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Nieves v. Colvin

United States District Court, E.D. New York

November 7, 2017

ADELE E. NIEVES, Plaintiff,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          For the Plaintiff WENDY BRILL

          For the Defendant DARA A OLDS


          FREDERIC BLOCK, Senior United States District Judge

         Plaintiff Adele E. Nieves (“Nieves”) seeks review of the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security (“Commissioner”) denying her application for Social Security Disability (“SSD”) and Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”) benefits. Both Nieves and the Commissioner move for judgment on the pleadings. For the reasons stated below, Nieves's motion is granted, and the Commissioner's motion is denied. The case is remanded for calculation of benefits.


         On October 5, 2012, Nieves applied for SSD and SSI benefits alleging disability onset as of December 31, 2009 for diabetes, back pain, pain in lower extremities, obesity, hyperlipidemia, opium and marijuana abuse in remission, bipolar disorder, schizo-affective disorder, asthma, and hypertension. Applying the familiar five step-process, [1] the administrative law judge (“ALJ”) found that Nieves did not meet the required listings and maintained the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) for light work, [2] which existed in significant numbers in the national economy. The VE suggested routing clerk, mail clerk, and marker as jobs for a person with the RFC for light work. The VE did note that if Nieves's diagnosis was credited, no jobs would exist in the national economy for her, a proposition which the ALJ also stated. The Appeals Council denied Nieves's request for review. Nieves timely sought judicial review.


         “In reviewing a final decision of the Commissioner, a district court must determine whether the correct legal standards were applied and whether substantial evidence supports the decision.” Butts v. Barnhart, 388 F.3d 377, 384 (2d Cir. 2004). Substantial evidence is “such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.” Halloran v. Barnhart, 362 F.3d 28, 31 (2d Cir. 2004) (quoting Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971)). If contradictions appear in the record and the ALJ fails to reasonably explain why he or she opted for one interpretation over another, the Commissioner's findings must fall. See, e.g., Balsamo v. Chater, 142 F.3d 75, 81 (2d Cir. 1998) (“[T]he ALJ cannot arbitrarily substitute his own judgment for competent medical opinion . . .”).

         Nieves argues that the ALJ erred in finding that Nieves did not meet the listings 12.03 and 12.04 for “schizophrenia spectrum, and other psychotic disorders” and “depressive, bipolar and related disorders, ” respectively, because substantial evidence did not support his determination. 20 CFR Pt. 404, Subpt. P, App. 1, §§ 12.03A-C, 12.04A-C. The Court agrees.

         Inexplicably, the ALJ did not even consider Nieves's symptoms under 12.03. This alone would require remand for reconsideration. After review, there is uncontrovertable evidence in the record that Nieves meets the requirements of the 12.03 listing.

         A. 12.03 Schizophrenia Listing

         To meet the requirements of listing 12.03, the listing for schizophrenia spectrum and other psychotic disorders, the claimant must meet the requirements of 12.03A and either 12.03B or 12.03C. 20 CFR Pt. 404, Subpt. P, App. 1, § 12.03A-C. Section 12.03A requires medical documentation of one or more of the following: delusions or hallucinations, disorganized thinking (speech), or grossly disorganized behavior or catatonia. Id. § 12.03A. Nieves meets 12.03A because she suffers from auditory hallucinations. She hears voices, carries on conversations with dead relatives, and in June 2012, she broke a bottle over a stranger's head at the instruction of her auditory hallucinations. She was hospitalized for her hallucinations in 1997, 1998, 2010 and 2012.

         Section 12.03B requires at least two of the following limitations of mental functioning related to the impairment: (1) marked restriction of activities of daily living; (2) marked difficulties in maintaining social functioning; (3) marked difficulties in maintaining concentration, persistence, or pace; or (4) repeated episodes of decompensation, each of extended duration.[3] Id. § 12.03B. In determining whether a claimant has marked limitations of mental functioning, the ALJ must consider all the relevant medical and non-medical evidence in the record. Relevant factors include how clinicians diagnose the claimant's level of disorder, the claimant's mental functioning in daily activities and work settings, the overall effect of limitations, and the effects of support, supervision, and structure on claimant's functioning. 20 C.F.R. Pt. 404, Subpt. P, App. 1, 12.00 Mental Disorders F.3.a-f. The evidence in this case compels a finding that Nieves exhibits marked restrictions in her activities of daily living and social functioning.

         1. Activities ...

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