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Urena v. Berryhill

United States District Court, S.D. New York

May 16, 2017

MERYS URENA, Plaintiff,
v.
NANY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM DECISION & ORDER

          KATHERINE B. FORREST, District Judge

         Plaintiff Merys Urena seeks review, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), of the decision by defendant Commissioner of Social Security (“Commissioner”), finding that she was not disabled and not entitled to Disability Insurance Benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act and Supplemental Security Income benefits under Title XVI of the Social Security Act. The parties have filed cross-motions for judgment on the pleadings. Plaintiff argues that the Commissioner made several errors in her decision and requests that the decision be reversed and plaintiff's claim be remanded for an award and calculation of benefits or, in the alternative, for further proceedings. The Commissioner opposes, arguing that the decision was legally correct and supported by substantial evidence.

         For the reasons set forth below, the Court GRANTS plaintiff Urena's motion for judgment on the pleadings and DENIES the Commissioner's cross-motion for judgment on the pleadings. The Court finds that there are gaps in the administrative record that were not properly developed by the ALJ-specifically, those concerning Dr. Nunez's treatment notes and Mental Status Examination (“MSE”) findings. Accordingly, as described below, this case is remanded for further proceedings consistent with this Opinion.

         I. BACKGROUND

         A. Procedural Background

         Plaintiff Merys Urena filed applications for Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”) under Title II of the Social Security Act (“Act”) and Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”) under Title XVI of the Act on October 28, 2010, alleging disability since January 1, 2009, because of depression, low back pain, and arthritis. (Tr. 60-61, 163-73, 196.) The Social Security Administration (“SSA”) denied the applications. Plaintiff then requested an administrative hearing, which took place before an administrative law judge (“ALJ”) on January 13, 2012. (Tr. 20-59.) The ALJ, before whom plaintiff and her attorney appeared, issued a decision finding that plaintiff was not disabled and not eligible for DIB and SSI. (Tr. 26-34.) The Appeals Council denied plaintiff's request for review (Tr. 1-8), and plaintiff thereafter filed a civil action. On February 11, 2015, the district court remanded the case for further administrative proceedings to consider plaintiff's mental impairments. (Tr. 403-36.)

         Upon remand, a second hearing was held before an ALJ on January 27, 2016. (Tr. 345-69.) Plaintiff, who was represented by an attorney, appeared and testified; a vocational expert also testified. (Tr. 345-69.) On March 31, 2016, the ALJ again found that plaintiff was not disabled under the Act. (Tr. 370-95.) The ALJ's decision became the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security (“Commissioner”), and plaintiff filed this instant action on June 6, 2016. (ECF No. 1.) The period at issue is from January 1, 2009-plaintiff's alleged disability onset date-through the Commissioner's March 31, 2016, final decision.

         B. Plaintiff's Instant Motion

         Plaintiff filed her instant motion “to contest the decision of the Commissioner of Social Security . . . . that she is not disabled as a result of a severe psychiatric illness.” (Memorandum of Law in Support of Plaintiff's Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings (“Plaintiff's Mem. in Supp.”), ECF No. 16, at 1.) First, plaintiff argues that the ALJ's decision should be reversed because the ALJ violated the treating physician rule. (Id. at 15-26.) Specifically, plaintiff asserts that the ALJ improperly failed to give “controlling weight” to plaintiff's treating psychiatrist, Dr. Giovanny Nunez. (Id.) Second, plaintiff argues that the ALJ's assessment of the credibility of plaintiff's testimony was legally deficient. (Id. at 27-28.) Plaintiff asks the Court to reverse the Commissioner's decision and remand solely for the calculation of benefits or, in the alternative, remand to the Commissioner for a new hearing and decision. (Id. at 28-31.)

         The Commissioner has opposed plaintiff's motion and has filed a cross-motion for judgment on the pleadings. The Commissioner argues that “the Commissioner's decision is supported by substantial evidence in the record, and is based upon the application of correct legal standards.” (Memorandum of Law in Support of the Commissioner's Cross-Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings and in Opposition to Plaintiff's Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings (“Commissioner's Mem. in Supp.”), ECF No. 21, at 1.) Specifically, the Commissioner argues that the ALJ properly considered the medical evidence and opinions in the record and appropriately evaluated plaintiff's credibility. (Id. at 21-33.) The Commissioner asks the Court to affirm its decision or, in the event that the Court reverses, to remand for further proceedings. (Id. at 33-34.)

         II. APPLICABLE LEGAL PRINCIPLES

         A. Judgment on the Pleadings

         “After the pleadings are closed-but early enough not to delay trial-a party may move for judgment on the pleadings.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(c). “The same standard applicable to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6) motions to dismiss applies to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(c) motions for judgment on the pleadings.” Bank of N.Y. v. First Millennium, Inc., 607 F.3d 905, 922 (2d Cir. 2010) (citation omitted). Therefore, “[t]o survive a Rule 12(c) motion, the complaint ‘must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as ...


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