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Cahill v. Colvin

United States District Court, S.D. New York

December 29, 2014

CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.


PAUL A. ENGELMAYER, District Judge.

Plaintiff John Joseph Cahill brings this action pursuant to § 205(g) of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), seeking judicial review of a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security (the "Commissioner"), which denied Cahill's application for disability benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act. Both sides have moved for judgment on the pleadings pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(c). Before the Court is the October 30, 2014 Report and Recommendation of Magistrate Judge Michael H. Dolinger, recommending that the Court grant Cahill's motion in part, deny the Commissioner's motion, and remand the case to the Social Security Administration ("SSA") for further proceedings. Dkt. 21 (the "Report"). For the following reasons, the Court adopts the Report in full.

I. Background[1]

Cahill, who is now in his mid-60s, worked as a truck driver and on loading docks from June 1989 until December 2009, when he incurred a spinal injury on the job. He performed light desk work for the same employer for approximately one year, but he became unable to perform that light work due to back pain, and, as a result, he was terminated in December 2010.

On December 16, 2010, Cahill filed an application for disability benefits, alleging that he had been disabled since December 8, 2010. After the Social Security Administration denied Cahill's application for benefits on February 17, 2011, he timely requested and was granted a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALP). On April 12, 2012, Cahill testified at a hearing before ALJ Roberto Lebron.

On June 28, 2012, the ALJ issued a decision concluding that Cahill suffers from a condition related to his spinal injury and from high blood pressure but is not disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act. He also determined that Cahill, although unable to work as a truck driver, is able to perform "medium work." In reaching these conclusions, the ALJ significantly discounted the reports of Cahill's treating physicians and assigned greater weight to the opinion of one of the consulting physicians. He also found that Cahill's testimony lacked credibility. The Appeals Council denied Cahill's request for review of the All's decision, making the ALJ's decision the Commissioner's final decision.

On December 28, 2012, Cahill commenced this action. See Dkt. 1 ("Complaint"). The Complaint asserts that the ALJ's decision was erroneous, unsupported by the medical evidence and testimony presented before and during the hearing, and contrary to governing law. Id. On June 4, 2013, the Commissioner answered. Dkt. 5.

On June 6, 2013, the Court referred this case to Judge Dolinger. Dkt. 7. On July 17, 2013, Cahill filed a motion for judgment on the pleadings, Dkt. 9, along with a memorandum of law, Dkt. 10. On December 18, 2013, the Commissioner filed a cross-motion for judgment on the pleadings, Dkt. 18, and a supporting memorandum of law, Dkt. 19.

On October 30, 2014, Judge Dolinger issued his Report and Recommendation on the parties' cross-motions for judgment on the pleadings. Judge Dolinger concluded that the ALJ erred by, inter alio, failing to acquire complete evidence, incorrectly applying the treating-physician rule, improperly evaluating Cahill's credibility, and making an unsupported residual functional capacity ("RFC") determination. Judge Dolinger also found that the Appeals Council erred by disregarding new and material evidence that emerged after the ALJ had made his determination. Judge Dolinger therefore recommended that the Court remand the case to the Commission to develop the record and reconsider whether Cahill qualifies for disability benefits.

The Report stated that the parties were required to file any objections within 14 days of the date of the Report's issuance. See Report at 90. To date, the Court has not received any objections.

II. Discussion

In reviewing a Report and Recommendation, 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)(1)(C). "To accept those portions of the report to which no timely objection has been made, a district court need only satisfy itself that there is no clear error on the face of the record." Ruiz v. Citibank, NA., No. 10 Civ. 5950 (KPF) (RLE), 2014 WL 4635575, at *2 (S.D.N.Y. Aug. 19, 2014) (quoting King v. Greiner, No. 02 Civ. 5810 (DLC) (AJP), 2009 WL 2001439, at *4 (S.D.N.Y. July 8, 2009)); see also, e.g., Mims v. Walsh, No. 04 Civ. 6133 (BSJ) (FM), 2012 WL 6699070, at *2 (S.D.N.Y. Dec. 23, 2012) (quoting Edwards v. Fischer, 414 F.Supp.2d 342, 346-47 (S.D.N.Y. 2006)).

Careful review of Judge Dolinger's thorough and well-reasoned Report reveals no clear error. On the contrary, the Court agrees with the Report's conclusions that evidentiary gaps exist in the record, and that the ALJ committed a number of legal and factual errors. On remand, the Commissioner is directed, consistent with Judge Dolinger's Report, to: (1) acquire complete treatment records; (2) clarify the treating physicians' reports where necessary to resolve any ambiguities, inconsistencies, or omissions; (3) properly evaluate Cahill's credibility; (4) reassess Cahill's RFC, consistent with the evidence as to all relevant factors; (5) appropriately determine whether the ...

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