Moses v. Saul
DECISION AND ORDER that Defendant's motion for judgment on the pleadings (Dkt. No. 23 ) is DENIED. Plaintiff's motion for judgment on the pleadings (Dkt. No. 17) is GRANTED. Defendant's decision denying Plaintiff disability benefits is VACATED. This matter is REMANDED to Defendant, without a directed finding of disability, for further proceedings consistent with this Decision and Order, pursuant to sentence four of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Signed by Chief Judge Glenn T. Suddaby on 5/10/2022. (sal )
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UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
NORTHERN DISTRICT OF NEW YORK
KILOLO KIJAKAZI, Acting Commissioner
of the Social Security Administration,
THE DEHAAN LAW FIRM, P.C.
Counsel for Plaintiff
300 Rabro Drive, Suite 101
Hauppauge, NY 11788
JOHN W. DEHAAN, ESQ.
SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION
OFFICE OF GENERAL COUNSEL
Counsel for Defendant
JFK Federal Building, Room 625
15 New Sudbury Street
Boston, MA 02203
MOLLY CARTER, ESQ.
Special Assistant U.S. Attorney
GLENN T. SUDDABY, Chief United States District Judge
DECISION and ORDER
Currently before the Court, in this action filed by Jennell M. (“Plaintiff”) against Acting
Commissioner of Social Security Kilolo Kijakazi (“Defendant”) pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g)
and 1383(c)(3), are (1) Plaintiff’s motion for judgment on the pleadings, and (2) Defendant’s
motion for judgment on the pleadings. (Dkt. Nos. 17, 23.) For the reasons set forth below,
Plaintiff’s motion for judgment on the pleadings is granted, and Defendant’s motion for
judgment on the pleadings is denied.
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Plaintiff was born in 2000, making her 18 years old at her application filing date and 19
years old at the date of the ALJ’s decision. (T. 10.) 2 In her application, Plaintiff alleged that she
is disabled due to autism spectrum disorder, attention deficit hyperactive disorder (“ADHD”),
diabetes type II, and migraine headaches. (T. 205.)
On February 1, 2018, Plaintiff applied for Supplemental Security Income. (T. 10.) This
application was initially denied on June 12, 2018, after which Plaintiff timely requested a hearing
before an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”). (Id.) Plaintiff appeared at a virtual hearing before
ALJ Jude B. Mulvey, on July 23, 2019. (T. 10, 82-106.) On September 4, 2019, the ALJ issued
a written decision finding Plaintiff not disabled under the Social Security Act. (T. 10-19.) On
June 2, 2020, the Appeals Council denied review, making the ALJ’s decision the final decision
of the Commissioner. (T. 1-6.)
The ALJ’s Decision
Generally, in her decision, the ALJ made the following ten findings of fact and
conclusions of law. (T. 10-19.) First, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial
gainful employment since February 1, 2018, the application date. (T. 12.) Second, the ALJ
found that Plaintiff’s obesity, ADHD, and autism spectrum disorder were severe impairments.
(T. 12-13.) Third, the ALJ found that Plaintiff’s severe impairments did not meet or medically
The Administrative Transcript is found at Dkt. No. 12. Citations to the Administrative
Transcript will be referenced as “T.” and the Bates-stamped page numbers as set forth therein
will be used rather than the page numbers assigned by the Court’s CM/ECF electronic filing
Case 5:20-cv-00844-GTS Document 24 Filed 05/10/22 Page 3 of 13
equal one of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R. § 404, Subpart P, App. 1 (the “Listings”);
specifically, the ALJ considered Listings 12.10 and 12.11. (T. 13-15.) Fourth, the ALJ found
that Plaintiff had the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform
a full range of work at the medium exertional level as defined in 20
C.F.R. § 404.1567(b) and 416.967(b), but with the following nonexertional limitations: she can perform simple, routine, repetitive
work involving only simple work related decisions; she can perform
work which does not require more than simple, short interactions
with supervisors and coworkers and does not require more than
occasional contact with the public and, although the individual may
work in proximity with others, the tasks performed should not
require working in conjunction with others and should
predominately involve working with objects rather than people.
