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Romano v. Colvin

United States District Court, N.D. New York

January 30, 2014

MATTHEW CHARLES ROMANO, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

JACQUELINE A. BAIN, ESQ., HINMAN, HOWARD & KATTELL, LLP, Binghamton, NY, Attorneys for Plaintiff.

VERNON NORWOOD, ESQ., OFFICE OF REGIONAL GENERAL COUNSEL SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION REGION II, New York, NY, Attorneys for Defendant.

MEMORANDUM-DECISION and ORDER

DAVID N. HURD, District Judge.

I. INTRODUCTION

Plaintiff Matthew Charles Romano ("Romano" or "plaintiff") brings this action pursuant to §§ 205(g) and 1631(c)(3) of the Social Security Act, as amended, 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) & 1383(c)(3), to review a final determination of the defendant Commissioner of Social Security denying his application for Social Security Disability benefits ("SSD"). The parties have filed their briefs, including the Administrative Record on Appeal, and the matter has been submitted for decision without oral argument.[1]

II. BACKGROUND

Romano filed an initial application for SSD on June 21, 2007, when he was thirty years old. His alleged disabilities arose from depression and post-traumatic stress disorder ("PTSD") related to injuries he sustained on December 30, 2006.[2] He claimed that while working as a police officer in Johnson City, New York, he was assaulted and stabbed by two assailants. Romano's claim was initially denied on September 20, 2007. Upon his request, a hearing was conducted by video before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") on May 7, 2009. The ALJ rendered a written decision on June 8, 2009, finding that he was disabled during the relevant time period and granting his claim for SSD.

However, in September 2009, a criminal indictment was filed in the Northern District of New York charging Romano with twenty counts of mail fraud in connection with his claim for disability benefits. In the indictment, the Government alleged that the injuries he sustained on December 30, 2006, were self-inflicted for the purpose of fraudulently obtaining disability benefits. After a trial, the jury found Romano guilty on seventeen counts.[3] In March 2011, based on information provided by the Office of Inspector General, the Social Security Administration re-opened plaintiff's case and scheduled a new hearing. On April 21, 2011, a video hearing was conducted by the same ALJ who presided over the May 2009 hearing. Romano did not appear at the hearing because he was incarcerated. His attorney appeared on his behalf.

On June 15, 2011, the ALJ issued a written decision finding that Romano was not disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act and discontinuing his benefits. Plaintiff appealed to the Appeals Council. On May 9, 2012, the Appeals Council issued an order denying his request for review. Thus, the ALJ's June 15, 2011, decision became the final decision of the Commissioner. Plaintiff filed this action on July 13, 2012.

III. DISCUSSION

A. Standard of Review

The scope of a court's review of the Commissioner's final decision is limited to determinating whether the decision is supported by substantial evidence and the correct legal standards were applied. Poupore v. Astrue, 566 F.3d 303, 305 (2d Cir. 2009) (per curiam). "Substantial evidence means more than a mere scintilla. It means such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.'" Id . (quoting Consol. Edison Co. v. NLRB, 305 U.S. 197, 229 (1938)).

"To determine on appeal whether an ALJ's findings are supported by substantial evidence, a reviewing court considers the whole record, examining the evidence from both sides, because an analysis of the substantiality of the evidence must also include that which detracts from its weight." Williams v. Bowen, 859 F.2d 255, 258 (2d Cir. 1988) (citing Universal Camera Corp. v. NLRB, 340 U.S. 474, 488 (1951)). If the Commissioner's disability determination is supported by substantial evidence, that determination is conclusive. Id . Where evidence is deemed susceptible to more than one rational interpretation, the Commissioner's decision must be upheld-even if the court's independent review of the evidence may differ from the Commissioner's. See Rutherford v. Schweiker, 685 F.2d 60, 62 (2d Cir. 1982); Rosado v. Sullivan, 805 F.Supp. 147, 153 (S.D.N.Y. 1992).

However, "where there is a reasonable basis for doubting whether the Commissioner applied the appropriate legal standards, " the decision should not be affirmed even though the ultimate conclusion reached is arguably supported by substantial evidence. Martone v. Apfel, 70 F.Supp.2d 145, 148 ...


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