Sager v. Saul

Filing 20

ORDER: that Plaintiff's 11 motion for judgment on the pleadings is Granted; that the Commissioner's determination that plaintiff was not disabled at the relevant times, and thus is not entitled to benefits under the Social Security Act, i s Vacated; that the matter is hereby Remanded to the Commissioner, without a directed finding of disability, for further proceedings consistent with this determination; and that the Clerk is respectfully directed to enter judgment, based upon this determination, remanding the matter to the Commissioner pursuant to sentence four of 42 U.S.C. 405(g) and closing this case. Signed by Magistrate Judge David E. Peebles on 11/19/2021. (hmr)

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IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE NORTHERN DISTRICT OF NEW YORK ANGELA S., v. Plaintiff, Civil Action No. 3:20-cv-0922 (DEP) KILOLO KIJAKAZI, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, 1 Defendant. APPEARANCES: OF COUNSEL: FOR PLAINTIFF LACHMAN GORTON LAW FIRM P.O. Box 89 1500 East Main Street Endicott, New York 13761-0089 PETER A. GORTON, ESQ. FOR DEFENDANT SOCIAL SECURITY ADMIN. 625 JFK Building 15 New Sudbury St Boston, MA 02203 RAMI VANEGAS, ESQ. Plaintiff’s complaint named Andrew M. Saul, in his official capacity as the Commissioner of Social Security, as the defendant. On July 12, 2021, Kilolo Kijakazi took office as the Acting Social Security Commissioner. She has therefore been substituted as the named defendant in this matter pursuant to Rule 25(d)(1) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, and no further action is required in order to effectuate this change. See 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). 1 DAVID E. PEEBLES U.S. MAGISTRATE JUDGE ORDER Currently pending before the court in this action, in which plaintiff seeks judicial review of an adverse administrative determination by the Commissioner of Social Security (“Commissioner”), pursuant to 42 U.S.C. '§ 405(g) and 1383(c)(3), are cross-motions for judgment on the pleadings. 2 Oral argument was conducted in connection with those motions on November 16, 2021, during a telephone conference held on the record. At the close of argument, I issued a bench decision in which, after applying the requisite deferential review standard, I found that the Commissioner=s determination did not result from the application of proper legal principles and is not supported by substantial evidence, providing further detail regarding my reasoning and addressing the specific issues raised by the plaintiff in this appeal. After due deliberation, and based upon the court=s oral bench decision, a transcript of which is attached and incorporated herein by This matter, which is before me on consent of the parties pursuant to 28 U.S.C. ' 636(c), has been treated in accordance with the procedures set forth in General Order No. 18. Under that General Order once issue has been joined, an action such as this is considered procedurally, as if cross-motions for judgment on the pleadings had been filed pursuant to Rule 12(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. 2 2 reference, it is hereby ORDERED, as follows: 1) Plaintiff=s motion for judgment on the pleadings is GRANTED. 2) The Commissioner=s determination that plaintiff was not disabled at the relevant times, and thus is not entitled to benefits under the Social Security Act, is VACATED. 3) The matter is hereby REMANDED to the Commissioner, without a directed finding of disability, for further proceedings consistent with this determination. 4) The clerk is respectfully directed to enter judgment, based upon this determination, remanding the matter to the Commissioner pursuant to sentence four of 42 U.S.C. ' 405(g) and closing this case. Dated: November 19, 2021 Syracuse, NY 3 UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT NORTHERN DISTRICT OF NEW YORK ------------------------------------------------------x ANGELA S., Plaintiff, -v- 20-CV-922 COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant. ------------------------------------------------------x TRANSCRIPT OF PROCEEDINGS BEFORE THE HONORABLE DAVID E. PEEBLES November 16, 2021 100 South Clinton Street, Syracuse, New York For the Plaintiff: (Appearance by telephone) LACHMAN & GORTON LAW OFFICE P.O. Box 89 1500 East Main Street Endicott, New York 13761 BY: PETER A. GORTON, ESQ. For the Defendant: (Appearance by telephone) SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION 15 New Sudburty Street Boston, Massachusetts 02203 BY: RAMI VANEGAS, ESQ. Hannah F. Cavanaugh, RPR, CRR, CSR, NYACR, NYRCR Official United States Court Reporter 100 South Clinton Street Syracuse, New York 13261-7367 (315) 234-8545 ANGELA S. v. COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY 1 2 2 (The Court and all parties present by telephone. Time noted: 3 11:17 a.m.) THE COURT: Let me begin by thanking you both for 4 excellent presentations, both in writing and verbally. 