(T. 15-17.) Fifth, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had no past relevant work. (T. 17.) Sixth, the
ALJ found that Plaintiff was born on January 16, 2000, making her a younger individual between
the age of 18-49. (T. 17.) Seventh, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had at least a high school
education and was able to communicate in English. (T. 18.) Eighth, the ALJ found that
transferability of job skills is not an issue because Plaintiff does not have past relevant work. (T.
18.) Ninth, the ALJ found that Plaintiff was able to perform other work in the national economy
as a sweeper cleaner, automobile detailer, and warehouse worker. (T. 18.) Tenth, the ALJ
therefore concluded that Plaintiff was not disabled during the relevant time period. (T. 19.)
The Parties’ Briefing on Their Motions
Plaintiff’s Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings
Generally, in her motion, Plaintiff makes two main arguments. (Dkt. No. 17 [Pl.’s Mem.
of Law].) First, Plaintiff argues that the ALJ did not properly consider the medical evidence as
required by 20 C.F.R. § 416.920c. (Id. at 23-32.) Specifically, Plaintiff argues that the ALJ
erred in her evaluation of the psychiatric and cognitive medical evidence for the following two
reasons: (1) the ALJ failed to fully develop the record because she did not obtain the full
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treatment records from Dr. Charles Harris, M.D. (“Dr. Harris”); and (2) the ALJ erroneously
afforded more weight to the opinion of Dr. Sandra Juriga, Ph.D. (“Dr. Juriga”) than the opinions
of Dr. Samuel Chapman, Ph.D. (“Dr. Chapman”), Dr. David Hilton, M.D. (“Dr. Hilton”), Dr.
Toby Davis, Ph.D. (“Dr. Davis”), Ms. Jaclyn Hunt, Ed.S. (“Ms. Hunt”), Yvonne Davis,
PMHNP-BC (“Nurse Davis”), and Rebecca Hicks, LMSW (“Ms. Hicks”). (Id. at 25-32.)
Second, Plaintiff argues that the ALJ did not properly evaluate Plaintiff’s credibility. (Id.
at 32-35.) Specifically, Plaintiff argues that the ALJ failed to consider how her autism spectrum
disorder interfered with her ability to engage in normal daily activities, impacted her selfperception, and impacted her ability to communicate with others. (Id. at 33-35.)
Defendant’s Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings
Generally, in her motion, Defendant makes four main arguments. (Dkt. No. 23 [Def.’s
Mem. of Law].) First, Defendant argues that the ALJ was not required to request from Dr.
Harris records of treatment before the relevant time period. (Id. at 8-13.) Second, Defendant
argues that the ALJ properly evaluated the evidence under 20 C.F.R. § 416.920c for the
following two reasons: (1) the ALJ’s analysis of Dr. Juriga’s assessment complied with the
applicable regulations; and (2) Dr. Chapman, Dr. Hilton, Dr. Davis, and Ms. Hunt did not give
medical opinions regarding Plaintiff’s functional abilities during the relevant period. (Id. at 1321.) Third, Defendant argues that substantial evidence supports the ALJ’s finding that Plaintiff’s
subjective complaints were not entirely consistent with the medical and other evidence. (Id. at
21-26.) Fourth, as a result, Defendant argues that substantial evidence supports the ALJ’s
finding that Plaintiff could mentally do a range of simple, routine, and repetitive work during the
relevant period. (Id. at 7-26.)
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APPLICABLE LEGAL STANDARDS
Standard of Review
A court reviewing a denial of disability benefits may not determine de novo whether an
individual is disabled. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g); Wagner v. Sec’y of Health & Human Servs., 906 F.2d
856, 860 (2d Cir. 1990). Rather, the Commissioner’s determination will be reversed only if the
correct legal standards were not applied, or it was not supported by substantial evidence. See
Johnson v. Bowen, 817 F.2d 983, 986 (2d Cir. 1987) (“Where there is a reasonable basis for
doubt whether the ALJ applied correct legal principles, application of the substantial evidence
standard to uphold a finding of no disability creates an unacceptable risk that a claimant will be
deprived of the right to have her disability determination made according to the correct legal
principles.”); accord, Grey v. Heckler, 721 F.2d 41, 46 (2d Cir. 1983), Marcus v. Califano, 615
F.2d 23, 27 (2d Cir. 1979). “Substantial evidence” is evidence that amounts to “more than a
mere scintilla,” and has been defined as “such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might
accept as adequate to support a conclusion.” Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971).
