Hill v. Commissioner of Social Security
DECISION AND ORDER granting 21 Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings; denying 30 Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings. For the foregoing reasons, Plaintiff's Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings (Docket No. 21) is GRANTED; the Commission er's Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings (Docket No. 30) is DENIED; and this case is REMANDED for further administrative proceedings consistent with this Decision and Order. The Clerk is directed to enter final judgment and then close the file. (Signed by Magistrate Judge Gary R Jones on 1/17/2023) (vfr) Transmission to Orders and Judgments Clerk for processing.
Case 7:21-cv-05199-GRJ Document 33 Filed 01/17/23 Page 1 of 24
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF NEW YORK
DECISION AND ORDER
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY,
----------------------------------------------------GARY R. JONES, United States Magistrate Judge:
In July of 2014, Plaintiff Janita H. 1 applied for Supplemental Security
Income Benefits under the Social Security Act. The Commissioner of Social
Security denied the application. Plaintiff, represented by Ny Disability, LLC,
Daniel Berger, Esq., of counsel, commenced this action seeking judicial
review of the Commissioner’s denial of benefits under 42 U.S.C. §§ 405 (g)
and 1383 (c)(3). The parties consented to the jurisdiction of a United
States Magistrate Judge. (Docket No. 14).
This case was referred to the undersigned on October 24, 2022.
Presently pending are the parties’ Motions for Judgment on the Pleadings
under Rule 12 (c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. (Docket No. 21,
Plaintiff’s name has been partially redacted in compliance with Federal Rule of Civil
Procedure 5.2 (c)(2)(B) and the recommendation of the Committee on Court
Administration and Case Management of the Judicial Conference of the United States.
Case 7:21-cv-05199-GRJ Document 33 Filed 01/17/23 Page 2 of 24
30). For the following reasons, Plaintiff’s motion is due to be granted, the
Commissioner’s motion is due to be denied, and this case is remanded for
Plaintiff applied for benefits on July 15, 2014, alleging disability as of
that date. (T at 304-309). 2 Plaintiff’s application was denied initially and on
reconsideration. She requested a hearing before an Administrative Law
Judge (“ALJ”). A hearing was held on November 29, 2016, before ALJ
Sheena Barr. (T at 42-67). On April 14, 2017, ALJ Barr issued a decision
denying, in part, the application for benefits. (T at 140-51). ALJ Barr found
that Plaintiff was disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act
beginning on February 28, 2017, but was not disabled or entitled to benefits
prior to that date. (T at 150).
Plaintiff sought review and the Appeals Council granted the request
and remanded the matter for a new hearing. (T at 156-59). A hearing was
held on March 29, 2018, before ALJ Zachary Weiss. (T at 68-123). On
June 22, 2018, ALJ Weiss issued a decision denying Plaintiff's application
for benefits. (T at 929-52).
Citations to “T” refer to the administrative record transcript at Docket No. 15
Case 7:21-cv-05199-GRJ Document 33 Filed 01/17/23 Page 3 of 24
ALJ Weiss reversed the favorable portion of ALJ Barr’s decision and
found that Plaintiff had not been disabled, and was not entitled to benefits,
for the entire period between July 15, 2014 (the application date) and June
22, 2018 (the date of his decision). (T at 951-52).
The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff’s request for review (T at 1-6).
Plaintiff sought review in the United States District Court for the Southern
District of New York. On September 28, 2020, the Honorable Andrew L.
Carter, Jr., United States District Judge, issued an Opinion and Order
reversing the denial of benefits and remanding the matter for further
proceedings. (T at 980-998).
An administrative hearing was held on January 27, 2021, before ALJ
Weiss. (T at 914). Plaintiff appeared with an attorney and testified. (T at
919-21). The ALJ also received testimony from Dr. Hopper, a medical
expert. (T at 922-24).
On February 26, 2021, ALJ Weiss issued a second decision denying
the application for benefits. (T at 888-904). The ALJ found that Plaintiff had
not engaged in substantial gainful activity since July 15, 2014 (the date she
applied for benefits). (T at 893). The ALJ concluded that Plaintiff’s diabetes
mellitus, hypertension, hyperlipidemia, obesity, major depressive disorder,
Case 7:21-cv-05199-GRJ Document 33 Filed 01/17/23 Page 4 of 24
anxiety disorder, and history of substance use disorder were severe
impairments as defined under the Act. (T at 893).
