 20, 2004, with a protective filing date of January 5, 2004, Santiago filed for Supplemental Security Income benefits. (Record at 52-55, 15.) Santiago is now 44 years old and evidence in the Record indicates she completed ninth grade in Puerto Rico, but it is not clear whether she was enrolled in any special education classes during her school years. (Record at 159, 165.) However, she clearly has limited literacy in English and had a translator at the hearing. (Record at 328.) Although she has no past relevant work experience, she did perform some farm work in Puerto Rico. (Record at 328.) Santiago claimed in her application that she has been disabled since May 16, 2003. (Record at 52.)

Santiago's application was denied on April 7, 2004,. Subsequently, on May 17, 2004, she requested an administrative hearing. On August 17, 2006, such hearing was held by video teleconference before ALJ Melvin D. Benz, of Dover, Delaware. (Record at 46-49, 50-51, 323-52.) At the hearing, Santiago was represented by Doris M. Cortes, a paralegal employed by the Empire Justice Center in Rochester, New York. (Record at 33.)

In a decision dated October 12, 2006, ALJ Benz, relying on testimony from vocational expert Adina Leviton, found that Santiago had the residual functional capacity to perform work that exists in significant numbers in the national economy and that she was, therefore, not disabled. (Record at 22.) On March 23, 2007, the Appeals council denied her request for review and Santiago filed this action on May 9, 2007. (Record at 5.)


I. Jurisdiction and Scope of Review

Title 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) grants jurisdiction to district courts to hear claims based on the denial of Social Security benefits. Additionally, the section directs that when considering such a claim, the Court must accept the findings of fact made by the Commissioner, provided that such findings are supported by substantial evidence in the record. Substantial evidence is defined as "such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Consolidated Edison Co. v NLRB, 305 U.S. 197, 229 (1938). Section 405(g) thus limits the Court's scope of review to determining whether or not the Commissioner's findings were supported by substantial evidence. See, Mongeur v. Heckler, 722 F.2d 1033, 1038 (2d Cir. 1983) (finding that the reviewing court does not try a benefits case de novo). The Court is also authorized to review the legal standards employed by the Commissioner in evaluating the plaintiff's claim.

II. The Commissioner's Decision to Deny

Plaintiff's Application for Benefits is not supported by the substantial evidence in the record.

The Court notes that both sides in this case contend that the Commissioner's decision must be reversed. The Court concurs. As the government points out in its memorandum of law, the ALJ inadequately phrased his question to the vocational expert; therefore, her conclusion is not supported by substantial evidence in the record. Since the ALJ relied upon the vocational expert's conclusion in determining that Santiago could do work available in the national economy, his conclusion is likewise without a basis. Consequently, the question for the Court becomes: should the matter be remanded for a new hearing, as the Commissioner maintains; or should the matter be remanded solely for the calculation of benefits, as Santiago maintains. In arguing for the latter result, Santiago contends that she should have been found disabled under the listings, 20 C.F.R. Subpart P, Part 404, Appendix 1, § 12.05, Mental Retardation. In that regard, the ALJ did consider whether Santiago fit within § 12.05, recognizing that medical source, Dr. Christine Ransom, a consultant medical examiner, reported IQ scores falling within the range of §§ 12.05B and 12.05C. (Record at 18.) The ALJ, though, based upon his determination that there was "no evidence of a lack of adaptive functioning manifested before the age of 22," along with Santiago's denial of ever attending any special education classes and her admission to being able to perform "daily activities which are inconsistent with the lack of adaptive functioning," determined that she did not meet those listings. (Record at 18.)

However, the Court disagrees with the ALJ's determination, and finds that substantial evidence in the record supports Santiago's contention that she meets the mental retardation requirements of ยงยง 12.05B and 12.05C. In that regard, Dr. Ransom tested and examined Santiago on March 24, 2004. Dr. Ransom concluded that on the basis of Santiago's performance on a WAIS-III test, she had a full scale IQ score of 57, a verbal IQ score of 59 and a performance IQ score of 63 placing her functionality in a mildly mentally retarded range. Dr. Ransom also considered Santiago's activities of daily living. As to the WAIS-III, Dr. Ransom determined that the "results are considered ...

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