Mangual v. Colvin
ORDER granting 13 plaintiff's motion to reverse the decision of the Commissioner; and denying 16 defendant's motion to affirm the decision of the Commissioner. See attached ruling. Signed by Judge Donna F. Martinez on 3/31/17. (Brierley, K.)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
DISTRICT OF CONNECTICUT
CAROLYN W. COLVIN,
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY,
CASE NO. 3:14CV688(DFM)
RULING ON PENDING MOTIONS
Plaintiff, Eneida Mangual, seeks judicial review of the
denial of her application for supplemental security income
Currently pending are plaintiff’s motion to reverse
the decision of the Commissioner of Social Security
(“Commissioner”) (doc. #13) and defendant’s motion to affirm the
decision of the Commissioner.
On September 30,
2016, pursuant to the court’s order, counsel filed a joint
stipulation of facts and medical chronology, which I incorporate
For the following reasons,
plaintiff’s motion is GRANTED and defendant’s motion is DENIED.1
The standards for determining an individual’s entitlement
to SSI, the Commissioner’s five-step framework for evaluating
is not a recommended ruling; the parties consented to
the jurisdiction of a magistrate judge. (Doc. #25); see 28
U.S.C. § 636(c); Fed.R.Civ.P. 73(b).
claims, and the district court’s review of the final decision of
the Commissioner are well-settled.
I am following those
standards, but do not repeat them here.
Plaintiff applied for SSI on October 21, 2010. (R. 133-35.)
Her application was denied initially and upon reconsideration.
(R. 74, 80-82.)
On November 8, 2011, plaintiff requested a
hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”).
The Social Security Administration Office of Disability
Adjudication and Review (“ODAR”) scheduled a hearing for June
Plaintiff appeared without
representation and requested a continuance.
attorney Sally Rogers conducted a pre-hearing conference to (1)
advise plaintiff of her right to representation; (2) confirm
that the medical evidence was up to date; and (3) schedule a
hearing before an ALJ.
Plaintiff’s hearing before
an ALJ was scheduled for September 20, 2012.
Plaintiff went to the Greater Hartford Legal Aid (“GHLA”)
office on September 7, 2012.
Halpine reviewed plaintiff’s file and told her that she would
represent plaintiff “if she was able to get a continuance” of
the September 20 hearing.
Attorney Halpine filed an
“Appointment of Representative” form on September 17, 2012.
That same day, she requested a postponement of the
hearing in order to “complete the record and advocate on
The ALJ denied the request
for postponement on September 18, 2012.
Plaintiff appeared unrepresented at the September 20
The ALJ issued an unfavorable decision
dated October 15, 2012. (R. 30.)
Plaintiff appealed the ALJ’s
decision to the Appeals Council, which denied her request for
review on March 20, 2014. (R. 1-4.)
She timely appealed to this
Plaintiff argues that the ALJ failed to fully develop the
“Where, as here, the claimant [was] unrepresented by
counsel, the ALJ is under a heightened duty to scrupulously and
conscientiously probe into, inquire of, and explore for all the
relevant facts . . . .
A reviewing court must determine whether
the ALJ adequately protect[ed] the rights of [a] pro se litigant
by ensuring that all of the relevant facts [are] sufficiently
developed and considered.”
Echevarria v. Sec’y of Health &
Human Servs., 685 F.2d 751, 755 (2d Cir. 1982) (citations and
internal quotation marks omitted).
Plaintiff’s primary language is Spanish and her ability to
communicate effectively in English is limited.
also has a limited education, having attended school only
through 9th grade in Puerto Rico.
testified through an interpreter at both the pre-hearing
conference and the hearing before the ALJ.
The record is
replete with instances where plaintiff’s tenuous command of
English affected her ability to understand the proceedings.
the pre-hearing conference, Attorney Rogers asked plaintiff
about her medical records as follows:
SR. ATTY: I’d like to go over your medical records.
You’re treated at St. Francis Clinic. Who do
you see there?
SR. ATTY: Are you treated anywhere else?
No, only there.
SR. ATTY: Have you had any hospitalizations or emergency
room visits in the past year?
No, I went on the 15th.
SR. ATTY: To St. Francis?
SR. ATTY: But you haven’t been to the emergency room?
No, I went to the ER.
SR. ATTY: Which hospital did you go to?