However, the ALJ found that Plaintiff did not have an impairment or
combination of impairments that met or medically equaled one of the listed
impairments in 20 CFR Part 403, Subpart P, Appendix 1. (T at 894).
The ALJ then determined that Plaintiff retained the residual functional
capacity (“RFC”) to perform medium work, as defined in 20 CFR
416.967(c), provided such work involved no more than simple, routine, and
repetitive tasks in a low-stress setting, defined as involving only occasional
decision-making, no changes in the work setting, and only occasional
contact with coworkers. (T at 896).
The ALJ noted that Plaintiff has no past relevant work. (T at 903).
Considering Plaintiff’s age, education, work experience, and RFC, the
ALJ determined that there are jobs that exist in significant numbers in the
national economy that Plaintiff can perform. (T at 904). As such, the ALJ
found that Plaintiff had not been under a disability, as defined under the
Social Security Act, and was not entitled to benefits for the period between
July 15, 2014 (the application date) and February 26, 2021 (the date of the
ALJ’s decision). (T at 904). On April 21, 2020, the Appeals Council denied
Plaintiff’s request for review, making the ALJ’s decision the Commissioner’s
Case 7:21-cv-05199-GRJ Document 33 Filed 01/17/23 Page 5 of 24
final decision. (T at 1-6). ALJ Weiss’s second decision is considered the
Commissioner’s final decision.
Plaintiff commenced this action, by and through her counsel, by filing
a Complaint on June 11, 2021. (Docket No. 1). On April 4, 2022, Plaintiff
filed a motion for judgment on the pleadings, supported by a memorandum
of law. (Docket No. 21, 22). The Commissioner interposed a cross-motion
for judgment on the pleadings, supported by a memorandum of law, on
September 9, 2022. (Docket No. 30, 31). On September 30, 2022, Plaintiff
submitted a reply memorandum of law in further support of her motion.
(Docket No. 32).
II. APPLICABLE LAW
Standard of Review
“It is not the function of a reviewing court to decide de novo whether a
claimant was disabled.” Melville v. Apfel, 198 F.3d 45, 52 (2d Cir. 1999).
The court’s review is limited to “determin[ing] whether there is substantial
evidence supporting the Commissioner's decision and whether the
Commissioner applied the correct legal standard.” Poupore v. Astrue, 566
F.3d 303, 305 (2d Cir. 2009) (per curiam).
Case 7:21-cv-05199-GRJ Document 33 Filed 01/17/23 Page 6 of 24
The reviewing court defers to the Commissioner's factual findings,
which are considered conclusive if supported by substantial evidence. See
42 U.S.C. § 405(g). “Substantial evidence” is “more than a mere scintilla”
and “means such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as
adequate to support a conclusion.” Lamay v. Commissioner of Soc. Sec.,
562 F.3d 503, 507 (2d Cir. 2009) (internal quotations omitted) (quoting
Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971)).
“In determining whether the agency's findings are supported by
substantial evidence, the reviewing court is required to examine the entire
record, including contradictory evidence and evidence from which
conflicting inferences can be drawn.” Talavera v. Astrue, 697 F.3d 145,
151 (2d Cir. 2012) (internal quotations omitted).
“When there are gaps in the administrative record or the ALJ has
applied an improper legal standard,” or when the ALJ’s rationale is unclear,
remand “for further development of the evidence” or for an explanation of
the ALJ’s reasoning is warranted. Pratts v. Chater, 94 F.3d 34, 39 (2d Cir.
Five-Step Sequential Evaluation Process
Under the Social Security Act, a claimant is disabled if he or she
lacks the ability “to engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of
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any medically determinable physical or mental impairment which can be
expected to result in death or which has lasted or can be expected to last
for a continuous period of not less than 12 months ....” 42 U.S.C. §
A claimant’s eligibility for disability benefits is evaluated pursuant to a
five-step sequential analysis:
1. The Commissioner considers whether the claimant is
currently engaged in substantial gainful activity.
2. If not, the Commissioner considers whether the claimant has
a “severe impairment” which limits his or her mental or physical
ability to do basic work activities.
