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Bonet v. Astrue

August 22, 2008

MARIA BONET, PLAINTIFF,
v.
MICHAEL J. ASTRUE*FN1 COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Laura Taylor Swain, District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER ADOPTING REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

On August, 11, 2006, Magistrate Judge Theodore H. Katz issued a Report and Recommendation ("Report") recommending that: (1) the Court reverse a decision by the Commissioner of Social Security ("Defendant" or "Commissioner") denying disability benefits to Plaintiff for the period from April 2002 to March 2003, (2) the Court remand the case for calculation of SSI benefits for the period of April 2002 to March 2003, and (3) the Court remand the case for further development of the record and a new benefit eligibility determination for the period of April 2003 to December 2003. Defendant filed timely objections to the Report. Plaintiff filed a response to Defendant's objections. The Court has reviewed thoroughly the Report and the parties' submissions.

When reviewing a Report, the court "may accept, reject, or modify, in whole or in part, the findings or recommendations made by the magistrate judge." 28 U.S.C.A. § 636(b)(1)(C) (West Supp. 2006). The court must make a de novo determination to the extent that a party makes specific objections to a magistrate judge'sfindings. United States v. Male Juvenile, 121 F.3d 34, 38 (2d Cir. 1997). Ifthe party makes only conclusory or general objections, or simply reiterates the original arguments, the Court will review the Report strictly for clear error. See Pearson-Fraser v. Bell Atl., No. 01 Civ. 2343 (WK), 2003 WL 43367, at *1 (S.D.N.Y. Jan. 6, 2003); Camardo v. Gen. Motors Hourly-Rate Employees Pension Plan, 806 F. Supp. 380, 382 (W.D.N.Y. 1992); Vargas v. Keane, No. 93 Civ. 7852 (MBM), 1994 WL 693885 at *1 (S.D.N.Y. Dec. 12, 1994). Objections to a Report must be specific and clearly aimed at particular findings in the magistrate judge's proposal, such that no party is allowed a "second bite at the apple" by simply relitigating a prior argument. Camardo, 806 F. Supp. at 381-82.

The Court has considered thoroughly all of Defendant's objections and Plaintiff's responses, and has considered de novo all of the points raised. For the reasons set forth below, the Court adopts the Report in its entirety.

BACKGROUND

The Report includes a comprehensive summary of the record below. Familiarity with that summary is assumed.

DISCUSSION

On review of a negative determination by the Commissioner on an application for disability benefits, the district court has the "power to enter, upon the pleadings and transcript of the record, a judgment affirming, modifying, or reversing the decision of the Commissioner . . . with or without remanding the cause for a rehearing." 42 U.S.C.A. §405(g) (West 2008). The Commissioner's factual findings are conclusive if supported by substantial evidence. Id.

Here, Judge Katz concluded that the substantial evidence standard was inapplicable because the Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") erred as a matter of law in failing to apply properly the Commissioner's own regulations concerning the weight to be accorded to the opinions of an applicant's treating physicians. Reviewing the record in the light of the regulations, Judge Katz further concluded that a "proper evaluation would lead inexorably to a finding of disability for the period of April 2002 to March 2003." (Report at 52.)

The Commissioner's objections focus principally on the power of the Court to reverse a determination by the Commissioner as to benefit eligibility. Defendant argues that the Report's recommendations should be rejected because the Court was required to limit its review to the question of whether the Commissioner's decision was supported by substantial evidence and that, therefore, the recommended resolution would exceed the Court's authority to the extent it makes de novo determination of Plaintiff's disability status. Defendant also objects to the recommended application of the relevant regulations insofar as the Report assigns controlling weight to the opinion of Dr. Mejia. The Commissioner's arguments are examined in turn in the following sections.

Standard of Review

The Court has conducted a de novo review of the Commissioner's objections and of the Report insofar as it concludes that reversal with a direction to award benefits is appropriate. The Court concludes that the Report and Judge Katz's recommended decision are firmly rooted in the proper standard of review for Social Security disability appeals. Courts may set aside a decision of the Commissioner if it is based on legal error or if it is not supported by substantial evidence. Balsamo v. Chater, 142 F.3d 75, 79 (2d Cir. 1998). The undersigned, after de novo review of Judge Katz's painstaking and comprehensive review of the record and the applicable law, is persuaded that Judge Katz correctly concluded that the ALJ failed to apply the correct legal standard in reaching the factual conclusions underlying the determination to deny benefits. Accordingly, the ALJ's factual findings are not conclusive and the Court has the power to reverse the ALJ's decision if the record so warrants.

According Controlling Weight to Dr. Mejia

The Commissioner objects to Judge Katz's finding that Dr. Mejia's conclusions should have been given controlling weight. Specifically, the Commissioner argues that Dr. Mejia's conclusions (1) were not supported by medically acceptable clinical and laboratory diagnostic techniques and were not well supported by evidence in the record, and (2) that Judge Katz failed to recognize the ...


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