United States District Court, S.D. New York
ORDER ADOPTING REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION
KEVIN CASTEL, District Judge
Darryn Clark brings this action pursuant to Sections 205(g)
and 1631(c)(3) of the Social Security Act (the
“Act”), 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g),
1383(c)(3), to challenge the final determination of the
Commissioner of Social Security (“the
Commissioner”) denying his application for disability
insurance benefits. Both parties have moved for judgment on
the pleadings pursuant to Rule 12(c), Fed.R.Civ.P. On June 6,
2016 this case was referred to Magistrate Judge Sarah Netburn
to hear and report. On December 16, 2016, Judge Netburn
issued a Report and Recommendation (the
“R&R”) pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)
and Rule 72(b), Fed. R. Civ. P., recommending that
Clark's motion for judgment on the pleadings be granted,
the Commissioner's motion be denied, and that the case be
remanded to the Commissioner for further development of the
record and proper analysis of Clark's credibility. The
Commissioner filed timely objections to the R&R. For the
reasons that follow, this Court adopts Judge Netburn's
recommendation to remand for further development of the
record, grants in part Clark's motion for judgment on the
pleadings, and denies the Commissioner's motion for
judgment on the pleadings.
applied for disability benefits on October 3, 2012, alleging
an onset date of September 29, 2012. (Administrative Record
“AR” 11). The parties agree that his date of last
insured is December 31, 2013. (AR 13). Clark asserts that he
suffers from depression and post-traumatic stress disorder as
well as periodic panic attacks, and claims that his symptoms
have rendered him unable to work. Clark is treated primarily
by a therapist, Jeanne Coupe, who he has seen weekly since
2009, and a psychiatrist, Dr. Jonathan Kane.
October 2012, Dr. Kane and Ms. Coupe co-signed a letter
stating that in their opinion, Clark was unable to work due
to his major depression and that his psychiatric condition
had responded poorly to multiple medication regimens. (AR
167). Dr. Kane restated these opinions in a letter dated May
1, 2014. (AR 297). Also on May 1, 2014, Ms. Coupe wrote that
Clark's condition had not meaningfully improved in the
time that she had been treating him. (AR 298). She explained
that he struggled with “debilitating bouts of
depression that greatly interfere with his day-to-day
functioning” and had been “unable to maintain
work . . . as a result of his depressive symptoms.” (AR
298). Both Dr. Kane and Ms. Coupe opined that Clark was not
able to work as a result of his depression and panic attacks.
was also examined by Dr. Angela Fairweather, a consultative
psychologist in January 2013. (AR 258). She concluded that
Clark's psychiatric conditions caused moderate to
significant impairment in his ability to function on a daily
basis. (AR 260). She provided a guarded prognosis
“given [Clark's] poor responsiveness to
treatment.” (AR 261).
Social Security Administration (“SSA”) denied
Clark's application for disability benefits on February
25, 2013 and Clark requested a hearing before an
administrative law judge (“ALJ”) on March 15,
2013. (R&R 2; AR 57, 61). A hearing was held on April 14,
2014 before ALJ Mark Solomon where Clark appeared with his
attorney. (R&R 2, AR 24). In his decision, the ALJ
considered testimony from Clark as well as medical records
from Dr. Kane, Ms. Coupe, and several other medical
professionals who treated Clark during the relevant time
period. (AR 15-18). The ALJ issued his decision on June 24,
2014 which denied Clark's application for disability
benefits and found that Clark was not disabled within the
meaning of the Act. (AR 20). Clark appealed the ALJ's
decision but the Appeals Council denied his request for
review on September 17, 2015 at which point the ALJ's
decision was rendered final. (R&R 2).
reviewing the ALJ's decision, Magistrate Judge Netburn
concluded that the ALJ had ignored substantial evidence that
supported the opinions of Clark's treating physicians,
failed to adequately develop the record, and inappropriately
assessed Clark's credibility. (R&R 1, 20). The
Commissioner filed timely objections to each of these
conclusions. (Dkt. 19).
Standard of Review.
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). In the event
that a party files objections to the magistrate judge's
recommendations, district courts conduct a de novo
review of those matters to which a party filed an objection.
Id. § 636(b)(1)(B), (C).
reviewing a Social Security claim, this Court does not
determine de novo whether the plaintiff is disabled
and therefore entitled to disability benefits. See Schaal
v. Apfel, 134 F.3d 496, 501 (2d Cir. 1998). Rather, the
reviewing court determines only “whether the
Commissioner's conclusions ‘are supported by
substantial evidence in the record as a whole or are based on
an erroneous legal standard.'” Id.
(quoting Beauvoir v. Chater, 104 F.3d 1432, 1433 (2d
Cir. 1997); see also Rosa v. Callahan, 168 F.3d 72,
77 (2d Cir. 1999) (explaining that a court will only overturn
the ALJ's decision if it is “based upon legal
error” or “not supported by substantial
evidence”) (internal quotation marks omitted).
evidence is “more than a mere scintilla. It means such
relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as
adequate to support a conclusion.” Richardson v.
Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971) (internal citation and
quotation marks omitted). However, “[i]n conducting
[its] review . . . [the Court] will not substitute [its] own
judgment for that of the Commissioner, even if [it]
‘might justifiably have reached a different result upon
de novo review.'” Campbell v.
Astrue, 465 F. App'x 4, 5 (2d Cir. 2012) (summary
order) (quoting Valente v. Sec'y of Health &
Human Servs., 733 F.2d 1037, 1041 (2d Cir. 1984)).
“Even where the administrative record may also
adequately support contrary findings on particular issues,
the ALJ's factual findings ‘must be given
conclusive effect' so long as they are supported by
substantial evidence.” Genier v. Astrue, 606
F.3d 46, 49 (2d Cir. 2010) (quoting Schauer v.
Schweiker, 675 F.2d 55, 57 (2d Cir. 1982)).
Social Security Act defines a “disability” as an
“inability 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). To determine whether a claimant is entitled to
disability benefits, the ALJ must follow a ...