3. If the claimant has a “severe impairment,” the Commissioner
must ask whether, based solely on medical evidence, claimant
has an impairment listed in Appendix 1 of the regulations. If the
claimant has one of these enumerated impairments, the
Commissioner will automatically consider him disabled, without
considering vocational factors such as age, education, and
4. If the impairment is not “listed” in the regulations, the
Commissioner then asks whether, despite the claimant's severe
impairment, he or she has residual functional capacity to
perform his or her past work.
5. If the claimant is unable to perform his or her past work, the
Commissioner then determines whether there is other work
which the claimant could perform.
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See Rolon v. Commissioner of Soc. Sec., 994 F. Supp. 2d 496, 503
(S.D.N.Y. 2014); see also 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(i)–(v),
The claimant bears the burden of proof as to the first four steps; the
burden shifts to the Commissioner at step five. See Green-Younger v.
Barnhart, 335 F.3d 99, 106 (2d Cir. 2003). At step five, the Commissioner
determines whether claimant can perform work that exists in significant
numbers in the national economy. See Butts v. Barnhart, 416 F.3d 101,
103 (2d Cir. 2005); 20 C.F.R. § 404.1560(c)(2).
Although Plaintiff complains the ALJ failed to focus upon the evidence
from the January 27, 2021, hearing—and instead relied primarily upon the
evidence from the previous hearing on March 29, 2018—the substantive
challenge to the ALJ’s decision focuses on the ALJ’s assessment of the
medical evidence, and in particular the failure of the ALJ to give appropriate
weight to the opinions of Plaintiff’s treating psychiatrists. The Court,
therefore, will first discuss the medical opinion evidence in the record and
then discuss the two critical flaws in the ALJ’s assessment of the medical
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Medical Opinion Evidence
“Regardless of its source, the ALJ must evaluate every medical
opinion in determining whether a claimant is disabled under the [Social
Security] Act.” Pena ex rel. E.R. v. Astrue, No. 11-CV-1787 (KAM), 2013
WL 1210932, at *14 (E.D.N.Y. Mar. 25, 2013) (citing 20 C.F.R. §§
404.1527(c), 416.927(d) (2020)) (internal quotation marks omitted).
A “treating physician” is the claimant’s “own physician, psychologist,
or other acceptable medical source who provides [the claimant] ... with
medical treatment or evaluation and who has, or has had, an ongoing
treatment relationship with [the claimant].” 20 C.F.R. § 404.1502.
An opinion from a treating physician is afforded controlling weight as
to the nature and severity of an impairment, provided the opinion “is wellsupported by medically acceptable clinical and laboratory diagnostic
techniques and is not inconsistent with the other substantial evidence in
[the] case record.” 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1527(c)(2); 416.927(d)(2).
However, treating physician opinions are not always dispositive. For
example, an opinion will not be afforded controlling weight if it is “not
consistent with other substantial evidence in the record, such as the
opinions of other medical experts.” Halloran v. Barnhart, 362 F.3d 28, 32
(2d Cir. 2004).
Case 7:21-cv-05199-GRJ Document 33 Filed 01/17/23 Page 10 of 24
To determine how much weight a treating physician’s opinion should
be given, the ALJ considers the “Burgess factors” identified by the Second
Circuit: “(1) the frequen[cy], length, nature, and extent of treatment; (2) the
amount of medical evidence supporting the opinion; (3) the consistency of
the opinion with the remaining medical evidence; and (4) whether the
physician is a specialist.” Estrella v. Berryhill, 925 F.3d 90, 95–96 (2d Cir.
2019)(following Burgess v. Astrue, 537 F.3d 117, 128 (2d Cir. 2008)).
The Burgess factors are also applied to the opinions of non-treating
physicians, “with the consideration of whether the source examined the
claimant or not replacing the consideration of the treatment relationship
between the source and the claimant.” McGinley v. Berryhill, No. 17 Civ.
2182, 2018 WL 4212037, at *12 (S.D.N.Y. July 30, 2018).
In May of 2016, Dr. James Herivaux, a treating psychiatrist,
completed a medical source statement. Plaintiff was receiving personal
therapy weekly and medication therapy monthly. (T at 568). Dr. Herivaux
assigned a Global Assessment of Functioning (“GAF”) score 3 of 50. (T at
568). “A GAF in the range of 41 to 50 evidences ‘[s]erious symptoms (e.g.,
The GAF “ranks psychological, social, and occupational functioning on a hypothetical
continuum of mental health illness.” Pollard v. Halter, 377 F.3d 183, 186 (2d Cir. 2004).