Where evidence is deemed susceptible to more than one rational interpretation, the
Commissioner’s conclusion must be upheld. Rutherford v. Schweiker, 685 F.2d 60, 62 (2d Cir.
“To determine on appeal whether the ALJ’s findings are supported by substantial
evidence, a reviewing court considers the whole record, examining evidence from both sides,
because an analysis of the substantiality of the evidence must also include that which detracts
from its weight.” Williams v. Bowen, 859 F.2d 255, 258 (2d Cir. 1988). If supported by
substantial evidence, the Commissioner’s finding must be sustained “even where substantial
evidence may support the plaintiff’s position and despite that the court’s independent analysis of
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the evidence may differ from the [Commissioner’s].” Rosado v. Sullivan, 805 F. Supp. 147, 153
(S.D.N.Y. 1992). In other words, this Court must afford the Commissioner’s determination
considerable deference, and may not substitute “its own judgment for that of the
[Commissioner], even if it might justifiably have reached a different result upon a de novo
review.” Valente v. Sec’y of Health & Human Servs., 733 F.2d 1037, 1041 (2d Cir. 1984).
Standard to Determine Disability
The Commissioner has established a five-step evaluation process to determine whether an
individual is disabled as defined by the Social Security Act. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 416.920.
The Supreme Court has recognized the validity of this sequential evaluation process. Bowen v.
Yuckert, 482 U.S. 137, 140-42 (1987). The five-step process is as follows:
First, the [Commissioner] considers whether the claimant is
currently engaged in substantial gainful activity. If he is not, the
[Commissioner] next considers whether the claimant has a “severe
impairment” which significantly limits his physical or mental ability
to do basic work activities. If the claimant suffers such an
impairment, the third inquiry is whether, based solely on medical
evidence, the claimant has an impairment which is listed in
Appendix 1 of the regulations. If the claimant has such an
impairment, the [Commissioner] will consider him disabled without
considering vocational factors such as age, education, and work
experience; the [Commissioner] presumes that a claimant who is
afflicted with a “listed” impairment is unable to perform substantial
gainful activity. Assuming the claimant does not have a listed
impairment, the fourth inquiry is whether, despite the claimant’s
severe impairment, he has the residual functional capacity to
perform his past work. Finally, if the claimant is unable to perform
his past work, the [Commissioner] then determines whether there is
other work which the claimant could perform. Under the cases
previously discussed, the claimant bears the burden of the proof as
to the first four steps, while the [Commissioner] must prove the final
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Berry v. Schweiker, 675 F.2d 464, 467 (2d Cir. 1982); accord, McIntyre v. Colvin, 758 F.3d 146,
150 (2d Cir. 2014). “If at any step a finding of disability or non-disability can be made, the SSA
will not review the claim further.” Barnhart v. Thompson, 540 U.S. 20, 24 (2003).
Whether the ALJ Adhered to Her Duty to Develop the Record
After carefully considering whether the ALJ adhered to her duty to develop the record,
the Court answers this question in the negative for the reasons stated in Plaintiff’s memorandum
of law. (Dkt. No. 17 [Pl.’s Mem. of Law].) To those reasons, the Court adds the following
Because Plaintiff’s application for benefits was filed in February of 2018, the amended
regulations regarding the weighing of medical source opinion evidence apply to her claim.
Under those regulations, the Commissioner “will not defer or give any specific evidentiary
weight, including controlling weight, to any medical opinion(s), . . . including those from your
medical sources,” but rather will consider whether those opinions are persuasive by primarily
considering weather the opinions are supported by and consistent with the record in the case. 20
C.F.R. § 416.920c(a); see 82 Fed. Reg. 5844-01, 2017 WL 168819, at *5853 (stating that, in
enacting the new regulations, the agency was explicitly “not retaining the treating source rule”).