5 given me a great deal to think about. 6 found this to be an extremely close case written by an 7 Administrative Law Judge who I have a great deal of respect for. 8 9 You've I have to say that I I have before me a decision from the Commissioner of Social Security finding that plaintiff was not disabled at the 10 relevant times. 11 42, United States Code, Sections 405(g) and 1383(c)(3). 12 background is as follows: 13 and is currently 40 years of age. 14 alleged onset of her disability which she identifies as 15 April 20, 2013. 16 approximately 240 pounds. 17 in Binghamton, New York where there's a washer and dryer in her 18 basement. 19 calculations, is currently approximately 19 years old, a 20 daughter who is approximately 15 years of age, and twin 21 daughters, 13 years of age. 22 Plaintiff challenges that determination under The Plaintiff was born September of 1981 She was 33 years old at the Plaintiff stands 5'6" in height and weighs Plaintiff lives in a two-story house She lives with her son who is nonverbal and, by my Plaintiff has a high school diploma and a Bachelor's 23 degree in Liberal Arts. 24 Master's education. 25 classes. She also underwent one semester of While in school, plaintiff was in regular She's right-handed. Plaintiff has a driver's license, HANNAH F. CAVANAUGH, RPR, CRR, CSR, NYACR, NYRCR (315) 234-8545 ANGELA S. v. COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY 1 3 but testified that she rarely drives. 2 The evidence in the record is somewhat equivocal as 3 to when she stopped working. 4 of 2017. 5 working, she was employed by Catholic Charities assisting four 6 autistic clients. 7 worked as a counsellor, a corrections officer, a loss prevention 8 employee, a shelf stocker, and a marketing manager. 9 significant gaps in her employment history. 10 At 319, the indication is November Elsewhere, it's identified as April 20, 2013. It was a full-time position. While She also has There are Physically, plaintiff suffers from vertigo, dizziness 11 of an unknown etiology. 12 to six dizzy spells per day that can last between 20 minutes and 13 four hours. 14 function bilaterally, diabetes, obesity, and leukocytosis, 15 which, as I understand it, is a condition in which the white 16 blood cell count is above the normal range in the blood. 17 plaintiff has tried vestibular therapy, although she claims that 18 it has made her dizzy. 19 conditions. 20 She testified that she experiences five She has an unspecified disorder of the vestibular The She does not report any mental Plaintiff's primary physician is Dr. Andrea Hsue who 21 she treated with from 2016 to 2018, and Dr. Khaula Rehman who 22 she began seeing in December 2018. 23 neurologist, Dr. Aamir Rasheed, and others, including a 24 rheumatologist. 25 Metformin, Amitriptyline -- although she could not tolerate She also has seen Plaintiff has been prescribed over time HANNAH F. CAVANAUGH, RPR, CRR, CSR, NYACR, NYRCR (315) 234-8545 ANGELA S. v. COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY 4 1 it -- Topamax, and she also takes Meclizine, which I understand 2 is a form of Bonine or the generic for Bonine. 3 Plaintiff can cook, clean, do laundry, shop, care for 4 her children, shower, dress. 5 television, she reads, she runs, she plays softball. 6 She listens to the radio, watches Procedurally, plaintiff applied for Title II and 7 Title XVI benefits on July 25, 2017, alleging an onset date of 8 April 20, 2013. 9 leukocytosis, chronic fatigue and malaise, severe vertigo and She claimed disability based upon her 10 dizziness, an autoimmune disorder, a disorder of the vestibular 11 function bilaterally, and diabetes. 12 Administrative Law Judge Robyn Hoffman conducted a hearing to 13 address plaintiff's applications. 14 determination on September 13, 2019. 15 determination of the Commissioner on June 16, 2020, when the 16 Social Security Administration Appeals Council denied 17 plaintiff's request for a review. 18 August 13, 2020, and is timely. 