Case 7:21-cv-05199-GRJ Document 33 Filed 01/17/23 Page 11 of 24
suicidal ideation, severe obsessional rituals, frequent shoplifting) OR any
serious impairment in social, occupational, or school functioning (e.g., no
friends, unable to keep a job).’” Zabala v. Astrue, 595 F.3d 402, 406 n.2 (2d
Cir. 2010)(citation omitted).
Dr. Herivaux opined that Plaintiff would be absent from work about
three times per month due to her impairments or treatment and had marked
impairment in her ability to maintain attention and concentration, cope with
stress, perform at a consistent pace, and complete a normal workday and
workweek without interruptions from psychologically-based symptoms. (T
at 570). He also assessed moderate limitation in Plaintiff’s ability to
understand, remember, and carry out simple instructions, maintain
attendance, and make simple work-related decisions. (T at 570).
Dr. Herivaux found moderate impairment in Plaintiff’s ability to
interact with others and notably marked limitation in her ability to respond
appropriately to changes in a routine work setting. (T at 571). He did not
believe Plaintiff could manage her benefits in her own interest. (T at 572).
In November of 2017, Dr. Antonio Sanchez, another treating
psychiatrist, completed a medical source statement. Dr. Sanchez reported
that Plaintiff was attending weekly 30 minute sessions with a therapist,
Case 7:21-cv-05199-GRJ Document 33 Filed 01/17/23 Page 12 of 24
along with monthly 15 minute medication management appointments. (T at
802). Dr. Sanchez opined that Plaintiff would be absent from work more
than three times per month due to her impairments or treatment. (T at 803).
He assessed marked or extreme limitation with respect to Plaintiff’s
ability to maintain attention and attendance and regarding her ability to
cope with work stress, perform at a consistent pace, and complete a
normal workday. (T at 804). Dr. Sanchez found Plaintiff markedly limited in
her ability to accept workplace supervision and respond appropriately to
changes in a routine work setting. (T at 804). He opined that Plaintiff had
marked difficulties in maintaining social functioning. (T at 805). Dr.
Sanchez believed Plaintiff could manage her benefits in her own interest.
(T at 805).
Dr. Engelberg Damari
In August of 2014, Dr. Fredelyn Engelberg Damari, a psychologist,
performed a consultative psychiatric evaluation. Plaintiff was cooperative
and calm; demonstrated intact attention, concentration, and memory; had
below average cognitive functioning; and displayed good insight and
judgment. (T at 481-83).
Dr. Engelberg Damari diagnosed bipolar disorder, unspecified. (T at
483). She opined that Plaintiff could follow and understand simple
Case 7:21-cv-05199-GRJ Document 33 Filed 01/17/23 Page 13 of 24
directions, perform simple tasks independently, and maintain attention and
concentration. (T at 483). She explained that Plaintiff could not maintain a
regular schedule due to her participation in a substance abuse program but
could make appropriate decisions and had only mild impairment in social
interactions. (T at 483).
Dr. Damari found Plaintiff significantly impaired in her ability to deal
appropriately with stress. (T at 483). She opined that Plaintiff’s substance
abuse and psychiatric problems “may significantly interfere with [her] ability
to function on a daily basis.” (T at 483).
Dr. Jonas, a psychiatrist, testified at the administrative hearing held in
March of 2018 as a medical expert. Dr. Jonas was critical of the opinions of
Dr. Herivaux and Dr. Sanchez, noting that they had both assessed severe
functional limitations, while simultaneously finding that Plaintiff could
manage her finances independently. (T at 99). 4
In addition, Dr. Jonas found the severe limitations assessed by the
treating psychiatrists inconsistent with the treatment notes, which
documented mental status examinations that were “normal or relatively
Dr. Jonas erred in this aspect of his testimony, in that Dr. Herivaux opined that Plaintiff
could not manage her benefits in her own interest. (T at 572).
Case 7:21-cv-05199-GRJ Document 33 Filed 01/17/23 Page 14 of 24
normal ….” (T at 99). Dr. Jonas also noted discrepancies in what Plaintiff
told medical providers about her employment history and status. (T at 101).