An ALJ must articulate in his or her determination how persuasive he or she finds all of the
medical opinions and explain how he or she has considered the supportability 1 and consistency 2
On the matter of supportability, the regulations state that “[t]he more relevant the
objective medical evidence and supporting explanations presented by a medical source are to
support his or her medical opinion(s) or prior administrative medical finding(s), the more
persuasive the medical opinion or prior administrative medical finding(s) will be.” 20 C.F.R. §§
On the matter of consistency, the regulations state that “[t]he more consistent a medical
opinion(s) or prior administrative medical finding(s) is with the evidence from other medical
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factors for those opinions. 20 C.F.R. § 416.920c(b). The ALJ also may—but is not required
to—explain how he or she considered the other relevant enumerated factors related to the
source’s relationship with the claimant, including the length of any treatment relationship, the
frequency of examinations by the source and the purpose and extent of the treatment
relationship, whether the source had an examining relationship with the claimant, whether the
source specializes in an area of care, and any other factors that are relevant to the persuasiveness
of that source’s opinion. 20 C.F.R. § 416.920c(c).
“[T]he social security ALJ, unlike a judge in a trial, must on behalf of all claimants . . .
affirmatively develop the record in light of the essentially non-adversarial nature of a benefits
proceeding.” Morris v. Berryhill, 721 F. App’x 25, 27 (2d Cir. 2018). Specifically, “[a]n ALJ
has an independent duty to make reasonable efforts to obtain a report prepared by a claimant’s
treating physician . . . in order to afford the claimant a full and fair hearing.” Barton v. Colvin,
13-CV-1199, 2015 WL 5511999, at *4 (N.D.N.Y. Sept. 15, 2015) (Suddaby, J.). The Court, in
turn, must conduct a “searching investigation of the record” to ensure that Plaintiff received a
“full hearing under the regulations and in accordance with the beneficent purposes of the Act.”
Hankerson v. Harris, 636 F.2d 893, 895 (2d Cir. 1980). When the ALJ has failed to adequately
develop the record, the Court must remand to the Commissioner for further development. See,
e.g., Pratts v. Chater, 94 F.3d 34, 39 (2d Cir. 1996).
Plaintiff argues that the ALJ erred by failing to develop the full treatment records
(spanning roughly 10 months) from her treating physician, Dr. Harris. (Dkt. No. 17, at 25-32
[Pl.’s Mem. of Law].) A board-certified psychiatrist, Dr. Harris, treated Plaintiff from February
sources and nonmedical sources in the claim, the more persuasive the medical opinion(s) or prior
administrative medical finding(s) will be.” 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520c(c)(2), 416.920c(c)(2).
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22, 2017, until December 18, 2017, when she “aged-out” of the regimented treatment program. 3
(Id. at 25.)
Of course, where the missing information is immaterial or is otherwise contained in the
administrative record, no such obligation exists. See Stacy D. v. Cmm’r of Soc. Sec., 358 F.
Supp.3d 197, 206 (N.D.N.Y. 2019) (Baxter, M.J.) (finding that the ALJ is under no obligation to
seek additional information “where the ALJ already possesses a ‘complete medical history’”);
Hooper v. Colvin, 199 F. Supp.3d 796, 814 (S.D.N.Y. 2016) (“The inquiry into the need for a
treating physician’s opinion hinges on the ‘circumstances of the particular case, the
comprehensiveness of the administrative record,’ and ‘whether . . . [the record,] although lacking
the opinion of [the] treating physician, was sufficiently comprehensive to permit an informed
finding by the ALJ.’”) (quoting Sanchez v. Colvin, 13-CV-6303, 2015 WL 736102, at *5-6
[S.D.N.Y. Feb. 20, 2015]).
