United States District Court, N.D. New York
MEMORANDUM-DECISION and ORDER
LAWRENCE E. KAHN, District Judge.
Before the Court is an action for judicial review, pursuant to General Order 18 of the United States District Court for the Northern District of New York, of the Social Security Administration's ("SSA") denial of Plaintiff Cheryl Dommes's ("Plaintiff") application for Supplemental Security Income ("SSI") and Disability Insurance Benefits ("DIB"). Both parties have filed Briefs. Dkt. Nos. 16 ("Plaintiff's Brief"); 17 ("Defendant's Brief"). Plaintiff also filed a Reply. Dkt. No. 18-1 ("Reply"); see also Dkt. No. 21. For the reasons discussed below, the SSA's decision is reversed, and Plaintiff's claim is remanded for a new hearing.
A. Procedural Posture
Plaintiff's challenge is limited to back-dated benefits for the period between August 10, 2005, the specified date of onset in Plaintiff's first application for benefits, which was denied, and June 1, 2008, the date specified in her second application, which was granted. See Pl.'s Br. at 1. Plaintiff's first application-which is the only application in the Record-includes a Title XVI claim for SSI as well as a Title II claim for DIB. See, e.g., Dkt. No. 9 ("Record") at 5. Both claims were denied on April 5, 2006, and were denied again upon reconsideration. See R. at 33-34. Plaintiff requested and was granted a hearing in Binghamton, New York, at which the Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") presided remotely. R. at 20. The ALJ issued an unfavorable decision on April 25, 2008, R. at 10-18, and Plaintiff's request for review was denied by the Appeals Council on May 27, 2008. R. at 3.
Plaintiff brought a civil action in the Northern District of New York, which reversed and remanded the matter for further proceedings on stipulation of the parties. R. at 209. Meanwhile, Plaintiff successfully filed additional claims for benefits and was found to have been disabled as of the new alleged onset date of June 1, 2008. Id.
The Appeals Council, in accordance with the district court's decision, vacated the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner"), and remanded the matter to an ALJ. R. at 210. The ALJ was to (1) evaluate the opinions of Plaintiff's treating physicians on Plaintiff's disability during the time between August 2005 and June 2008 ("Disputed Period"); (2) explain how the medical evidence supports his residual functional capacity ("RFC") assessment, reconciling the opinions of the consultative examiner and the treating physicians; (3) determine whether Plaintiff was engaged in substantial gainful activity during the Disputed Period. Id.
On remand, the ALJ found that Plaintiff met the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act through March 31, 2013,  and that Plaintiff did not engage in substantial gainful activity during the Disputed Period. R. at 173; 20 CFR §§ 404.1571, 416.971. The ALJ found that, during the Disputed Period, Plaintiff had lumbar spine herniated nucleus pulposus with an annular tear, a severe impairment under 20 CFR §§ 404.1520. R. at 174. However, the ALJ found that Plaintiff did not have an impairment (or a combination of impairments) that met or medically equaled one of the listed impairments. R. at 175.
The ALJ found that Plaintiff had the residual functional capacity ("RFC") to perform sedentary work, albeit with additional nonexertional postural limitations. R. at 176; 20 CFR §§ 404.1567(a); 416.967(a). In particular, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had the capacity to occasionally lift, carry, push, or pull 20-30 pounds and to frequently lift, carry, push, or pull 10 pounds, and to bend on occasion. R. at 176. Moreover, the ALJ found that in an eight-hour workday Plaintiff could, with normal breaks, stand or walk for four hours, and sit for six hours. Id.
Next, the ALJ found that Plaintiff was capable of performing past relevant work as a document-and-imaging processor during the period in question. R. at 183. Based on these findings, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff was not disabled during the Disputed Period. R. at 184. The Appeals Council declined to review the decision. R. at 1-6. Plaintiff then filed this action for judicial review.
B. Treatment History
Plaintiff suffered a work-related injury on July 7, 2005, while she was lifting cases of metal parts. See R. at 174. Plaintiff initially felt increased pain in her right leg, and denied having pain in her lower back. See R. at 96. At the time, she was working as an assembler engaged in shipping and receiving at Akraturn. See R. at 67. About one month later, Plaintiff terminated employment at the direction of her doctor. Id.
Plaintiff initially sought treatment for her injury from the Barnes Kasson Medical Center in Hallstead, Pennsylvania. Plaintiff reported abdominal pain and lower back pain that extended to her right leg. R. at 87-91. Although Plaintiff's pain lessened somewhat over time, she continued to experience pain through the duration of her visits between September and ...