19 On July 24, 2019, ALJ Hoffman issued an adverse That became a final This action was commenced on In her decision, ALJ Hoffman applied the familiar 20 five step sequential test for determining disability. 21 noted that plaintiff's last date of insured status was June 30, 22 2017, which actually predated the date of her applications on 23 July 25, 2017. 24 engaged in substantial gainful activity since April 20, 2013. 25 She first She found at step one that plaintiff had not At step two, ALJ Hoffman concluded that plaintiff HANNAH F. CAVANAUGH, RPR, CRR, CSR, NYACR, NYRCR (315) 234-8545 ANGELA S. v. COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY 1 does suffer from severe impairments that impose more than 2 minimal limitations on her ability to perform basic work 3 functions, including an unspecified disorder of the vestibular 4 5 function bilaterally. 5 At step three, ALJ Hoffman concluded that plaintiff's 6 condition did not meet or medically equal any of the listed 7 presumptively disabling conditions set forth in the 8 Commissioner's regulations, specifically considering listings 9 2.07, 7.18, and 14.07. ALJ Hoffman then concluded based upon 10 the entirety of the record that plaintiff was capable of 11 performing a full range of light work as defined in the 12 regulations with avoiding working at unprotected heights, 13 climbing ladders, ropes, or scaffolds, and working in close 14 proximity to dangerous machinery or moving mechanical parts of 15 equipment. 16 At step four, based upon that RFC determination, ALJ 17 Hoffman concluded that there was insufficient evidence in the 18 record regarding plaintiff's past relevant work and therefore 19 proceeded to step five where, of course, the burden of proof 20 shifts to the Commissioner. 21 At step five, ALJ Hoffman concluded that if plaintiff 22 were capable of performing a full range of light work, a finding 23 of no disability would be compelled under Medical-Vocational 24 Guideline Rule 202.21. 25 limitations set forth in the RFC would not significantly effect She found that the additional HANNAH F. CAVANAUGH, RPR, CRR, CSR, NYACR, NYRCR (315) 234-8545 ANGELA S. v. COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY 1 plaintiff's ability to perform unskilled light work and that 2 S.S.R. 85-15 therefore directed a finding of no disability and 3 6 that testimony of a vocational expert was not necessary. 4 As you know, the Court's function in this case is 5 limited to determining whether correct legal principles were 6 applied and the supporting -- and the resulting determination is 7 supported by substantial evidence, defined as such relevant 8 evidence as a reasonable mind would find sufficient to support a 9 conclusion. 10 In this case, plaintiff raises three basic 11 contentions which lead to the fourth, which is that the step 12 five determination is not supported and that a vocational 13 expert's testimony was required. 14 residual functional capacity did not account for her dizziness 15 and the result of being off task or absent based upon the 16 dizziness or vertigo. 17 the opinion of Dr. Rehman concerning plaintiff being off task or 18 absent and argues that there is no competing medical opinion and 19 therefore the resulting rationale must meet the overwhelmingly 20 compelling standard that seems to be applied in the Second 21 Circuit. 22 relied on plaintiff's activities of daily living which did not 23 take into account that they could be performed while she was not 24 experiencing an episode, but perhaps not performed when she was 25 experiencing an episode of vertigo or dizziness. She first argues that the Second, she challenges the rejection of And the third argument is that the ALJ improperly HANNAH F. CAVANAUGH, RPR, CRR, CSR, NYACR, NYRCR (315) 234-8545 ANGELA S. v. COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY 1 7 The first order of business, of course, for an 2 Administrative Law Judge is to determine plaintiff's residual 3 functional capacity, which represents the range of tasks that 4 the plaintiff's capable of performing notwithstanding her 5 impairments. 6 ability to perform sustained work activities in an ordinary 7 setting on a regular and continuing basis, meaning eight hours a 8 day for five days a week or an equivalent schedule, Tankisi v. 9 Commissioner of Social Security, 521 F. App’x 29 at 33, Second Ordinarily, an RFC represents a claimant's maximum 10 Circuit 2013. The resulting RFC must be supported by 11 substantial evidence, of course. 12 Addressing first the off task and absences. 