United States District Court, S.D. New York
REPORTED AND RECOMMENDATION
JAMES L. COTT, Magistrate Judge.
The Honorable Laura Taylor Swain, United States District Judge:
Plaintiff Linda Randolph brings this action seeking judicial review of a final determination by Defendant Carolyn Colvin, Acting Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner"), denying Randolph's application for Social Security Disability ("SSD") and Supplemental Security Income ("SSI") disability benefits. The parties have cross-moved for judgment on the pleadings pursuant to Rule 12(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. For the reasons set forth below, I recommend that Randolph's motion be granted to the extent that the case be remanded to the Commissioner for further proceedings and the Commissioner's cross-motion be denied.
A. Procedural History
Randolph filed her application for SSD and SSI benefits on November 16, 2009, alleging that she had been disabled since June 1, 2008. Administrative Record ("Rec.") (Dkt. No. 8), at 104-10, 123. The Social Security Administration ("SSA") denied her application on February 17, 2010. Id. at 64. Randolph requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") on June 4, 2010. Id. at 70. Represented by counsel, Randolph appeared at a hearing held before ALJ Robert Gonzalez on June 21, 2011. Id. at 26-61. The ALJ denied Randolph's claims in a written decision dated June 30, 2011, finding that she was not disabled. Id. at 9-25. The SSA Appeals Council denied Randolph's request for review on September 19, 2012, making the ALJ's determination the Commissioner's final decision. Id. at 1-6.
The current action was initiated on November 21, 2012 when Randolph, represented by counsel, filed a complaint seeking judicial review of the Commissioner's decision under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Complaint ("Compl.") (Dkt. No. 1). The Commissioner filed her answer on July 23, 2013 (Dkt. No. 10). Randolph moved for judgment on the pleadings pursuant to Rule 12(c) on September 12, 2013, seeking reversal of the Commissioner's decision and a remand solely for the calculation of benefits, or alternatively, for a new hearing. See Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings (Dkt. No. 12); Memorandum of Law in Support of Plaintiffs Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings ("Pl. Mem.") (Dkt. No. 13). The Commissioner filed a response on December 5, 2013, in which she also cross-moved for judgment on the pleadings. See Cross-Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings (Dkt. No. 21); Memorandum of Law in Support of the Commissioner's Cross-Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings and in Opposition to Plaintiffs Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings ("Def. Mem.") (Dkt. No. 22). Randolph filed a reply on December 19, 2013. Reply Memorandum in Support of Plaintiffs Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings ("Pl. Reply") (Dkt. No. 23).
B. The Administrative Record
1. Randolph's Background
Randolph was born on August 22, 1966 and, at the time of her application for SSD and SSI benefits, was 43 years old. Rec. at 104. She attained a GED and currently lives with one roommate in Peekskill, New York. Id. at 40, 104, 129. Randolph has minimal recent employment experience. In the 15 years prior to her claimed disability, Randolph reported that she worked as a cashier at Burger King at an unknown date, as a bus cleaner in 2003, and as a maintenance worker from 2007 to 2008. Id. at 124. She claims she lost her job as a maintenance worker because she fell asleep when she was supposed to be working. Id. at 59. She also testified that she sometimes assists at her friend's hot dog truck approximately two days per week. Id. at 45-46.
Randolph reported no problems with personal care. Id. at 137. She is capable of microwaving and boiling her own food. Id. at 138. She said in a form filed with the New York State Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance that she can complete "daily basic chores, " such as cleaning, doing laundry, and ironing, but cannot drive due to a suspended driver's license. Id. at 139. However, she also testified at her ALJ hearing that her roommate does most of the cleaning and her mother does her laundry. Id. at 56-57. She stated that she spends some of her free time text messaging and going out with friends. Id. at 44-45. She reported difficulty finishing tasks she starts, because she gets "frustrated" and is "unable to concentrate." Id. at 142. She also reported difficulty following spoken and written instructions, and getting along with others. Id.
Randolph spent 17 years in prison for drug-related crimes. Id. at 30-32. She claims that she has not used drugs or alcohol since March 19, 2009, id. at 35, although as outlined below, her testimony at the ALJ hearing could be construed as suggesting otherwise. Randolph attends a substance abuse program on a daily basis. Id. at 136, 141.
Randolph alleges that she became disabled and unable to work as of June 1, 2008 because she suffers from Bipolar Disorder and Borderline Personality Disorder. Compl. at ¶ 8; Pl. Mem., at 6; Rec. at 123. Because of her condition, she claims that she has a limited ability to follow work rules, relate with co-workers, use judgment, handle stress, interact with supervisors, maintain concentration, and understand, remember, and carry out instructions. Compl. at ¶ 8.
