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Caputo v. Astrue

September 29, 2010


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Dora L. Irizarry, United States District Judge


Plaintiff Michael Caputo, pro se, filed an application for Social Security Disability benefits ("SSD") under the Social Security Act (the "Act") on March 30, 2005. The Social Security Administration denied plaintiff‟s application initially and on reconsideration. On June 7, 2007, plaintiff appeared without representation at a hearing held before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"). In a decision dated June 13, 2007, the ALJ concluded that plaintiff did not qualify for SSD. On August 29, 2007, the Appeals Council denied plaintiff‟s request for review. Plaintiff filed the instant action seeking judicial review of the denial of benefits pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g), 1383(c)(3). The Commissioner now moves for judgment on the pleadings pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(c), seeking affirmation of the denial of benefits. Plaintiff did not file an opposition to the instant motion. For the reasons set forth below, the Commissioner‟s motion is denied and the case is remanded for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.


Plaintiff is a 51-year-old man with schizoaffective disorder. (R. 12, 15.) In 1974, at the age of 15, after completing seventh grade, plaintiff left his special education program. (R. 71.) Plaintiff‟s parents cared for and housed him until they died in 1995. (R. 69, 79.) Plaintiff‟s brother, apparently his only sibling, died in October 2006. (R. 69.) The only living relative mentioned in the record is plaintiff‟s 26-year-old estranged son. (R. 71, 78.) The record states that plaintiff lives alone, and no relatives care for him. (R. 71.)

Plaintiff alleges that he is entitled to child‟s benefits on his deceased parent‟s account because he has been disabled since before January 22, 1981, the date he turned 22 years old.*fn1

The record contains little evidence from the period prior to January 22, 1981. The record contains plaintiff‟s school records, in which two of his teachers call him an "emotionally unstable child." (R. 18, 49.) At the hearing, plaintiff indicated that he saw a psychiatrist and received treatment at Coney Island Hospital before he dropped out of grade school, but was unable to obtain the records. (R. 76.) The record does not contain medical reports relating to this treatment.

The only piece of medical evidence in the record is a brief handwritten note, dated May 21, 2007, from A. Eisler, MA, CASAC, a staff member at Staten Island University Hospital. (R. 15.) The note states that plaintiff "is diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder," and is being treated with "individual, group, and psychiatric care," in addition to the prescription drugs Seroquel, Ambien, and Lithium. (R. 15.) The note further indicates that plaintiff has been in an outpatient counseling program since 2004. (R. 15.) The record does not contain any evidence explaining the basis for the diagnosis, nor does it contain any evidence stating when plaintiff began suffering from schizoaffective disorder.

Plaintiff testified that he received treatment at Bayley Seton Hospital in addition to the treatment he mentioned receiving at Coney Island Hospital. (R. 75.) Plaintiff further mentioned seeing a psychiatrist when he was younger. (R. 75-76.) However, the record does not indicate when the treatment occurred, nor does it contain medical records relating to the treatment. (R. 75-76.)


A.Standard of Review

An unsuccessful claimant for SSD benefits may bring an action in federal court seeking judicial review "within sixty days after the mailing . . . of notice of such decision or within such further time as the Commissioner of Social Security may allow." 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g), 1383(c)(3). The district court is empowered "to enter, upon the pleadings and transcript of the record, a judgment affirming, modifying, or reversing the decision of the Commissioner of Social Security, with or without remanding the cause for a rehearing." 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). However, a reviewing district court may not "affirm an administrative action on grounds different from those considered by the agency." Melville v. Apfel, 198 F.3d 45, 52 (2d Cir. 1999).

The district court may remand the case if the ALJ‟s determination is ""based upon legal error or not supported by substantial evidence.‟" Pratts v. Chater, 94 F.3d 34, 37 (2d Cir. 1996) (quoting Berry v. Schweiker, 675 F.2d 464, 467 (2d Cir. 1982)); see also Moran v. Astrue, 569 F.3d 108, 112 (2d Cir. 2009). ""Substantial evidence‟ is "more than a mere scintilla. It means such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.‟" Lamay v. Astrue, 562 F.3d 503, 507 (2d Cir. 2009) (quoting Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971)). When the record does not contain substantial evidence supporting the ALJ‟s decision, remand is both appropriate and necessary. See, e.g., Snell v. Apfel, 177 F.3d 128, 136 (2d Cir. 1999); Tejada v. Apfel, 167 F.3d 770, 774-75 (2d Cir. 1999).

In reviewing a pro se‟s filing, the court is mindful that "[a] document filed pro se is to be liberally construed, and a pro se complaint, however inartfully pleaded must be held to less stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers." Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007) (internal quotation marks and citations omitted). Accordingly, the court will construe plaintiff‟s pleadings and papers "to raise the strongest ...

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