13 are several cases that plaintiff has cited, and many others that 14 follow this line of cases, that talk about an episodic 15 impairment such as multiple sclerosis, dizziness and vertigo, 16 and require an evaluation of the frequency and duration of such 17 impairments and their interruption of the ability to perform 18 work functions. 19 Circuit, 1990, is one example. 20 Colvin, from the Western District of New York, October 7, 2013. 21 The Westlaw cite is 2013 WL 5533571. 22 including those, that have been cited by plaintiff's counsel. 23 There Wilcox v. Sullivan, 917 F.2d 272 from the Sixth Closer to home is Peck v. And there are others, Plaintiff testified, again to reiterate, that she 24 experiences five to six episodes per day that can last 25 20 minutes to four hours and that she is only dizzy free four to HANNAH F. CAVANAUGH, RPR, CRR, CSR, NYACR, NYRCR (315) 234-8545 ANGELA S. v. COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY 8 1 five days per month. 2 impliedly rejected the dizziness claims and their effect on her 3 ability to perform work-related functions, including based on 4 activities of daily living and the report of Dr. Abueg who 5 issued an opinion on October 24, 2017, after reviewing 6 plaintiff's medical records, but not examining the plaintiff, in 7 that he concluded at page 63 there's insufficient evidence in 8 the file to find claimant disabled prior to the date of last 9 insured. 10 The Administrative Law Judge seems to have The opinion of Dr. Jenouri is also relied on. And 11 based on a one-time examination, Dr. Jenouri found on 12 September 29, 2017, that plaintiff has no restrictions based 13 upon the findings of today's evaluation. 14 Obviously with an episodic condition, her doctors have been 15 unable to identify the origin or the etiology of plaintiff's 16 dizziness, but certainly her reports have been consistent over 17 time that she does experience debilitating dizziness, in one 18 instance requiring her to present herself to an emergency room. 19 That's at page 511. I would expect that the Administrative Law Judge 20 would have a more fulsome discussion of such a potentially 21 debilitating and disabling condition, and that she would make an 22 assessment of the frequency and the severity and the duration of 23 the dizziness episodes and their effect, if any, on the ability 24 to perform work functions on a continuing basis and, 25 consequently, the impact on both absenteeism and being off task. HANNAH F. CAVANAUGH, RPR, CRR, CSR, NYACR, NYRCR (315) 234-8545 ANGELA S. v. COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY 9 1 I don't find it, other than if you read between the lines, but 2 it deprives the Court of meaningful judicial review not to know 3 the thinking of the Administrative Law Judge when she apparently 4 rejects that plaintiff would be absent or off task to an extent 5 that would preclude her from performing light work available in 6 the national economy. 7 Again, I find this to be a close case, and I do 8 respect Judge Hoffman, but I think this should be remanded for 9 proper consideration and evaluation of plaintiff's dizziness and 10 vertigo and the impact on her ability to perform work on a 11 full-time basis, so I will grant judgment on the pleadings to 12 plaintiff. 13 so I will order that the matter be remanded for further 14 consideration. 15 16 I do not find persuasive evidence of disability, and Thank you both for excellent presentations. I hope you have a good afternoon and a happy Thanksgiving. 17 MR. GORTON: Thank you, your Honor. 18 MS. VANEGAS: Thank you, your Honor. 19 (Time noted: 11:33 a.m.) You, as well. 20 21 22 23 24 25 HANNAH F. CAVANAUGH, RPR, CRR, CSR, NYACR, NYRCR (315) 234-8545 10 1 2 3 4 CERTIFICATE OF OFFICIAL REPORTER 5 6 7 I, HANNAH F. CAVANAUGH, RPR, CRR, CSR, NYACR, 8 NYRCR, Official U.S. Court Reporter, in and for the United 9 States District Court for the Northern District of New York, DO 10 HEREBY CERTIFY that pursuant to Section 753, Title 28, United 11 States Code, that the foregoing is a true and correct transcript 12 of the stenographically reported proceedings held in the 13 above-entitled matter and that the transcript page format is in 14 conformance with the regulations of the Judicial Conference of 15 the United States. 16 17 Dated this 19th day of November, 2021. 18 19 s/ Hannah F. Cavanaugh______________________ 20 HANNAH F. CAVANAUGH, RPR, CRR, CSR, NYACR, NYRCR 21 Official U.S. Court Reporter 22 23 24 25

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