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Mestizo v. Commissioner of Social Security

United States District Court, Second Circuit

July 26, 2013

VERONICA MESTIZO, Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.

ORDER

PAUL G. GARDEPHE, District Judge.

Pro se Plaintiff Veronica Mestizo filed this action on June 30, 2011, pursuant to Section 205(g) of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), seeking review of the Commissioner of Social Security's finding that she is no longer eligible for Supplemental Security Income ("SSI") benefits. (Dkt. No. 2) On July 28, 2011, this Court referred this action to Magistrate Judge Frank Maas. (Dkt. No. 7)

On May 16, 2012, the Commissioner moved for judgment on the pleadings pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(c). (Dkt. No. 20) On May 14, 2013, Judge Maas issued a Report and Recommendation ("R&R") recommending that the Court deny the Commissioner's motion and remand the case for further administrative proceedings. (Dkt. No. 22) On June 18, 2013, the Commissioner filed an objection to the R&R. (Dkt. No. 24) For the reasons stated below, the Court declines to adopt the Magistrate Judge's Recommendation, upholds the Commissioner's objection, and grants the Commissioner's motion for judgment on the pleadings.

BACKGROUND

On October 31, 1996, Plaintiff's mother filed an application for SSI benefits on behalf of Plaintiff, who was then seven years old. (See R&R at 2 (citing R. 178-97))[1] On June 21, 2001, after several years of administrative review, an administrative law judge ("ALJ") determined that Plaintiff was disabled as a result of hearing loss, asthma, congenital abnormalities, and seizures. (See R&R at 2 (citing R. 129-39))

In 2007, Plaintiff turned eighteen years old, requiring the Commissioner to determine whether she remained eligible for SSI benefits under the adult disability standards. (R&R at 2 (citing 42 U.S.C. § 1382c(a)(3)(H)(iii)) On November 7, 2007, the Commissioner determined that Plaintiff was not disabled under the adult standards. That decision was affirmed after a hearing before a state agency disability officer. (R&R at 2 citing R. 15, 21-29, 102-08)) On May 20, 2008, Plaintiff requested a hearing before an ALJ (R&R at 2 (citing R. 30-32); see also R. at 15), and on June 4, 2009, a hearing was held before ALJ Jerome Hornblass. (R&R at 2 (citing R. 644-60)) Plaintiff was informed of her right to representation, but she and her mother chose to appear and testify without the assistance of counsel. (R&R at 2-3 (citing R. at 617); see also R. at 15)

On January 29, 2010, after conducting a de novo review, the ALJ issued a decision finding that Plaintiff was no longer disabled as of November 7, 2007, and was therefore no longer eligible for SSI benefits. (See R&R at 3 (citing R. at 15-20)) On May 26, 2011, the SSA Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review, making the ALJ's determination the Commissioner's final decision. (R&R at 3 (citing R. at 7-9))

Plaintiff filed this action on June 30, 2011, seeking review of the Commissioner's decision that she is no longer entitled to SSI benefits. (Dkt. No. 2) On July 28, 2011, this Court referred this action to Magistrate Judge Maas. (Dkt. No. 7) On May 16, 2012, the Commissioner moved for judgment on the pleadings pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(c). (Dkt. No. 20) Plaintiff did not file any opposition.

On May 14, 2013, Judge Maas issued an R&R recommending that the Court deny the Commissioner's motion and remand this case for further administrative proceedings. (Dkt. No. 22) Judge Maas recommends a remand because, at step three of the five-part disability analysis, "the ALJ did not explain his rationale or provide any reasons for finding that [Plaintiff's] impairments did not meet or equal the Listing[] [of Impairments in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1], " and therefore "it [is] impossible to evaluate whether the ALJ's determinations were supported by substantial evidence...." (R&R at 9)

On June 18, 2013, the Commissioner filed an objection to Judge Maas's R&R.[2] (Dkt. No. 24) The Commissioner argues that a remand is not warranted because the ALJ's conclusions are supported by substantial record evidence, even though he did not provide an express rationale for his finding that Plaintiff does not have a disability set forth in the Listing of Impairments. Plaintiff has not filed any objections to Judge Maas's R&R, nor has she responded to the Commissioner's objection.

DISCUSSION

I. LEGAL STANDARD

A. Disability Determination

A claimant has the burden of proving that she is disabled. 20 C.F.R. § 416.912(a) ("In general, you have to prove to us that you are blind or disabled."). "This means that [the claimant] must furnish medical and other evidence that [the Commissioner] can use to reach conclusions about [the claimant's] medical impairment(s)." Id . The claimant "must provide medical evidence showing that [she] ha[s] an impairment(s) and how severe it is during the time [she] say[s] that [she is] disabled. Id . § 416.912(c) (emphasis added). If the claimant fails to provide evidence, a determination as to whether she is disabled will be "based on the information available." Id . § 416.916.

A claimant is disabled and therefore entitled to SSI benefits if she "is unable to engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment which can be expected to result in death or which has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than twelve months." 42 U.S.C. § 1382c(a)(3)(A); see also 20 C.F.R. § 416.905(a) (basic definition of disability for adults). A ...


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