2. Medical Evidence
Multiple reports were made part of the record in connection with Randolph's November 16, 2009 application for SSD and SSI disability benefits, including: an initial psychiatric evaluation completed by Westchester Medical Center Correctional Health Services ("WMC") dated March 24 and 27, 2009, Rec. at 170-75; an initial assessment completed by therapist Sheila Boylan at the Peekskill Community Service Center ("PCSC") dated October 6, 2009, id. at 261-67; an Employability Assessment from PCSC dated October 20, 2009, id. at 268-71; a psychiatric evaluation completed by Dr. Anthony Capozzi at PCSC dated November 13, 2009, id. at 194-95; a psychiatric evaluation completed by Dr. Lisa Orsini, at North Disability Services ("NDS") dated February 2, 2010, id. at 207-12; a Mental Residual Functional Capacity Assessment and Psychiatric Review Technique completed by Dr. J. Alpert, a consulting physician, dated February 17, 2010, id. at 215-33; an Employability Assessment completed by registered nurse Samuel Agar of the Westchester Department of Community Mental Health on June 10, 2010, id. at 277-81; a psychiatric evaluation and other treatment notes by her treating physician, Dr. Arudi Srihari, of Westchester Jewish Community Services ("WJCS") dated July 19, 2010 through May 6, 2011, id. at 242-59; and a Residual Functional Capacity Questionnaire completed by Dr. Srihari and social worker Kay Griffin dated May 20, 2011, id. at 287-88.
a. Miscellaneous Evaluations
In the March 24 and 27, 2009 initial psychiatric evaluation at WMC, where she was incarcerated, Randolph was diagnosed with cocaine dependence, cocaine-induced mood disorder, Bipolar Disorder, and Borderline Personality Disorder. Id. at 175. These diagnoses were affirmed in a follow-up evaluation dated July 24, 2009, which noted Randolph was participating in a drug program, and in a discharge summary dated September 11, 2009. Id. at 178, 180.
Boylan's October 6, 2009 initial assessment at PCSC, following Randolph's release from prison, reported that Randolph suffered from a depressed mood, mood lability, agitation, tearfulness, isolation, phobias, paranoia, and poor appetite. Id. at 261. She was diagnosed with cocaine dependence, alcohol abuse, and a personality disorder. Id. at 267. An employment assessment completed at PCSC on October 20, 2009 concluded that Randolph was unable to participate in any activities, including employment, except for treatment and rehabilitation-related programs. Id. at 271. On November 13, 2009, Dr. Capozzi conducted a psychiatric evaluation that found Randolph to have a limited base of knowledge and difficulty with certain counting skills and multiplication. Id. at 195. Randolph was pleasant and cooperative, her mood was "neutral, " and her thought process "intact." Id. In a November 24, 2009 follow-up appointment with Boylan, Randolph reported inability to sleep and function outside of jail, displaying poor life skills, following 17 years of incarceration. Id. at 200.
On February 2, 2010, Randolph reported to Dr. Orsini at NDS that she had concentration difficulties, social withdrawal, and depression symptoms. Id. at 208. She described a history of visual hallucinations, memory deficits, concentration difficulties, and difficulty learning new material. Id. at 208-09. Dr. Orsini reported that Randolph made appropriate eye contact, spoke clearly, appeared coherent, and presented no evidence of hallucinations, delusions, or paranoia. Id. at 209-10. However, she also reported that Randolph appeared anxious, had impaired concentration and memory skills, and exhibited limited insight and poor judgment. Id. at 210. Dr. Orsini opined that Randolph "can follow and understand simple directions and instructions, " "is able to perform simple tasks independently, " has "some difficulties maintaining concentration, " and "may have some difficulties maintaining a regular schedule due to psychiatric symptoms." Id. at 211. She noted that Randolph had a history of difficulty making appropriate decisions, relating with others, and coping with stress. Id. She diagnosed Randolph with Bipolar Disorder and cocaine abuse in early, full remission. Id.
b. Treatment at WCJS
Randolph received regular treatment at WCJS beginning on June 4, 2010, Id. at 243, working with Dr. Srihari and social worker Griffin. Id. at 243-301. According to WCJS's treatment plan, Randolph required weekly therapy given her mood disorder diagnoses and need to learn skills for coping with her emotional problems. Id. at 245. In Dr. Srihari's psychiatric evaluation of Randolph on July 19, 2010, he observed that she was restless, anxious, and had an impaired memory and concentration. Id. at 245. He diagnosed her with Bipolar Disorder and Histrionic Personality Disorder. Id. at 248.
Treatment notes described Randolph's continuing anxiety and emotional instability, goal of reducing fear and improving social/job functioning, and desire to seek employment. Id. at 249, 252, 254. A report from Dr. Srihari on June 3, 2011 stated that Randolph had been stable and on her medication over the prior month. Id. at 290. However, notes for the period April 27, 2011 to July 26, 2011, while describing a "good therapeutic relationship" and some progress, explained that Randolph continued to have problems with aggression and social functioning. Id. at 295.
c. Consultative Examinations and Assessments
On February 17, 2010, Dr. Alpert reviewed the available evidence and completed a Mental Residual Functional Capacity Assessment and Psychiatric Review Technique. Id. at 215-33. He concluded that Randolph "is able to understand and remember simple instructions, sustain attention and concentration adequately, respond and relate adequately to coworkers and supervisors and to adapt to changes in the workplace." Id. at 218. He found that Randolph had mild restrictions in performing the activities of daily living, mild difficulties in maintaining social functioning, ...