United States District Court, W.D. New York
CHRISTINE TRACY o/b/o MICHAEL P. TRACY, Plaintiff,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, ACTING COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.
DECISION AND ORDER
MICHAEL A. TELESCA United States District Judge
by counsel, Christine Tracy (“plaintiff”) brings
this action on behalf of her deceased son, Michael P. Tracy
(“M.P.T.”) pursuant to Titles II and XVI of the
Social Security Act (“the Act”), seeking review
of the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security
(“the Commissioner”) denying plaintiff's and
M.P.T.'s applications for disability insurance benefits
(“DIB”). The Court has jurisdiction over this
matter pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Presently before
the Court are the parties' cross-motions for judgment on
the pleadings pursuant to Rule 12(c) of the Federal Rules of
Civil Procedure. For the reasons discussed below,
plaintiff's motion is granted and this matter is reversed
and remanded solely for the calculation and payment of
record reveals that in October 2009, M.P.T. (d/o/b April 4,
1972) applied for DIB and SSI,  alleging disability beginning
September 26, 2009. After his applications were denied,
M.P.T. requested a hearing, which was held before
administrative law judge Robert Harvey (“the
ALJ”) on May 18, 2011. On June 1, 2011, the ALJ issued
an unfavorable decision. The Appeals Council denied review of
that decision and M.P.T. brought an action in this Court on
July 20, 2012. By stipulation of both parties, on March 20,
2013 the matter was remanded to the Commissioner for further
administrative proceedings pursuant to the fourth sentence of
42 U.S.C. § 405(g). See Tracy v. Colvin, No.
1:12-CV-00683, doc. 10 (Skretney, J.). In compliance with
this Court's order, on March 8, 2014, the Appeals Council
issued an order remanding the case with specific instructions
to the ALJ which will be more fully discussed below.
passed away on May 23, 2014. At the second hearing held on
July 16, 2014, M.P.T.'s mother testified that at the time
of his death, M.P.T. was single and lived with plaintiff.
According to plaintiff, “the death certificate
indicated the cause of death was related to his cardiac
[condition].” T. 570. Plaintiff testified that M.P.T.
had been sick for a week, not eating or drinking, yet he
refused to go to the hospital despite urging from plaintiff
and other family members. On May 23, 2014, plaintiff returned
home from a doctor's appointment to find that M.P.T. had
passed away. On September 23, 2014, the ALJ issued a second
unfavorable decision. The Appeals Council denied review of
that decision and this timely action followed.
The ALJ's Decision
decision following remand, the ALJ found that M.P.T. met the
insured status requirements of the Act through September 30,
2009. At step one of the five-step sequential evaluation, see
20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 416.920, the ALJ determined
that M.P.T. had not engaged in substantial gainful activity
since his alleged onset date, September 26, 2009. At step
two, the ALJ found that M.P.T. suffered from the severe
impairments of intermittent explosive disorder and obesity.
At step three, the ALJ found that M.P.T. did not have an
impairment or combination of impairments that met or
medically equaled the severity of any listed impairment.
Regarding mental functioning, the ALJ found that no
restrictions of activities of daily living
(“ADLs”), and mild restrictions in social
functioning and maintaining concentration, persistence or
pace. The ALJ found that M.P.T. had one to two prior episodes
of decompensation of extended duration.
proceeding to step four, the ALJ determined that M.P.T.
retained the residual functional capacity (“RFC”)
to perform medium work as defined in 20 C.F.R. §§
404.1567(c) and 416.967(c) “except [he] would have
occasional limitations in ability to deal with stress; [he]
retained ability to perform the basic mental demands of
unskilled work including understand[ing], remember[ing] and
carry[ing] out simple instructions, . . . respond[ing] to
co-workers, supervisors and usual work situations, and
deal[ing] with changes in routine work settings.” T.
538. At step four, the ALJ found that M.P.T. was capable of
performing his past relevant work as a material handler, as
he actually performed it. Accordingly, the ALJ determined
that M.P.T. was not disabled and did not proceed to step
district court may set aside the Commissioner's
determination that a claimant is not disabled only if the
factual findings are not supported by “substantial
evidence” or if the decision is based on legal error.
42 U.S.C. § 405(g); see also Green-Younger v.
Barnhart, 335 F.3d 99, 105-06 (2d Cir. 2003).
“Substantial evidence means ‘such relevant
evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to
support a conclusion.'” Shaw v. Chater,
221 F.3d 126, 131 (2d Cir. 2000).
argues that the ALJ failed to follow the Appeals
Council's order on remand in several respects. An ALJ is
required to “take any action that is ordered by the
Appeals Council.” 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.977(b),
416.1477(b). Accordingly, “[an] ALJ's failure to
comply with the Appeals Council's order constitutes legal
error, and necessitates a remand.” Scott v.
Barnhart, 592 F.Supp.2d 360, 371 (W.D.N.Y. 2009). For
the reasons discussed below, the Court finds that the ALJ
failed to carry out the instructions given by the Appeals
Council on initial remand of this case.
Appeals Council's March 8, 2014 order noted that the ALJ
gave little weight to the opinion of treating psychiatrist
Dr. Liong Tjoa, but failed to give an adequate explanation
why Dr. Tjoa's opinion was rejected. The record reveals
that M.P.T. treated with Dr. Tjoa since 2003 and he was seen
every one to two months for medication management. On
November 24, 2009, Dr. Tjoa completed a mental RFC
questionnaire in which he opined that M.P.T. struggled with
boundaries and positive coping in a work setting, with
increased symptoms in stressful situations, in addition to
acting out behaviors and poor coping. As the Appeals Council
Dr. Tjoa also noted that [M.P.T.] has a low IQ or reduced
intellectual functioning in that he [had] a learning
disability; he [had] marked symptoms as a result of stress
and anxiety resulting in absence from work due to mental
stress; and he [was] unable to hold competitive work but
[was] able to manage his funds. It was the opinion of Dr.
Tjoa that the earliest of the limitations apply is