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Martinez v. Colvin

United States District Court, S.D. New York

March 30, 2018

CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Commissioner Of Social Security, Defendant.

          OPINION & ORDER

          RONNIE ABRAMS, United States District Judge.

         On March 16, 2016, Plaintiff Lizette Martinez, proceeding pro se, filed a complaint appealing the decision of the Commissioner of Social Security to deny her supplemental security income and disability insurance benefits. On August 31, 2016, Plaintiff also wrote the Court a letter underscoring her "constant pain" and her "fibromyalgia, " among other conditions. See Dkt. 14. The case was referred to Magistrate Judge Peck for a report and recommendation, who issued one (the "Report") on October 4, 2016 recommending that the Commissioner's motion for judgment on the pleadings be granted. See Dkt. 15. On October 24, 2016, Plaintiff wrote to the Court again, asking it to consider new post-denial medical records. See Dkt. 16. The Court construes the letter as raising objections to the Report. The government did not respond. For the reasons stated below, in light of the new medical records, the Court denies the motion for judgment on the pleadings and remands this case for further administrative proceedings.[1]

         I. Legal Standard for District Court Review of a Report & 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). Parties may object to a magistrate judge's recommended findings "[w]ithin 14 days after being served with a copy of the recommended disposition." Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(b)(2). A district court must review de novo "those portions of the report or specified proposed findings or recommendations to which objection is made." 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1). "However, when the objections simply reiterate previous arguments or make only conclusory statements, the Court should review the report for clear error." Brown v. Colvin, 73 F.Supp.3d 193, 197 (S.D.N.Y.2014). "To accept those portions of the report to which no timely objection has been made, a district court need only satisfy itself that there is no clear error on the face of the record." Hunter v. Lee, No. 13-CV-5880 (PAE), 2016 WL 5942311, at * 1 (S.D.N.Y. Oct. 11, 2016) (internal quotation omitted).

         "Objections of parties appearing pro se are 'generally accorded leniency' and construed to 'raise the strongest arguments that they suggest.'" Mack v. Lavalley, No. 13-CV-8194 (GHW), 2016 WL 3077877, at *1 (S.D.N.Y. May 31, 2016) (internal quotation omitted). Even pro se objections, however, "must be specific and clearly aimed at particular findings in the magistrate's proposal, such that no party be allowed a 'second bite at the apple' by simply relitigating a prior argument." Pinkney v. Progressive Home Health Sers., No. 06-CV-5023 (LTS), 2008 WL 2811816, at *1 (S.D.N.Y. July 21, 2008) (quoting Camardo v. Gen. Motors Hourly-Rate Emps. Pension Plan, 806 F.Supp. 380, 382 (S.D.N.Y. 1992)).

         II. Discussion

         In her objections, which the Court construes to raise the strongest possible arguments, Plaintiff contends that her "new records" demonstrate that she is "not able to work." Dkt. 16 at 1. She explains that in 2013, when she applied for benefits, the doctors were still "trying to find out what was actually wrong with [her]" and that the new records "now should show ... all of [her] problems." Id. Those problems, Plaintiff states, include "[fibromyalgia, chronic back pain, ulcers on my feet and also chronic diabetes, " as well as "[s]pinal stenosis." Id. In her August 31, 2016 letter, Plaintiff told the Court that she had never had the chance to fully explain her "constant pain, " "fibromyalgia, " and "carpal tunnel on both hands." Dkt. 14. Plaintiff attaches seven pages of medical records to her objections and asks the Court to also consider the records that she gave "to the Pro Se Office in March 2016, " Dkt. 16, referring to the approximately 236 pages of medical records that she attached to her complaint, see Dkt 2.

         The Social Security Act provides that a court may order an administrative remand to consider additional evidence, "but only upon a showing that there is new evidence which is material and that there is good cause for the failure to incorporate such evidence into the record in a prior proceeding." 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). The Second Circuit has explained that a "triple standard" must be met:

[A]n appellant must show that the proffered evidence is (1) new and not merely cumulative of what is already in the record, and that it is (2) material, that is, both relevant to the claimant's condition during the time period for which benefits were denied and probative. The concept of materiality requires, in addition, a reasonable possibility that the new evidence would have influenced the Secretary to decide claimant's application differently. Finally, claimant must show (3) good cause for her failure to present the evidence earlier.

Tirado v. Bowen, 842 F.2d 595, 597 (2d Cir. 1988) (citations and quotation marks omitted).

         "[M]edical evidence generated after an ALJ's decision [cannot] be deemed irrelevant solely because of timing" Williams v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec, 236 Fed.Appx. 641, 644 (2d Cir. 2007). Such evidence may be relevant if it "disclose[s] the severity and continuity of impairments existing [during the relevant period] or may identify additional impairments which could reasonably be presumed to have been present. .. ." Pollard v. Halter, 311 F.3d 183, 193-94 (2d Cir. 2004) (quotation marks omitted).

         A. Fibromyalgia

         Here, the new medical evidence regarding Plaintiffs fibromyalgia-consisting of the records attached to her complaint and to her objections-satisfies this triple standard. Those records contain numerous references to Plaintiffs "[fibromyalgia affecting multiple sites" and the extensive pain associated with the condition despite her efforts to alleviate it. See, e.g., Dkt. 2-1 at 11, 35; Dkt. 2-2 at 9, 13, 27, 29, 53, 55-56, 71; Dkt. 2-3 at 22, 31, 57; Dkt 16 at 6. The records explicitly link her knee pain to her "known fibromyalgia" Dkt. 2-1. at 44, and report that the pain is "constant" and "occasionally so severe she feels she cannot get out of bed, " Dkt. 2-2 at 7. There is at least one note of discord on whether fibromyalgia is the proper diagnosis for Plaintiff s pain, but it predates the other records, which appear to discuss fibromyalgia with more confidence. See Dkt. 2-3 at 30, 47.

         The evidence discussing fibromyalgia is new. The administrative review process dealt with Plaintiffs back and knee disorders, along with her Type I diabetes, see Dkt. 10 at 14-21, but the records that discuss fibromyalgia all post-date the November 3, 2014 denial of Plaintiff s disability claim. When Plaintiff claimed fibromyalgia in her complaint based on the post-denial medical records, the government did not respond to that new evidence, and instead based its opposition solely on the existing administrative review. The Report similarly confines itself to the administrative record and did not address the new evidence of fibromyalgia, or whether to ...

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