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Crowley v. Colvin

United States District Court, S.D. New York

September 15, 2014

William Edward Crowley Jr., Plaintiff,
Carolyn W. Colvin, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.


ALISON J. NATHAN, District Judge.

Plaintiff William Crowley has commenced this action under the Social Security Act, challenging the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner") denying his claim for social security disability benefits. On July 15, 2013, the Commissioner moved for judgment on the pleadings, pursuant to Rule 12(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, requesting that the Court affirm the decision of the Commissioner and dismiss the complaint. Dkt. No. 8. On August 14, 2013, Plaintiff cross-moved for judgment on the pleadings, requesting that the Court reverse the Commissioner's denial of his claim for benefits, or, in the alternative, remand for a new hearing. Dkt. No. 12.

On March 24, 2014, the Honorable Ronald E. Ellis, United States Magistrate Judge, issued a report and recommendation ("R & R") recommending that the Court grant the motion of the Commissioner and deny the motion of the Plaintiff. Dkt. No. 16. Plaintiff timely objected to the R & R, raising many of the same arguments as he did in his original motion. Dkt. No. 17.

This order assumes familiarity with the facts of the case, which are laid on in detail in the R & R. Unless otherwise noted, they are incorporated by reference herein. Having reviewed de nova the Administrative Record, the R & R, and the briefing on Plaintiff's Objections, the Court adopts in part and rejects in part the R & R, [1] and remands the case for further administrative proceedings.

I. Standard of Review

A district court may "accept, reject, or modify, in whole or in part, the findings or recommendations made by the magistrate judge." 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(l)(C). When a party properly objects to the magistrate's proposed findings and recommendations, a district court must "make a de novo determination of those portions of the report or specified proposed findings or recommendations." Id.

In order to merit de novo review, a party's objections must be specific rather than conclusory or general. See Watson v. Geithner, No. 11-cv-9527 (AJN) (HBP), 2013 WL 5441748, at *2 (S.D.N.Y. Sept. 27, 2013) ("[A] district judge may review for clear error any portions of a magistrate's recommendations to which only conclusory or general' objections are made.") (citing Dixon v. McGinnis, No. 06-cv-39 (RJS), 2012 WL 6621728, at *3 (S.D.N.Y. Dec. 19, 2012)). The objections must, furthermore, have been raised before the magistrate judge, for "a party waives any arguments not presented to the magistrate judge." Id. (citing Tarafa v. Artus, No. 10-cv-3879 (AJN) (HBP), 2013 WL 3789089, at *2 (S.D.N.Y. July 18, 2013)). While courts in this district sometimes state that objections that "simply reiterate[] the original arguments" merit only clear error review, see, e.g., Jones v. Astrue, No. 09-cv-5577 (DAB), 2012 WL 4473258, at *1 (S.D.N.Y. Sept. 8, 2012), this rule lacks support in either 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(l)(C) and Rule 72(b)(2), and is, moreover, at odds with the rule regarding waiver, see Watson, 2013 WL 5441748, at *2.

In this case, Plaintiff timely makes four specific objections to the R & R, all of which were presented to the magistrate judge in his motion for judgment on the pleadings. Accordingly, the Court will review the portions of the R & R to which Plaintiff objects de novo.

II. Discussion

A. LegalStandard

When reviewing a decision of the Commissioner, a court may "enter, upon the pleadings and transcript of the record, a judgment affirming, modifying, or reversing the decision..., with or without remanding the cause for a rehearing." 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). The reviewing court "is limited to determining whether the [Commissioner's] conclusions were supported by substantial evidence in the record and were based on a correct legal standard." Selian v. Astrue, 708 F.3d 409, 417 (2d Cir. 2013) (quoting Talavera v. Astrue, 697 F.3d 145, 151 (2d Cir. 2012)). "When there are gaps in the administrative record or the ALJ has applied an improper legal standard, " remand to the Commissioner for further development of the evidence may be appropriate. Pratts v. Chater, 94 F.3d 34, 39 (2d Cir. 1996).

B. The ALJ Failed to Properly Evaluate Medical Opinion Evidence

Plaintiff objects that, contrary to the conclusion reached by the R & R, "Administrative Law Judge Mark Hecht (the "ALJ") clearly failed to follow the treating physician rule." Pl. Mem. 2. The Court agrees.

Under the treating physician rule, "[t]he opinion of a treating physician on the nature or severity of a claimant's impairments is binding if it is supported by medical evidence and not contradicted by substantial evidence in the record." Selian, 708 F.3d at 418 (citing Burgess v. Astrue, 537 F.3d 117, 128 (2d Cir. 2008); Green-Younger v. Barnhart, 335 F.3d 99, 106-07 (2d Cir. 2003); 20 C.F.R. § 404.1527(c)(2)). The rule imposes upon the ALJ "a higher duty of explanation when determining the weight that must be given to a treating source's opinion, " and "[f]ailure to properly apply [the rule]... constitutes legal error." Rolon v. Commissioner of Social Sec., 994 F.Supp.2d 496, 506 (S.D.N.Y. 2013). In order to disregard or override the opinion of a treating physician, "the ALJ must explicitly consider, inter alia: (1) the frequency, length, nature, and extent of the treatment; (2) the ...

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