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Carpenter v. Colvin

United States District Court, N.D. New York

September 16, 2014

KRISTEN A. CARPENTER, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, Defendant.

Iaconis Law Firm, CHRISTOPHER D. THORPE, ESQ., Chittenango, NY, for the Plaintiff.

HON. RICHARD S. HARTUNIAN, United States Attorney, GRAHAM MORRISON, Special Assistant U.S. Attorney, Syracuse, NY, Steven P. Conte, Regional Chief Counsel, Social Security Administration, Office of General Counsel, Region II, New York, NY, for the Defendant.

MEMORANDUM-DECISION AND ORDER

GARY L. SHARPE, Chief District Judge.

I. Introduction

Plaintiff Kristen A. Carpenter challenges the Commissioner of Social Security's denial of Supplemental Security Income (SSI), seeking judicial review under 42 U.S.C. ยง 1383(c)(3). (Compl., Dkt. No. 1.) After reviewing the administrative record and carefully considering Carpenter's arguments, the Commissioner's decision is reversed and remanded.

II. Background

On May 29, 2009, Carpenter filed an application for SSI under the

Social Security Act ("the Act"), alleging disability since January 1, 2002. (Tr.[1] at 102, 270-72.) After her application was denied, ( id. at 130-33), Carpenter requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ), which was held on February 4, 2011, ( id. at 52-82, 134-36). On March 7, 2011, the ALJ issued an unfavorable decision denying the requested benefits. ( Id. at 103-19.) At Carpenter's request, the Appeals Council remanded the decision to the ALJ to consider new evidence submitted to the Appeals Council, including the opinion of Carpenter's treating psychiatrist and third-party statements, as well as any additional evidence submitted by Carpenter, and obtain testimony from a vocational expert (VE). ( Id. at 127-29, 196-200.)[2] A second administrative hearing was held on November 5, 2012. ( Id. at 83-101.) Carpenter did not attend the hearing on November 5, 2012, but her counsel appeared and continued to represent her during the hearing, at which VE testimony was taken. ( Id. ) On November 29, 2012, the ALJ issued an unfavorable decision again denying the benefits. ( Id. at 18-42.) That decision became the final decision of the Commissioner when the Appeals Council denied Carpenter's request for review. ( Id. at 1-5.)

Carpenter commenced the present action by filing her complaint on July 19, 2013 wherein she sought review of the Commissioner's determination. (Compl.) The Commissioner filed an answer and a certified copy of the administrative transcript. (Dkt. Nos. 11, 12.) Each party, seeking judgment on the pleadings, filed a brief. (Dkt. Nos. 17, 18.)

III. Contentions

Carpenter contends that the Commissioner's decision is tainted by legal error and is not supported by substantial evidence. (Dkt. No. 17 at 4-24.) Specifically, Carpenter claims that the ALJ: (1) denied her due process by failing to adjourn the November 5, 2012 hearing despite her timely request; (2) disregarded the Appeals Council's order on remand; (3) failed to properly evaluate "the limiting effects" of her "severe conditions";

(4) improperly applied the treating physician rule; (5) was insufficiently "familiar with [her] file so as to be able to properly provide accurate hypothetical questions" at the November 2012 hearing; and (6) substituted his own opinion for that of a qualified expert. ( Id. ) The Commissioner counters that the appropriate legal standards were used by the ALJ and his decision is also supported by substantial evidence. (Dkt. No. 18 at 5-16.)

IV. Facts

The court adopts the parties' undisputed factual recitations. (Dkt. No. 17, Attach. 1 at ...


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