More specifically, the Regulations require that, before the ALJ make his or her
determination that a claimant is not disabled,
[the SSA] will develop [the claimant’s] complete medical history
for at least 12 months preceding the month in which [the claimant]
file[s his or her] application unless there is a reason to believe that
development of an earlier period is necessary or unless [the
claimant] say[s] that [his or her] disability began less than 12 months
before [the claimant] filed [his or her] application. [The SSA] will
make every reasonable effort to help [the claimant] get medical
evidence from [his or her] own medical sources and entities that
maintain [the claimant’s] medical sources’ evidence when [he or
she] give [the SSA] permission to request the reports.
20 C.F.R. § 404.1512(b).
Although the administrative record does not include Dr. Harris’ treatment records, it does
include Plaintiff’s “Discharge Summary/Service Plan-Part I,” signed by Dr. Harris and
“confirmed” by Tyne McCreadie. (T. 375-83.) In addition, according to Plaintiff, the
administrative record includes numerous references to Dr. Harris’ treatment records, but not the
treatment records themselves. (Dkt. No. 17, at 26.)
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“Every reasonable effort” means that the Social Security Administration must do as
make an initial request for evidence from [a claimant’s] medical
source and, at any time between 10 and 20 calendar days after the
initial request . . . make one follow-up request to obtain the medical
evidence necessary to make a determination. The medical source
will have a minimum of 10 calendar days from the date of [the
SSA’s] follow-up request to reply, unless [the SSA’s] experience
with that source indicates that a longer period is advisable in a
Id. § 404.1512(b)(i); accord Assenheimer v. Comm’r of Soc. Sec., 13-CV-8825, 2015 WL
5707164, at *15 (S.D.N.Y. Sept. 29, 2015). Furthermore, a claimant’s “complete medical
history” includes, in relevant part, “the records of medical source(s) covering at least the 12
months preceding the month in which [the claimant] file[s her or her] application.” 20 C.F.R. §
Generally, before an ALJ can reject a treating physician’s diagnosis, he or she must
attempt to fill any obvious and material gaps in the administrative record. See Rosa v. Callahan,
168 F.3d 72, 79 (2d Cir. 1999) (“[A]n ALJ cannot reject a treating physician’s diagnosis without
first attempting to fill any clear gaps in the administrative record.”); cf. Moran v. Astrue, 569
F.3d 108, 114-15 (2d Cir. 2009) (“We vacate not because the ALJ’s decision was not supported
by substantial evidence but because the ALJ should have developed a more comprehensive
record before making his decision.”). Of course, the ALJ is not required to obtain an opinion or
every piece of evidence from a treating source before making a determination, but rather must
make only a reasonable effort to do so. See Drake v. Astrue, 443 F. App’x 653, 656 (2d Cir.
2011) (finding that the fact that a provider did not additional records to the ALJ did not mean
that the ALJ had failed to take reasonable efforts to develop the record because the ALJ had
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requested those records); Keys v. Berryhill, 16-CV-0448, 2017 WL 4324689, at *3 (W.D.N.Y.
Sept. 29, 2017) (finding that, where the ALJ sent a request for records to a provider and then sent
a follow-up request for additional information, it was reasonable for the ALJ to construe the
provider’s lack of response to the second request as an indication that the provider had sent all
the information it had available).
“The ALJ’s duty to develop the record is further enhanced when the disability in question
is a psychiatric impairment.” Santiago v. Comm’r of Soc. Sec., 13-CV-3951, 2014 WL 3819304,
at *15 (S.D.N.Y. Aug. 4, 2014); see also Atkinson v. Barnhart, 87 F. App’x 766, 768 (2d Cir.
2004) (summary order) (ordering remand for failure to develop the record where the ALJ
neglected to seek medical records from treating physicians identified by claimant); cf. Rutkowski
v. Astrue, 368 F. App’x 226, 229 (2d Cir. 2010) (finding that the ALJ discharged his duties to
develop the record where he requested documents from various relevant medical sources
including treating and primary physicians).
