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Karen K. Brown v. Michael J. Astrue

December 21, 2012

KAREN K. BROWN, 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 Karen K. Brown challenges the Commissioner of Social Security's denial of Disability Insurance Benefits (DIB) and seeks judicial review under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). (See Compl., Dkt. No. 1.) After reviewing the administrative record and carefully considering Brown's arguments, the Commissioner's decision is reversed and remanded for further administrative proceedings.

II. Background

On September 12, 2006, Brown filed an application for DIB under the Social Security Act ("the Act"), alleging disability since July 1, 2002. (See Tr.*fn1 at 65, 74-76.) After her application was denied, Brown requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ), which was held on January 15, 2007. (See id. at 72, 471-97.) On November 4, 2008, ALJ Neil R. Ross issued a decision denying the requested benefits, (see id. at 52-57); however, the Social Security Administration Appeals Council reversed that decision and remanded Brown's case to a new ALJ for further proceedings, (see id. at 37-38). Specifically, the Appeals Council instructed the new ALJ to, among other things, reevaluate Brown's mental impairments under the special technique and consult with a medical expert on how those impairments impact her ability to work. (See id.) Before rendering a decision, the new ALJ, Thomas P. Tielens, conducted a supplemental hearing, at which he heard testimony from Brown and Dr. Charles Plotz, an impartial medical expert. (See id. at 498-538.) On June 16, 2010, ALJ Tielens again denied Brown's claim, which became the Commissioner's final determination upon the Social Security Administration Appeals Council's denial of review. (See id. at 5-7, 17-24.)

Brown commenced the present action by filing a Complaint on November 11, 2011 wherein she sought review of the Commissioner's determination. (See Compl. ¶¶ 1-18.) The Commissioner filed an answer and a certified copy of the administrative transcript. (See Dkt. Nos. 7, 8.) Each party, seeking judgment on the pleadings, filed briefs. (See Dkt. Nos. 11, 12.)

III. Contentions

Brown contends that the Commissioner's decision is tainted by legal error and is not supported by substantial evidence. Specifically, Brown claims ALJ Tielens: (1) failed to properly weigh the opinion evidence and fully develop the record; (2) improperly discredited her; and (3) erred in evaluating her obesity. (See Dkt. No. 11, Attach. 2 at 15-30.) The Commissioner counters that substantial evidence*fn2 supports the ALJ's decision. (See generally Dkt. No. 12.)

IV. Facts

The evidence in this case is undisputed and the court adopts the parties' factual recitations. (See Dkt. No. 11, Attach. 2 at 1-15; Dkt. No. 12 at 1-8.)

V. Standard of Review

The standard for reviewing the Commissioner's final decision under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) 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 other arguments, Brown avers that the ALJ failed to properly weigh the opinion evidence and fully develop the record despite being instructed to do so by the Appeals Council. (See Dkt. No. 11, Attach. 2 at 15-26.) Though he does not directly address all of Brown's arguments, the Commissioner argues that substantial evidence ...


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