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Gray v. Astrue

June 8, 2009

ROSE GRAY, PLAINTIFF,
v.
MICHAEL J. ASTRUE, COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Wood, U.S.D.J.

Opinion & Order

Plaintiff Rose Gray ("Gray") brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), seeking review of a determination of the Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner") that Gray is ineligible for Supplemental Security Income ("SSI") disability benefits.

Both Gray and the Commissioner have moved for judgment on the pleadings pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(c). On October 3, 2007, Magistrate Judge Francis issued a report and recommendation (the "Report"), familiarity with which is assumed, addressing these motions. The Report recommends that the Court (1) vacate the Commissioner's decision that Gray has made an insufficient showing of her mental impairment's severity and duration; and (2) remand the case pursuant to the fourth sentence of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), for further administrative proceedings on whether Gray is disabled. On October 22, 2007, the Commissioner filed timely objections to the Report.

For the reasons stated below, the Court adopts the Report's recommendations, but modifies the Report's analysis, in order to address the Commissioner's objections, and more fully explain why the Commissioner was in error below.

I. Background

Here, the Court summarizes the facts and procedural history most relevant to the Court's current decision. A more thorough recitation of the facts and procedural history is set forth in the Report.

A. Gray's Application for SSI Benefits; Initial Consideration by the Social Security Administration ("SSA")

Gray filed her application for SSI benefits on the basis of disability in February 2001. In her application, Gray alleged that since 1998 she had suffered from various physical impairments which limited her ability to work. Specifically, she stated that she suffered from high blood pressure, left lower extremity edema, and joint pains. (R. 55.) Gray also noted that she had been hospitalized for other physical ailments, including, inter alia, asthma, anemia, and chronic lower back pain. (R. 77.)

On July 2, 2001, the SSA denied Gray's application. The SSA concluded, based on the reports of consulting medical examiners, that despite her physical impairments, Gray retained the capacity to perform "light work." (R. 48.)

B. Hearing Before the Administrative Law Judge "ALJ"; Gray's Mental Impairment

Gray then requested a hearing before an ALJ on the issue of her disability. In advance of the hearing, Gray submitted supplemental materials to the SSA. These materials included information that Gray had been prescribed, and had begun taking, the prescription medication Remeron for "stress."*fn1 (R. 84.)

Gray appeared pro se before ALJ Edgell on April 30, 2002. At the hearing, Gray directly informed the ALJ that she was taking Remeron for stress. (R. 238.) The ALJ then questioned Gray about her mental health. The following exchange ensued between them:

ALJ: Have you seen a psychiatrist?

Gray: Yes. I had an appointment yesterday. I have to go back tomorrow.

ALJ: For the first time --Gray: Yes.

ALJ: --- you saw them? So how long have you been taking Remeron?

Gray: Since last year.

ALJ: And the regular, regular doctor prescribes it to you?

Gray: Give -- yeah. Uh-huh.

ALJ: And she didn't look for you [sic] to a psychiatrist until yesterday?

Gray: Yes.

ALJ: And what symptoms were you having that made her refer you to a psychiatrist?

Gray: I wasn't sleeping at nights. A lot of stress. Sometimes I ...


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