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Hicks v. Commissioner of Social Security

United States District Court, N.D. New York

January 5, 2015

RANDELL HICKS, Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.

CHRISTOPHER CADIN, ESQ., Legal Services of Central New York, Syracuse, NY, for the Plaintiff.

AMANDA J. LOCKSHIN, JASON P. PECK, Special Assistant U.S. Attorneys, HON. RICHARD S. HARTUNIAN, United States 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 Randell Hicks challenges the Commissioner of Social Security's denial of Supplemental Security Income (SSI), seeking judicial review under 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and 1383(c)(3). (Compl., Dkt. No. 1.) After reviewing the administrative record and carefully considering Hicks' arguments, the Commissioner's decision is reversed and remanded.

II. Background

On October 7, 2008, Hicks filed an application for SSI under the Social Security Act ("the Act"), alleging disability since October 7, 2008. (Tr.[1] at 95, 256-59.) After his application was denied, ( id. at 114-17), Hicks requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ), which was held on November 18, 2010, ( id. at 72-93, 118-20). On November 30, 2010, the ALJ issued a partially favorable decision finding Hicks disabled from October 7, 2008 through January 31, 2010, but denying benefits thereafter. ( Id. at 96-108.) The ALJ concluded that a medical improvement occurred as of February 1, 2010 and that Hicks was no longer disabled. ( Id. at 105.) At Hicks' request, the Social Security Administration Appeals Council remanded the case back to the ALJ to, among other things, obtain evidence from a medical expert to clarify the nature and severity of Hicks' mental impairments as well as the opinion of a vocational expert (VE) to clarify the effect of the assessed limitations on Hicks' occupational base. ( Id. at 109-13.) After a second administrative hearing, the ALJ again held that Hicks' disability ended as of February 1, 2010. ( Id. at 10-28, 39-64.) That decision became the final decision of the Commissioner when the Appeals Council denied Hicks' request for review. ( Id. at 1-7.)

Hicks commenced the present action by filing his complaint on January 23, 2014 wherein he sought review of the Commissioner's determination. (Compl.) The Commissioner filed an answer and a certified copy of the administrative transcript. (Dkt. Nos. 8, 9.) Each party, seeking judgment on the pleadings, filed a brief. (Dkt. Nos. 11, 15.)

III. Contentions

Hicks contends that the Commissioner's decision is tainted by legal error and is not supported by substantial evidence. (Dkt. No. 11 at 13-24.) Specifically, Hicks claims that: (1) the hypothetical posed to the VE was inconsistent with the ALJ's residual functional capacity (RFC) determination; and (2) the ALJ's evaluation of the medical and vocational evidence is not supported by substantial evidence. ( Id. at 12-14.)[2] The Commissioner counters that the appropriate legal standards were used by the ALJ and her decision is also supported by substantial evidence. (Dkt. No. 15 at 6-13.)

IV. Facts

The court adopts the parties' undisputed factual recitations. (Dkt. No. 11 at 3-9; Dkt. No. 15 at 2.)

V. Standard of Review

The standard for reviewing the Commissioner's final decision under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g)[3] is well established and will not be repeated here. For a full discussion of the standard and the five-step process by which the Commissioner evaluates whether a claimant is disabled under the Act, the court refers the parties to its previous decision in Christiana v. ...


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