United States District Court, S.D. New York
OPINION & ORDER
E. Davison U.S.M.J.
Altagracia Mariano De Mota ("Plaintiff, " or
"Claimant, ") brings this action pursuant to 42
U.S.C. § 405(g) challenging the decision of the
Commissioner of Social Security ("Defendant" or the
"Commissioner") denying Plaintiffs application for
disability insurance benefits. R. 10-12. The matter is before
me pursuant to a Notice, Consent and Reference of a Civil
Action to a Magistrate Judge entered April 8, 2016. Dkt. 24.
Presently before this Court are Defendant's motion for
remand and Plaintiffs cross motion for judgment on the
pleadings pursuant to Rule 12(c) of the Federal Rules of
Civil Procedure, Dkts. 26 (Defendant's motion), 27
(Defendant's memorandum of law), 30 (Plaintiffs cross
motion), 31 (Plaintiffs memorandum of law in
support), 37 (Defendant's
response), 38 (Plaintiffs reply).
parties request that the case be remanded to the Social
Security Administration. Plaintiff seeks judgment on the
pleadings and remand solely for the calculation of benefits.
Dkts. 31, 37. The Commissioner requests remand for further
administrative proceedings concerning Plaintiffs eligibility
for benefits. Dkts. 27, 38. For the reasons set forth below,
Defendant's motion for remand for additional
administrative proceedings is GRANTED, and
Plaintiffs motion for judgment on the pleadings and remand
for the calculation of benefits is DENIED.
The Court further directs that the remand will be assigned to
a different administrative law judge ("ALJ"),
following facts are taken from the administrative record
("R.") of the Social Security Administration, Dkt.
11, filed by Defendant in conjunction with the Answer, Dkt.
October 20, 2011, Plaintiff filed a Title II application for
a period of disability and disability insurance benefits, R.
223-232 (application for disability benefits) and a Title XVI
application for Supplemental Security Income
("SSI"). R. 233-238 (application for SSI benefits).
Her applications were denied. R. 123-130. Plaintiff timely
requested a hearing before an ALJ on February 14, 2012. R.
131. Plaintiff appeared before AL J Sethi. Grossman
represented by counsel, Eliana Robles, on December 28, 2012,
R. 41-72, and represented by counsel, Ruth Axelrod on June
14, 2013. R. 73-120. On March 11, 2014, the ALJ issued an
unfavorable decision. R. 10-12. The ALJ's decision became
the Commissioner's final decision when the Appeals
Council denied Plaintiffs request for review on July 16,
2015. R. 1-4. Plaintiff timely filed this action on August
29, 2015. Dkt. 1.
was born in Santo Domingo on March 12, 1955. R. 266. From
1998 to 2008, Plaintiff worked for Mana Products in the
Bronx. R. 271. While at Mana Products, Plaintiff worked in
the machine room, on the line, and in packing. R. 111. From
2008 through 2011, Plaintiff worked as a childcare provider
for four children. R. 258. During the school year, she would
work four hours a day and during the summer she would work
eight hours a day. R. 258. In her application for disability
insurance, Plaintiff alleged that she had been disabled since
September 30, 2010 (the "Alleged Disability Onset
Date"). R. 266.
Plaintiffs Hearing Testimony
December 28, 2012, Plaintiff appeared before the ALJ for her
first administrative proceeding. R. 41-72. Plaintiff
testified that she had two children, a daughter and a son,
but lived alone. R. 57. During questioning by her counsel,
Plaintiff testified that she had stopped working because of
her psychiatric problems, because she was hearing voices,
walking with shadows, and other "things like that."
R. 66. Plaintiff testified to undergoing psychiatric
treatment to address her suicidal thoughts and memoiy
problems. R. 67.
Plaintiffs second hearing, held on June 14, 2013, R. 73-120,
Plaintiff testified further about her visual and auditory
hallucinations. R. 78-79. For much of Plaintiff s second
hearing, the ALJ questioned a court-appointed Medical Expert,
Dr. Michael Friedman, about his evaluation of Plaintiff s
medical record. R. 87-94. At the end of the hearing, the ALJ
questioned a vocational expert, Raymond Cestar, about
Plaintiffs past relevant work, and Plaintiffs work
limitations. R. 110-111; 113-119.
Standard of Review
reviewing a decision of the Commissioner, a district court
may "enter, upon the pleadings and transcript of the
record, a judgment affirming, modifying, or reversing the
decision of the Commissioner of Social Security, with or
without remanding the cause for a rehearing." 42 U.S.C.
§ 405(g). "It is not the function of a reviewing
court to decide de novo whether a claimant was
disabled." Melville v. Apfel, 198 F.3d 45, 52
(2d Cir. 1999). Rather, the court's review is limited to
"determining] whether there is substantial evidence
supporting the Commissioner's decision and whether the
Commissioner applied the correct legal standard."
Poupore v. Astrue, 566 F.3d 303, 305 (2d Cir. 2009)
substantial evidence standard is "even more"
deferential than the 'clearly erroneous' standard.
Brault v. Social Sec. Admin, 683 F.3d 443, 448 (2d
Cir. 2012). The reviewing court must defer to the
Commissioner's factual findings, and the
Commissioner's findings of fact are considered conclusive
if they are supported by substantial evidence. See
42 U.S.C. § 405(g). "Substantial evidence" is
"more than a mere scintilla" and "means such
relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as
adequate to support a conclusion." Lamay v.
Commissioner of Soc. Sec, 562 F.3d 503, 507 (2d Cir.