SR. ATTY: Before that, when were you seen there?
I don’t remember. Maybe four months.
SR. ATTY: Have you been seen in any other hospitals?
SR. ATTY: Do you have any appointment cards with you?
Not with me. I have home.
SR. ATTY: You take prednisone, albuterol, isifomcyin2?
SR. ATTY: Anything else[?]
appears to be a misspelling of the antibiotic
azithromycin. The medical record reflects that plaintiff’s
prescriptions include prednisone, albuterol, and azithromycin.
(R. 283.) Prednisone and albuterol are used to treat asthma.
Physicians’ Desk Reference (71st ed. 2017).
SR. ATTY: Do you know the names of these medications?
. . . .
I also use a machine for sleep.
At the hearing on September 20, the ALJ canvassed plaintiff
about the medical evidence:
. . . .
. . . . Do you have any additional records
with you today that you want me to see?
I don’t understand.
Do you have any new medical records that you
want me to look at?
Like pills and so forth?
Any treatment records that you have.
No, just the medicines I have.
You also received a disc with your medical
records on it. Do you have any objection to
any of the documents that are contained in
I didn’t understand.
You’ve got a disc there with your medical
Did you have a chance to look at
No, I have not seen them.
I’ll tell you what’s in them. We have records
from St. Francis Hospital from April 2012 back
through May 2011. Other records go back to
December 2011. Records that cover a portion
of 2010. There is also a CE that you went to
a doctor assigned by the Social Security
Do you have any reason to
suspect that you would have an objection to
any of those records?
I don’t understand.
I’m asking if you’re aware of information in
your file that I should not consider.
I’m going to admit all the exhibits for the
(R. 43, 45-46.)
Plaintiff clearly had not reviewed the evidence
before the hearing, nor did she understand the ALJ’s questions
aimed at developing the record.
Later in the hearing, plaintiff testified about her recent
ailments, for which there are no treatment records in evidence.
The following exchange highlights the ALJ’s failure to develop
If I go out anywhere, I have to go with my
Why is that?
Because I get dizzy very easily and my vision
None of your medical records talk about that.
Have you sought treatment for that?
For the sight?
Dizziness and your vision.
Yes, for the vision. I’ve been going to the
I went a month ago. I have an appointment for
November 22nd or something like that.
This wasn’t affecting you until about a month
No, it’s been affecting me for a while.
You didn’t get treatment for it before?
Yes, I’m getting eye drops.
When did you get those?
I don’t remember. I have them here.
You don’t remember when you started taking the
It’s been a while.
About three months or less.
Plaintiff’s ophthalmology records were not included
in the record, nor did the ALJ make any effort to add them.
Plaintiff, now represented by counsel, contends that the ALJ
failed to include other records as well, including those from
plaintiff’s physical therapist and a diabetes clinic.
no updated prescription record.
Nor did the ALJ make any effort
to contact plaintiff’s treating sources for medical source
A review of the record reveals that the ALJ failed to
adequately fulfill his “affirmative obligation to assist this
pro se claimant in developing [her] case . . . .”
Sullivan, 912 F.2d 8, 12 (2d Cir. 1990) (citation and internal
quotation marks omitted).
Because of this failure, plaintiff
did not have an adequate hearing.
“When the ALJ has failed to
develop [the] record adequately, the district court must remand
to the Commissioner for further development.”
Colvin, No. 13-CV-5655 (AJN/SN), 2014 WL 4695080, at *15
(S.D.N.Y. Sept. 3, 2014).
For these reasons, plaintiff’s motion to reverse the
decision of the Commissioner (doc. #13) is GRANTED and
defendant’s motion to affirm the decision of the Commissioner
(doc. #16) is DENIED.
The case is remanded for further
In light of the foregoing, I need not reach the
merits of plaintiff’s other arguments.
This is not a recommended ruling.
The consent of the
parties allows this magistrate judge to direct the entry of a
judgment of the district court in accordance with the Federal
Rules of Civil Procedure.
Appeals can be made directly to the
appropriate United States Court of Appeals from this judgment.
See 28 U.S.C. § 636(c)(3); Fed.R.Civ.P. 73(c).
SO ORDERED at Hartford, Connecticut this 31st day of March,
Donna F. Martinez
United States Magistrate Judge
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