Dr. Jonas believed these discrepancies cast doubt on the credibility of
Plaintiff’s self-reported symptoms. (T at 101).
Dr. Jonas also believed the medication regimen administered to
Plaintiff suggested that her psychiatric symptoms were well-managed. (T at
102-103). He questioned the consultative examiner’s diagnosis of bipolar
disorder as not well-supported by the record. (T at 105). Dr. Jones likewise
was critical of the use of the term “depressed” in the treatment notes,
suggesting that, in his view, Plaintiff would have been better described as
“unhappy” or “frustrated,” as opposed to being clinically depressed. (T at
In January of 2021, Dr. Hopper testified as a medical expert at the
administrative hearing held following remand from the District Court. Dr.
Hopper noted that the record documented symptoms of depression and
anxiety, which appeared to be adequately controlled by medication. (T at
922). He opined that Plaintiff “would best be served in work situations that
are simple, repetitive types of tasks with occasional contact with the public,
co-workers, and supervisors.” (T at 923).
Case 7:21-cv-05199-GRJ Document 33 Filed 01/17/23 Page 15 of 24
Dr. Hopper assessed mild to moderate impairment in Plaintiff’s ability
to understand, remember, or apply information; moderate impairment with
respect to social interaction; moderate limitation in maintaining
concentration, persistence, and pace; and moderate impairment as to
adapting or managing herself. (T at 923). Dr. Hopper recognized that there
was some waxing and waning of symptoms in the treatment notes but
characterized this variability as “still under the umbrella of being adequately
controlled with medication.” (T at 924).
ALJ’s Consideration of the Medical Opinion Evidence
The ALJ gave “great weight” to the opinion of Dr. Engelberg Damari,
the consultative examiner, finding it consistent with the mental status
examinations and overall treatment record. (T at 901). The ALJ likewise
found Dr. Jonas’s testimony consistent with the record. (T at 901).
On the other hand, the ALJ discounted the assessments of the
treating psychiatrists, Dr. Herivaux and Dr. Sanchez, finding them
inconsistent with the treatment record. (T at 899-901). And even though
Dr. Hopper testified at the January 2021 hearing the ALJ did not discuss
his testimony, other than simply noting that Dr. Hopper had testified. (T at
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There are two fundamental problems with the ALJ’s evaluation and
analysis of the medical evidence.
First, the ALJ did not sufficiently address the question of whether
Plaintiff would decompensate if required to sustain a schedule and meet
the demands of competitive, remunerative work.
Although the ALJ acknowledged that both treating psychiatrists
believed Plaintiff would decompensate and would be unable to sustain a
schedule over the course of a workday and workweek, the ALJ ignored
these opinions and apparently discounted them simply because there was
no previous medical evidence that she had decompensated. (T at 900,
The failure to give these opinions of the treating psychiatrists
appropriate weight was error. The Second Circuit has recognized the
particular value of treating source opinions when reviewing claims involving
mental impairments. See Flynn v. Comm'r of SSA, 122 (2d Cir. 2018)(“The
treatment provider’s perspective would seem all the more important in
cases involving mental health, which are not susceptible to clear records
such as [x-rays] or MRIs. Rather, they depend almost exclusively on less
discretely measurable factors, like what the patient says in consultations.”).
Case 7:21-cv-05199-GRJ Document 33 Filed 01/17/23 Page 17 of 24
Notably, the failure to accord due weight to the treating psychiatrists’
opinions on this aspect of Plaintiff’s functioning was further problematic
because their opinions were consistent with the assessment of the
consultative examiner, Dr. Engelberg Damari, who found Plaintiff
significantly impaired in her ability to deal appropriately with stress and
opined that Plaintiff’s psychiatric problems “may significantly interfere with
[her] ability to function on a daily basis.” (T at 483). The ALJ gave “great
weight” to Dr. Engelberg Damari’s assessment but did not address this
critical consistency between the medical opinions. (T at 901).
Further, the record reflects that Plaintiff’s counsel appeared to
attempt to elicit an opinion on this subject from Dr. Hopper during the
January 2021 hearing but was prevented from doing so by the ALJ. (T at
The ALJ’s sole justification for discounting the treating psychiatrists’
assessments that Plaintiff would decompensate under work stress and be
unable to sustain a schedule was that there was no documentation in the
treatment record that Plaintiff had previously decompensated. (T at 900).