2009) (internal quotations omitted) (quoting Richardson
v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971)). "In
determining whether the agency's findings are supported
by substantial evidence, the reviewing court is required to
examine the entire record, including contradictory evidence
and evidence from which conflicting inferences can be
drawn." Talavera v. Astrue, 697 F.3d 145, 151
(2d Cir. 2012) (internal quotations omitted). "When
there are gaps in the administrative record or the ALJ has
applied an improper legal standard, " or when the
ALJ's rationale is unclear in light of the record
evidence, remand to the Commissioner "for further
development of the evidence" or for an explanation of
the ALJ's reasoning is warranted. Pratts v.
Chater, 94 F.3d 34, 39 (2d Cir. 1996).
claimant is disabled under the SSA when he or she lacks the
ability "to engage in any substantial gainful activity
by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental
impairment which can be expected to result in death or which
has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period
of not less than 12 months . .. ." 42 U.S.C. §
423(d)(1)(A). In addition, a person is eligible for
disability benefits under the SSA only if:
his physical or mental impairment or impairments are of such
severity that he is not only unable to do his previous work
but cannot, considering his age, education, and work
experience, engage in any other kind of substantial gainful
work which exists in the national economy, regardless of
whether such work exists in the immediate area in which he
lives, or whether a specific job vacancy exists for him, or
whether he would be hired if he applied for work.
Id. § 423(d)(2)(A).
claimant's eligibility for SSA disability benefits is
evaluated pursuant to a five-step sequential analysis:
1. The Commissioner considers whether the claimant is
currently engaged in substantial gainful activity.
2. If not, the Commissioner considers whether the claimant
has a "severe impairment" which limits his or her
mental or physical ability to do basic work activities.
3. If the claimant has a "severe impairment, " the
Commissioner must ask whether, based solely on medical
evidence, claimant has an impairment listed in Appendix 1 of
the regulations. If the claimant has one of these enumerated
impairments, the Commissioner will automatically consider him
disabled, without considering vocational factors such as age,
education, and work experience.
4. If the impairment is not "listed" in the
regulations, the Commissioner then asks whether, despite the
claimant's severe impairment, he or she has residual
functional capacity to perform his or her past work.
5. If the claimant is unable to perform his or her past work,
the Commissioner then determines whether there is other work
which the claimant could perform.
Rolon v. Commissioner of Soc. Sec, 994 F.Supp.2d
496, 503 (S.D.N.Y. 2014); see 20 C.F.R. §§
404.1520(a)(4)(i)-(v), 416.920(a)(4)(i)-(v). The claimant
bears the burden of proof as to the first four steps of the
process. See Green-Younger v. Barnhart, 335 F.3d 99,
106 (2d Cir. 2003). If the claimant proves that his
impairment prevents him from performing his past work, the
burden shifts to the Commissioner at the fifth and final
step. See Id. At the fifth step, the Commissioner
must prove that the claimant is capable of obtaining
substantial gainful employment in the national economy.
See Butts v, Barnhart, 416 F.3d 101, 103 (2d Cir.
2005); 20 C.F.R. §404.1560(c)(2).
Remand for Administrative Proceedings
to the fourth sentence of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), the Court
has the "power to enter, upon the pleadings and
transcript of the record, a judgment affirming, modifying, or
reversing the decision of the Commissioner, with or without
remanding the cause for a rehearing." 42 U.S.C. §
405(g) (made applicable to Title XVI by 42 U.S.C. §
1383(c)(3)); Shalala v. Schaefer, 509 U.S. 292, 297
(1993); Melkonyan v. Sullivan, 501 U.S. 89, 98
(1991). A remand for further proceedings may be ordered
pursuant to the fourth sentence of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) in
cases where the Commissioner "has failed to provide a
full and fair hearing, to make explicit findings, or to have
correctly applied the law and regulations."
Melkonyan v. Sullivan, 501 U.S. 89, 98 (U.S. 1991);
see Rosa v. Callahan, 168 F.3d 72, 82-83 (2d Cir.
Remand for Calculation of Benefits
the evidence shows overwhelming proof of disability, and no
purpose would be served by a remand for a new hearing, the
Court has the authority to reverse for calculation of
benefits when the record provides "persuasive evidence
of total disability that render[s] any further proceedings
pointless." Gonzalez v. Apfel, 113 F.Supp.2d
580, 590-91 (S.D.N.Y. 2000). Further, if the ALJ's
decision is based upon an error of law and "where
application of the correct legal principles to the record
could lead to only one conclusion, there is no need to
require agency reconsideration." Johnson v.
Bowen, 817 F.2d 983, 986 (2d Cir. 1987) (citing
Havas v. Bowen, 804 F.3d 783, 786 (2d Cir. 1986)).
In such a case, a remand solely for the purpose of
calculating benefits is appropriate. Balsamo v.
Chater, 142 F.3d 75, 82 (2d Cir. 1998); Parker v,
Harris, 626 F.2d, 225, 235 (2d Cir. 1980).
Duty to Evaluate Medical Opinion Evidence
is obliged to consider medical opinions on a claimant's
functioning and is tasked with reaching an residual
functional capacity assessment based on the record as a
whole. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1527(d)(2), 416.9527(d)(2)
("Although we consider opinions from medical sources on
issues such as .. .your residual functional capacity.. .the
final responsibility for deciding these issues is reserved to
the Commissioner."). It is the Commissioner's role
to weigh medical opinion evidence and to resolve conflicts in
that evidence. See Cage v. Comm V of Soc.
Sec, 692 F.3d 118, 122 (2d Cir. 2012); Veino v.
Barnhart, 312 F.3d 578, 588 (2d Cir. 2002)
("Genuine conflicts in the medical evidence are for the
Commissioner to resolve.").