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Leo A. Nolfi v. Michael J. Astrue

August 9, 2011

LEO A. NOLFI, PLAINTIFF,
v.
MICHAEL J. ASTRUE, COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Honorable Richard J. Arcara United States District Judge

DECISION AND ORDER

INTRODUCTION

Pending before the Court are cross-motions for judgment on the pleadings (Dkt. Nos. 6, 8) that the parties have filed pursuant to Rule 12(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure ("FRCP"). Plaintiff Leo A. Nolfi ("Plaintiff") commenced the instant action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) on April 29, 2010, seeking review of a final determination of the Commissioner of Social Security ("the Commissioner") denying Plaintiff's claim for disability insurance benefits ("DIB") under Title II of the Social Security Act. Generally, Plaintiff maintains that the class action settlement set forth in Stieberger v. Sullivan entitles him to DIB dating back to March 31, 1985, when he was last insured. 792 F. Supp. 1376, modified, 801 F. Supp. 1079 (S.D.N.Y. 1992). The Commissioner counters that the rules set up by the Stieberger settlement do not make his application retroactive to when he was last insured.

As a procedural note, the Court referred this case to Magistrate Judge H. Kenneth Schroeder, Jr. Magistrate Judge Schroeder held oral argument on the pending cross-motions on December 20, 2010. After reviewing the motion papers and the transcript of the oral argument, this Court has decided that it can resolve the pending motions without the need for a report and recommendation under FRCP 72. For the reasons below, the Court grants the Commissioner's motion and denies Plaintiff's motion.

This case concerns Plaintiff's ongoing request for DIB for alleged ailments dating back as far as 1983. This case has a long and complex history. For the sake of brevity, the Court will highlight those aspects of that history pertaining to its analysis.

BACKGROUND

Plaintiff filed his original applications for DIB and Supplemental Security Income ("SSI") on October 5, 1988 and August 23, 1988; in his DIB application, Plaintiff alleged a disability onset date of August 15, 1983. In a decision dated December 16, 1988, Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") John C. Mowrer denied both applications. On June 22, 1989, the Appeals Council denied review of the 1988 DIB and SSI applications.

Meanwhile, on August 19, 1985, the Southern District of New York certified a class of New York State residents challenging the Commissioner's acquiescence policies in following Second Circuit decisions to determine whether an individual was disabled. The class action also challenged the Commissioner's policies when reviewing the decisions of ALJs. The Social Security Administration ("SSA") reached a settlement with the class in 1992, and a district court judgment was entered approving the settlement agreement in Stieberger. 801 F. Supp. 1079. As explained below, the settlement created a procedure for reopening select cases that were improperly closed.

After the Stieberger settlement, SSA determined that Plaintiff is a member of the Stieberger class. On November 5, 1994, Plaintiff requested that SSA review his prior denial of benefits for his 1988 SSI and DIB applications. (Tr. 95).*fn1

SSA later determined that only Plaintiff's 1988 SSI and DIB applications were subject to reopening under Stieberger. While not at issue in this case, Plaintiff filed subsequent applications for SSI and DIB on December 6, 1995. Plaintiff declined to have his Stieberger claims consolidated with his 1995 applications. In a partially favorable decision dated May 27, 1998, ALJ Eric L. Glazer found Plaintiff disabled as of December 5, 1995 but not before then; therefore, Plaintiff was found eligible for SSI as of December 5, 1995. ALJ Glazer determined that res judicata applied to Plaintiff's DIB application, and therefore Plaintiff's 1995 DIB claim was dismissed. The 1998 decision also found that Plaintiff's date last insured ("DLI") for purposes of DIB was March, 31, 1985.*fn2

On August 30, 2000, Plaintiff completed questions on a Stieberger Supplement, which is used by the Commissioner in reopening Stieberger claims. (Tr. 146-48). In the Stieberger Supplement, Plaintiff indicated there were no changes in his condition since August 15, 1983, his alleged onset date for his 1988 DIB application. On September 21, 2000, SSA wrote Plaintiff indicating his 1988 SSI and DIB applications were reopened pursuant to Stieberger, and after having reviewed an administrative time period ("Development Period")*fn3 of April 1991 to November 1995, SSA found the denial of the 1988 SSI and DIB applications was proper. (Tr. 153-63). In November 2000, Plaintiff requested a hearing for reconsideration.

After a September 12, 2002 hearing that he held, ALJ Bruce R. Mazzarella considered a Development Period of April 1991 to November 1995. In a December 13, 2002 decision, ALJ Mazzarella found Plaintiff disabled for SSI purposes since October 12, 1994, the date of Plaintiff's fiftieth birthday based on Plaintiff's exertional capacity for sedentary work, Plaintiff's age, education, and work experience as directed by Medical-Vocational Rules 201.19 and 201.10. ALJ Mazzarella found Plaintiff disabled through at least December 5, 1995, the disability onset date established by ALJ Glazer for Plaintiff's 1995 applications. While Plaintiff met the requirements for SSI as of that date, ALJ Mazzarella found Plaintiff was not entitled to DIB because Plaintiff's DLI expired prior to October 12, 1994.

Plaintiff appealed the 2002 decision, and the Appeals Council found that further development was needed to evaluate Plaintiff's allegations of disability. In August 2005, the Appeals Council noted an error in the Development Period. Plaintiff filled out the Stieberger court review case form on November 5, 1994. Pursuant to the Stieberger settlement, the Appeals Council found that Plaintiff's Development Period began forty-eight months prior to the request for review. Accordingly, the Appeals Council found that Plaintiff's Development Period commenced on November 1, 1990. The Development Period ended on December 5, 1995, the date on which Plaintiff was found disabled in a subsequent application and determined by ALJ Glazer in 1998. The Appeals Council remanded Plaintiff's case to ALJ Mazzarella to review the appropriate Development Period.

ALJ Mazzarella then held a supplemental hearing on June 14, 2007 to determine whether Plaintiff was under a disability from November 1, 1990 through December 1, 1995. During the hearing, Plaintiff moved to reinstate ALJ Mazzarella's previously vacated 2002 finding that Plaintiff was disabled as of Plaintiff's fiftieth birthday, October 12, 1994, but not before then. Plaintiff through his attorney waived any claim to establish disability prior to October 12, 1994. Specifically, Plaintiff's attorney stated, "[a]nd I've explained to Mr. Nolfi that by doing this he's waiving any claim to establish disability prior to that date, and he's in a concurrence with this motion to reinstate your decision, finding him disabled as of [October 12, 1994]." (Tr. 682-83).

Next, in an August 1, 2007 decision, ALJ Mazzarella considered the amended Development Period of November 1, 1990 through December 5, 1995 and found that Plaintiff was disabled as of his fiftieth birthday, October 11, 1994,*fn4 but not before then. Accordingly, ALJ Mazzarella found Plaintiff entitled to SSI as of October 11, 1994, but found that Plaintiff was not entitled to DIB because his DLI was ...


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