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Terri Hamilton v. Michael J. Astrue

October 25, 2012

TERRI HAMILTON, PLAINTIFF,
v.
MICHAEL J. ASTRUE, COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Gary L. Sharpe Chief Judge

MEMORANDUM-DECISION AND ORDER

I. Introduction

Plaintiff Terri Hamilton challenges the Commissioner of Social Security's denial of her claim for Disability Insurance Benefits (DIB) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI), seeking judicial review under 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and 1383(c)(3). (See Compl., Dkt. No. 1.) After reviewing the administrative record and carefully considering Hamilton's arguments, the court reverses and remands the Commissioner's decision.

II. Background

On February 10, 2009, Hamilton filed applications for DIB and SSI under the Social Security Act ("the Act"), alleging disability since April 15, 2008. (See Tr.*fn1 at 223-27, 228-30, 243.) After her applications were denied, Hamilton requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ), which was held on December 14, 2010. (See id. at 18, 39-65.) On February 25, 2011, the ALJ issued a partially favorable decision finding that Hamilton became disabled as of February 10, 2009, but denying the requested benefits for any time prior to that date. (See id. at 13-38.) That decision became the Commissioner's final determination upon the Social Security Administration Appeals Council's denial of review. (See id. at 1-6, 13-38.)

Hamilton commenced the present action by filing her Complaint on August 12, 2011 seeking review of the Commissioner's determination. (See generally Compl.) The Commissioner filed an answer and a certified copy of the administrative transcript. (See Dkt. Nos. 9, 10.) Each party, seeking judgment on the pleadings, filed a brief. (See Dkt. Nos. 13, 17.)

III. Contentions

Hamilton contends that the Commissioner's decision is tainted by legal error and is not supported by substantial evidence. (See Dkt. No. 13 at 9-25.) Specifically, Hamilton claims that the: (1) "ALJ erred by adopting an onset date unsupported by substantial evidence"; (2) residual functional capacity (RFC) determination is not supported by substantial evidence and is the product of legal error; (3) ALJ improperly evaluated her credibility; (4) step four determination that she could perform her past relevant work is unsupported by substantial evidence and the product of legal error; and (5) hypothetical question posed to the vocational expert was incomplete and based upon the flawed RFC and credibility determinations. (Id.) The Commissioner counters that the appropriate legal standards were used by the ALJ and her decision is supported by substantial evidence. (See Dkt. No. 17 at 2-21.)

IV. Facts

The court adopts the parties' undisputed factual recitations. (See Dkt. No. 13 at 2-9; Dkt. No. 17 at 1.)

V. Standard of Review

The standard for reviewing the Commissioner's final decision under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g)*fn2 is well established and will not be repeated here. For a full discussion of the standard and the five-step process used by the Commissioner in evaluating whether a claimant is disabled under the Act, the court refers the parties to its previous opinion in Christiana v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec. Admin., No. 1:05-CV-932, 2008 WL 759076, at *1-2 (N.D.N.Y. Mar. 19, 2008).

VI. Discussion

Among several other arguments, Hamilton contends that the ALJ's selection of February 10, 2009 as the date on which she became disabled is arbitrary and unsupported by substantial evidence. (See Dkt. No. 13 at 11-12.) Hamilton claims that the ALJ was required to begin by considering the alleged onset date and then compare it with the onset date, if any, established by work history and medical evidence. (See id.) In sum, Hamilton alleges that the ALJ should have found her disabled on the alleged onset date-April 15, 2008-and the ALJ's failure to explain why she selected a different date requires remand. (See id.) The Commissioner counters that the alleged onset date was inconsistent with the medical evidence, which entitled the ALJ to disregard it, and the ALJ could have found that Hamilton became disabled as late as October 2009 based upon the evidence of record. (See Dkt. No. 17 at 7-11.) In that vein, the ...


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