The ALJ’s reason, however, misses the point. Plaintiff was living in a
relatively sheltered, structured environment while she was receiving
treatment and thus the fact that she had not decompensated in that
Case 7:21-cv-05199-GRJ Document 33 Filed 01/17/23 Page 18 of 24
environment has little relevance to whether she would decompensate when
exposed to the stress and social demands of consistent work. The ALJ
instead should have addressed whether and to what extent Plaintiff’s welldocumented symptoms and recognized severe mental impairments would
be exacerbated if she was required to work.
The Commissioner’s own regulations recognize there is a difference
between a claimant’s ability to complete tasks in a structured environment
versus the ability to complete tasks in a demanding work setting. The
regulations state in relevant part that a claimant’s “ability to complete tasks
in settings that are highly structured, or that are less demanding or more
supportive than typical work settings does not necessarily demonstrate
[her] ability to complete tasks in the context of regular employment during a
normal workday or work week.” 20 C.F.R. Subpt. P, App. 1 § 12.00 (C) (6)
(b); see also Primo v. Berryhill, 17 Civ. 6875, 2019 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 27074,
at *31 (S.D.N.Y. Feb. 19, 2019)(noting that ALJs must recognize that “the
effects of a mental health issue may be different in a work setting than in a
non-work setting”); Flynn v. Comm’r of Soc. Sec. Admin., 729 Fed. Appx.
119, 121 (2d Cir. 2018)(decision to discount opinion based on treatment
notes indicating claimant was “well-groomed and with calm affect” was “an
assessment ... beyond the scope of the ALJ’s authority”).
Case 7:21-cv-05199-GRJ Document 33 Filed 01/17/23 Page 19 of 24
Second, the ALJ erred by failing to adequately address Plaintiff’s
limitations with social interaction and in particular regarding her ability to
interact with the public and accept workplace supervision. Dr. Herivaux
assessed moderate impairment regarding Plaintiff’s ability to deal with the
public, accept instructions, and respond appropriately to criticism from
supervisors. (T at 571). And notably, Dr. Herivaux opined that Plaintiff had
marked difficulties in maintaining social functioning. (T at 571). Dr.
Sanchez likewise found marked impairment in social functioning and
assessed marked loss in the ability to accept instructions and respond
appropriately to criticism from supervisors. (T at 804). Dr. Hopper opined
that Plaintiff “would best be served in work situations that are simple,
repetitive types of tasks with occasional contact with the public, co-workers,
and supervisors.” (T at 923).
Even though the treating psychiatrists had each opined that Plaintiff
had marked impairment in social functioning, the ALJ (without justification)
ignored those opinions and instead found that Plaintiff had moderate
limitation in social interaction (T at 895). To account for moderate limitation
in social interaction the ALJ limited Plaintiff to only occasional contact with
coworkers. But importantly, the RFC determination contains no limitation
with respect to accepting workplace supervision or interacting with the
Case 7:21-cv-05199-GRJ Document 33 Filed 01/17/23 Page 20 of 24
public. (T at 896). Conspicuously absent from the ALJ’s written decision is
any discussion explaining how he reached this conclusion. The ALJ’s
written decision has no explanation of what weight, if any, he gave Dr.
Hopper’s opinion so there is no way for this Court to evaluate how the ALJ
reconciled his RFC determination with Dr. Hopper’s assessment of
limitation in Plaintiff’s ability to interact with the public and supervisors.
The failure to assess Plaintiff’s ability to interact with the public and
supervisors is important because “[t]he public, supervisors, and co-workers
are distinct groups, and are separately addressed on the Commissioner’s
mental residual capacity forms.” Michelle A. v. Saul, No. 19-CV-00991MJR, 2020 WL 7223235, at *5 (W.D.N.Y. Dec. 8, 2020) (citation and
alteration omitted); see also Fuller v. Berryhill, No. 17-CV-00887-LGF, 2019
WL 421484, at *4 (W.D.N.Y. Feb. 4, 2019) (“[T]he groups of the public,
supervisors, and co-workers are distinct for purposes of assessing an
applicant's capacity to relate to others....”).
