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Vanessa Hernandez v. Carolyn W. Colvin

February 22, 2013

VANESSA HERNANDEZ, PLAINTIFF,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, ACTING COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Sheri Pym United States Magistrate Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

I.

INTRODUCTION

On May 10, 2012, plaintiff Vanessa Hernandez filed a complaint against defendant Michael J. Astrue, seeking a review of a denial of a period of disability*fn1 and disability insurance benefits ("DIB") and supplemental security income ("SSI"). Both plaintiff and defendant have consented to proceed for all purposes before the assigned Magistrate Judge pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c). The court deems the matter suitable for adjudication without oral argument.

Plaintiff presents two disputed issues for decision: (1) whether the Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") properly discounted plaintiff's credibility; and

(2) whether the ALJ properly evaluated the lay witness testimony of plaintiff's friend, Dianette Porter. Plaintiff's Memorandum in Support of Complaint ("Pl. Mem.") at 4-13; Memorandum in Support of Defendant's Answer ("Def. Mem.") at 2-7.

Having carefully studied, inter alia, the parties's moving papers, the Administrative Record ("AR"), and the decision of the ALJ, the court concludes that, as detailed herein, the ALJ improperly discounted plaintiff's credibility. Therefore, the court remands this matter to the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration ("Commissioner") in accordance with the principles and instructions enunciated in this Memorandum Opinion and Order.

II.

FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

Plaintiff, who was forty-one years old on the date of her June 29, 2010 administrative hearing, completed two years of college. AR at 19, 27, 30, 57, 198, 210. Her past relevant work was as a home attendant, tutor, fast food worker, telephone solicitor and cashier. Id. at 43, 212-19.

On January 8, 2007, plaintiff filed applications for DIB and SSI due to diabetes, carpal tunnel syndrome, asthma, left arm neuropathy, high blood pressure, bipolar disorder and anxiety. Id. at 86-87, 106, 111, 203. The Commissioner denied plaintiff's applications initially and upon reconsideration, after which she filed a request for a hearing. Id. at 86-89, 106-14, 117-21, 123.

On January 5, 2009, plaintiff, represented by counsel, appeared and testified at a hearing before the ALJ. Id. at 55-58, 61-72, 84-85. The ALJ also heard testimony from Dr. Lowell L. Sparks, Jr., a medical expert, and Luis O. Mas, a vocational expert. Id. at 58-61, 72-84, 93. On April 29, 2009, the ALJ denied plaintiff's claim for benefits (the "2009 Decision"). Id. at 93-100.

Plaintiff requested a review of the decision by the Appeals Council. Id. at 147. On August 14, 2009, the Appeals Council vacated the 2009 Decision and remanded the case. Id. at 103-05. The Appeals Council ordered the ALJ to: (1) resolve any conflicts between the occupational evidence provided by plaintiff concerning her past work as a home health aid and the Dictionary of Occupational Titles; (2) further develop the record by obtaining additional evidence and/or further clarification concerning the opinions of Drs. Rahima Afghan, Linda M. Smith, Nicholas N. Lin, and Sparks related to plaintiff's work capacity, and evaluate these opinions; (3) assess plaintiff's residual functional capacity ("RFC") ; and (4) evaluate Porter's lay witness testimony. Id.*fn2

On June 29, 2010, plaintiff, represented by counsel, appeared and testified at a second hearing before the ALJ. Id. at 27-30, 41-42, 49-51. The ALJ also*fn3 heard testimony from two medical experts, Drs. Joseph Malancharuvil and Samuel Landau, and from Sandra M. Fioretti, a vocational expert. Id. at 7, 27, 31-41, 43-49. On August 26, 2010, ...


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