Although the evidence in question precedes the relevant disability period, the Court finds
that the evidence is nonetheless relevant to the ALJ’s inquiry at step two of the disability analysis
(i.e., whether the claimant has a severe impairment that significantly limits her physical or
mental ability to do basic work activities). While it is true that SSI benefits can be granted only
prospectively and that the issue before the Court is whether Plaintiff was disabled as of the date
of her application (i.e., on February 1, 2018), the Court finds that references to Dr. Harris’
treatment notes between February 2017 and December 2017, indicate the presence of an ongoing
psychological impairment. See Baladi v. Barnhart, 33 F. App’x 562, 564 (2d Cir. 2002)
(“Because SSI benefits . . . can only be granted prospectively, the only issue to be determined . . .
was whether plaintiff was disabled as of the date of his application . . . .”). Although Dr. Harris
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provided treatment to Plaintiff before she had filed her SSI application on February 1, 2018,
“evidence of Plaintiff’s condition before h[er February 1, 2018] application date was not relevant
to the ALJ’s inquiry at step two [of the disability analysis], to the extent [the evidence] did not
indicate an ongoing impairment.” Jeffrey G. v. Comm’r of Soc. Sec., 20-CV-1016, 2021 WL
4844146, at *6 (N.D.N.Y. Oct. 18, 2021) (Baxter, M.J.) (emphasis added). Here, however, Dr.
Harris’ treatment notes before February 1, 2018, do indicate an ongoing impairment.
Indeed, any reports authored by Dr. Harris pertaining to his treatment of Plaintiff between
February 2017 and December 2017 clearly occurred within 12 months before Plaintiff’s
application of February 1, 2018. Therefore, under 20 C.F.R. § 404.1512(b), the ALJ must have
made every reasonable effort to obtain those treatment records that were authored by Dr. Harris.
While the SSA made an initial request for Plaintiff’s treatment records from the medical source
Watertown Child and Adolescent Wellness Clinic (T. 375), the Court finds that (after a review of
the administrative record) the ALJ did not make every reasonable effort to obtain Dr. Harris’
treatment notes, because no follow-up request was made to obtain them. Accordingly, remand is
warranted because the ALJ failed to ensure that every reasonable effort was made to obtain
Plaintiff’s treatment records authored by Dr. Harris dated between February 22, 2017, until
December 18, 2017.
Finally, the Court rejects Defendant’s argument that Plaintiff failed to meet her burden in
that “neither Plaintiff nor her representative raised the issue of missing treatment notes.” (Dkt.
No. 23, at 12 [Def.’s Mem. of Law].) Here, it is of no consequence that Plaintiff (who was
represented at her hearing) did not object to the ALJ continuing the proceeding without
accounting for the missing treatment records, because “where there are deficiencies in the record,
the ALJ is under an affirmative obligation to develop a claimant’s medical history ‘even when
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the claimant is represented by counsel or . . . by a paralegal.’” Rosa, 168 F.3d at 79 (quoting
Perez v. Chater, 77 F.3d 41, 47 [2d Cir. 1996]); see also Pratts v. Chater, 94 F.3d 34, 37 (2d Cir.
1996) (“It is the rule in our circuit that ‘the ALJ, unlike a trial judge, must [her]self affirmatively
develop the record’ in light of ‘the essentially non-adversarial nature of a benefits proceeding.’
This duty . . . exists even when . . . the claimant is represented by counsel.”) (citation omitted).
For all of these reasons, the Court finds that the gap in the administrative record requires
remand. In order to facilitate a determination supported by substantial evidence, the ALJ is
instructed to supplement the record by requesting and obtaining the above-referenced missing
treatment notes authored by Dr. Harris. The ALJ must then redetermine Plaintiff’s claim, and
issue a new decision.
ACCORDINGLY, it is
ORDERED that Defendant’s motion for judgment on the pleadings (Dkt. No. 23) is
DENIED; and it is further
ORDERED that Plaintiff’s motion for judgment on the pleadings (Dkt. No. 17) is
GRANTED; and it is further
ORDERED that Defendant’s decision denying Plaintiff disability benefits is
VACATED; and it is further
ORDERED that this matter is REMANDED to Defendant, without a directed finding of
disability, for further proceedings consistent with this Decision and Order, pursuant to sentence
four of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).
Dated: May 10, 2022
Syracuse, New York
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