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De Cabrera v. Commissioner of Social Security

United States District Court, S.D. New York

August 25, 2017




         Plaintiff, Rosario Jimenez de Cabrera, brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), seeking judicial review of the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security (the "Commissioner") denying Cabrera's claim for disability insurance benefits ("DIB"). The parties cross-move for judgment on the pleadings under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(c). ECF Nos. 10, 12. On July 25, 2017, the Honorable James L. Cott, U.S. Magistrate Judge, issued a Report and Recommendation (the "R & R") recommending that Cabrera's motion be granted to the extent it seeks remand for a new hearing, the Commissioner's cross-motion be denied, and the case be remanded to the Social Security Administration (the "SSA") for further proceedings. R & R, ECF No. 14. On August 8, 2017, the Commissioner filed objections to the R & R. Comm'r Obj., ECF No. 15. On August 22, 2017, Cabrera filed a response to the Commissioner's objections. Resp., ECF No. 16. On due consideration, after review of the record, the thorough and well-reasoned R & R is ADOPTED.


         Cabrera filed an application for DIB on February 15, 2013, alleging disability as of February 3, 2013. Administrative R. ("R.") 89-90, ECF No. 9. A video hearing was held before an administrative law judge ("ALJ") on July 24, 2014. Id. at 57. On October 20, 2014, the ALJ issued a decision and found that Cabrera was not disabled. Id. at 40-52. The ALJ found that she had several severe impairments, including a herniated lumbar disc, cervical radiculopathy, migraine headaches, hypothyroidism, depressive disorder, and anxiety disorder. Id. at 42. He also found that she has the residual functional capacity to perform medium work as defined in 20 C.F.R. § 404.1567(c). Id. at 44. In coming to this conclusion, the ALJ considered, inter alia, Cabrera's alleged symptoms; the opinion evidence of Cabrera's treating physician, Mariya Tsinis, M.D., and treating psychiatrist, Peter Ruiz, M.D.; and the opinion evidence of consultative examiner, Ted Woods, M.D., and consultative psychologist, Michael Kushner, Ph.D. Id. at 45-52. The ALJ's decision became the Commissioner's final decision on January 12, 2016 when the SSA Appeals Council denied Cabrera's request for review. Id. at 8. Cabrera sought judicial review in this Court on June 9, 2016. ECF No. 1.


         I. Standard of Review

         In reviewing final decisions of the SSA, courts "conduct a plenary review of the administrative record to determine if there is substantial evidence, considering the record as a whole, to support the Commissioner's decision and if the correct legal standards have been applied." Mclntyre v. Colvin, 758 F.3d 146, 149 (2d Cir. 2014) (quoting Kohler v. Astrue, 546 F.3d 260, 265 (2d Cir. 2008)). Substantial evidence is "more than a mere scintilla. It means such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Selian v. Astrue, 708 F.3d 409, 417 (2d Cir. 2013) (per curiam) (quoting Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401(1971)).

         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). When a party makes specific objections, the court reviews de novo those portions of the R & R to which objection is made. Id.; Fed. R. Civ. P. 72(b)(3). However, when a "party makes only conclusory or general objections, or simply reiterates the original arguments, " the court reviews the R & R for clear error. Rivera v. Colvin, No. 11 Civ. 7469, 2014 WL 3732317, at *1 (S.D.N.Y. July 28, 2014) (quoting Pinkney v. Progressive Home Health Servs., No. 06 Civ. 5023, 2008 WL 2811816, at *1 (S.D.N.Y. July 21, 2008)). The Court may adopt those portions of the R & R to which no objection is made "as long as no clear error is apparent from the face of the record." Oquendo v. Colvin, No. 12 Civ. 4527, 2014 WL 4160222, at *2 (S.D.N.Y. Aug. 19, 2014) (quoting Francis v. A &E Stores, Inc., No. 06 Civ. 1638, 2008 WL 4619858, at *1 (S.D.N.Y. Oct. 16, 2008)).

         II. Discussion

         The R & R recommends that Cabrera's motion for judgment on the pleadings be granted, the Commissioner's cross-motion be denied, and the case be remanded to the SSA for a new hearing pursuant to sentence four of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). R & R 37. The Commissioner objects to Judge Cott's determinations that (1) the ALJ failed to consider the relevant regulatory factors before attributing less than controlling weight to the medical opinions of treating physician Dr. Tsinis and treating psychiatrist Dr. Ruiz; and (2) the reasoning the ALJ employed when weighing the medical opinions was insufficient to justify granting a treating physician's opinion less than controlling weight. Comm'r Obj. 5-13; see R & R 26-37.

         a. Treating Physician Rule

         A treating physician's opinion is given controlling weight if the opinion on the nature and severity of an impairment is "well-supported by medically acceptable clinical and laboratory diagnostic techniques and is not inconsistent with the other substantial evidence in [the] case record." 20 C.F.R. § 404.1527(c)(2). "The opinion of a treating physician is accorded extra weight because the continuity of treatment he provides and the doctor/patient relationship he develops place him in a unique position to make a complete and accurate diagnosis of his patient." Petrie v. Astrue, 412 F.App'x 401, 405 (2d Cir. 2011) (summ. order) (quoting Monguer v. Heckler, 722 F.2d 1033, 1039 n.2 (2d Cir. 1983)). "Nevertheless, '[a] treating physician's statement that the claimant is disabled cannot itself be determinative.'" Micheli v. Astrue, 501 F.App'x 26, 28 (2d Cir. 2012) (summ. order) (alteration in original) (quoting Snell v. Apfel, 177 F.3d 128, 133 (2d Cir. 1999)).

         "An ALJ who refuses to accord controlling weight to the medical opinion of a treating physician must consider various 'factors' to determine how much weight to give to the opinion." Halloran v. Barnhart, 362 F.3d 28, 32 (2d Cir. 2004) (quoting 20 C.F.R. § 404.1527). "Among those factors are: (i) the frequency of examination and the length, nature and extent of the treatment relationship; (ii) the evidence in support of the treating physician's opinion; (iii) the consistency of the opinion with the record as a whole; (iv) whether the opinion is from a specialist; and (v) other factors brought to the Social Security Administration's attention that tend to support or contradict the opinion." Id. (citing 20 C.F.R. § 404.1527).

         The ALJ must set forth the reasons for the weight assigned to the treating physician's opinion. See Id. The Second Circuit has said that courts should not "hesitate to remand when the Commissioner has not provided 'good reasons' for the ...

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