The ALJ erred by imposing limitations as to only one of these three
distinct groups. And he provided no explanation as to how he drew this
distinction and cited no evidence that Plaintiff could perform work involving
unlimited interaction with the public and supervisors. Given the significant
limitation in this domain, as assessed by the treating psychiatrists, and
Case 7:21-cv-05199-GRJ Document 33 Filed 01/17/23 Page 21 of 24
recognized by the Commissioner’s own medical expert, the ALJ’s silence to
address this domain is material error.
An ALJ must provide an adequate "roadmap" between the record and
the result. The failure to do so, as here, deprives the Court of the ability to
determine accurately whether the ALJ’s decision is supported by
substantial evidence. Ferraris v. Heckler, 728 F.2d 582, 587 (2d Cir. 1984)
(noting that “the crucial factors in any determination must be set forth with
sufficient specificity to enable us to decide whether the determination is
supported by substantial evidence”).
The ALJ has a responsibility to “build an accurate and logical bridge
from the evidence to [his] conclusion to enable meaningful review.” Horton
v. Saul, 19-CV-8944, 2021 WL 1199874, at *12 (S.D.N.Y. March 30, 2021)
(quoting Hamedallah ex rel. E.B. v. Astrue, 876 F. Supp.2d 133, 142
(N.D.N.Y. 2012)); see also Diaz v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., No. 18-CV-8643
(SN), 2020 WL 1699996, at *11 (S.D.N.Y. Apr. 8, 2020)(“The ALJ’s
consideration of these factors must be evident from the ALJ’s decision, as
the claimant is entitled to an explanation as to why the ALJ did not credit
the findings of a treating physician.”).
Here, there is no roadmap from the ALJ’s written decision and the
record evidence explaining how the ALJ reached the conclusion that
Case 7:21-cv-05199-GRJ Document 33 Filed 01/17/23 Page 22 of 24
Plaintiff was limited to occasional contact with coworkers but could have
unlimited contact with the public and supervisors. Therefore, remand is
mandated so that the ALJ can address these deficiencies and explain how
he reconciled these limitations based upon the medical evidence and the
opinions of the treating psychiatrists.
“Sentence four of Section 405 (g) provides district courts with the
authority to affirm, reverse, or modify a decision of the Commissioner ‘with
or without remanding the case for a rehearing.’” Butts v. Barnhart, 388 F.3d
377, 385 (2d Cir. 2002) (quoting 42 U.S.C. § 405 (g)). Remand for further
administrative proceedings is the appropriate remedy “[w]here there are
gaps in the administrative record or the ALJ has applied an improper legal
standard.” Rosa v. Callahan, 168 F.3d 72, 82-83 (2d Cir. 1999); see also
Rhone v. Colvin, No. 13-CV-5766 (CM)(RLE), 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS
180514, at *28 (S.D.N.Y. Nov. 6, 2014).
This Court concludes that a remand is required for proper
consideration of the medical opinion evidence regarding Plaintiff’s ability to
sustain a schedule and engage in interactions with the public and
Case 7:21-cv-05199-GRJ Document 33 Filed 01/17/23 Page 23 of 24
This Court, however, is mindful that Plaintiff’s initial application for
benefits has been pending for more than eight (8) years and this matter has
already been remanded once. Consequently, this Court exercises its
discretion and directs that further proceedings before the ALJ be completed
within 120 days of the date hereof. If the decision is a denial of benefits,
then a final decision shall be rendered within 60 days of any appeal by
Plaintiff. See Martinez v. Saul, No. 19-CV-6515 (BCM), 2021 WL 2588783,
at *11 (S.D.N.Y. June 23, 2021).
In addition, the Court finds that this is the rare case in which
assignment to a different ALJ on remand should be directed. See Lebron
v. Colvin, No. 13CV9140, 2015 WL 1223868, at *25 (S.D.N.Y. Mar. 16,
For the foregoing reasons, Plaintiff’s Motion for Judgment on the
Pleadings (Docket No. 21) is GRANTED; the Commissioner’s Motion for
Judgment on the Pleadings (Docket No. 30) is DENIED; and this case is
REMANDED for further administrative proceedings consistent with this
Case 7:21-cv-05199-GRJ Document 33 Filed 01/17/23 Page 24 of 24
Decision and Order. The Clerk is directed to enter final judgment and then
close the file.
s/ Gary R. Jones
Dated: January 17, 2023
GARY R. JONES
United States Magistrate Judge
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