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Padula v. Colvin

United States District Court, Second Circuit

November 14, 2013

GERARD PADULA, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, [1] Defendant.

DECISION & ORDER

THOMAS J. McAVOY, Senior District Judge.

I. INTRODUCTION

Plaintiff moves for an award of attorney's fees under the Equal Access to Justice Act ("EAJA"), 28 U.S.C. § 2412. The Commissioner opposes the motion, contending that the Commissioner's position was substantially justified. Plaintiff has filed a reply, arguing that the Commissioner's position was not substantially justified and seeking additional fees for time expended in drafting the reply. The Court has considered all of these submissions, and the record in this matter, in reaching its decision.

II. BACKGROUND

Plaintiff filed an application for Supplemental Security Income on July 7, 2009 (Tr. 82-84, see Tr. 12, 37). He alleged that he was disabled since July 19, 2006 due to depression, anxiety, substance abuse, and acid reflux (Tr. 53, 111). Plaintiff's application was denied (Tr. 41-45, 47-51). Plaintiff then requested a hearing before an administrative law judge ("ALJ") (Tr. 53). After a hearing on October 26, 2010 (Tr. 25-36), ALJ Carl E. Stephan issued a decision on December 3, 2010 finding that Plaintiff was not disabled because he had the residual functional capacity (RFC) to perform his past relevant work as a landscaper. (T. 19, see also Tr. 12-20). Plaintiff requested that the Appeals Council review the ALJ's decision (Tr. 7), and on May 12, 2011, the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request (Tr. 1-3). The ALJ's decision therefore became the Commissioner's final decision.

On June 1, 2011, Plaintiff filed a complaint in this court challenging the Commissioner's final decision. Plaintiff argued that the ALJ failed to properly apply the treating physician rule; failed to properly use the "special technique" to evaluate the factors set forth in Section 12.04 of the Listings to determine whether Plaintiff was disabled by his mental illness; failed to properly determine Plaintiff's RFC; and erred in finding that Plaintiff was not credible. Defendant argued that the Commissioner's decision was supported by substantial evidence and should be affirmed.

On April 12, 2012, the Hon. Andrew T. Baxter, United States Magistrate Judge, issued a Report and Recommendation ("R&R") recommending that this Court affirm the Commissioner's final decision denying benefits and dismiss the complaint. Plaintiff filed objections to the R&R, essentially arguing the same issues presented to Magistrate Judge Baxter. The Commissioner responded, contending that Magistrate Judge Baxter properly found that the Commissioner's decision to be supported by substantial evidence and that, in his objections, Plaintiff merely presented the same arguments raised in his initial memorandum.

By Decision and Order dated July 16, 2012, this Court adopted the R&R in its entirety, affirming the Commissioner's decision and dismissing Plaintiff's complaint. Plaintiff appealed to the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit.

In a Summary Order, the Second Circuit affirmed in part, vacated in part, and remanded the case for further administrative proceedings. In reaching this decision, the Second Circuit found that, at the third step of the five-step sequential analysis,

the ALJ did not err in concluding that Padula's impairment did not meet the Appendix 1 listing for § 12.04. Padula did not make the requisite showing that he met the impairments listed at either § 12.04 B or C.

2nd Cir. Summary Order, p. 2.

However, the Second Circuit determined that the ALJ erred in his analysis at the fourth step, [2] writing:

In the instant case, the ALJ determined that Padula's reported symptoms of nausea and fatigue were not credible to the extent they were inconsistent with medical evidence and Padula's account of his daily activities. However, as these symptoms were supported by the treatment records from Padula's treating psychiatrist, Dr. Astill-Vaccaro, and there was nothing in the description of Padula's daily activities, previous work history, or observations by any employees of the SSA that undermined these claimed symptoms, the ALJ did not properly consider all of the symptoms suffered by Padula in making his determination about Padula's residual functional capacity. Likewise, to the extent the ALJ found Padula not to be credible based upon his description of these symptoms, we find that the ALJ erred because the determination "did not comply with the ALJ's obligation to consider all of the relevant medical and other evidence, ' 20 C.F.R. § 404.1545(a)(3), and cannot stand." Genier v. Astrue, 606 F.3d 46, 50 (2d Cir. 2010). Therefore, this case must be remanded for further proceedings to determine Padula's residual functional capacity in light of " all of the relevant medical and other evidence." 20 C.F.R. § 404.1545(a)(3)(emphasis added). In analyzing the record on remand, the ALJ remains free to consider evidence regarding any effect Padula's drug and alcohol use may have had on his asserted ...

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