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Michael Crow v. Carolyn W. Colvin

March 28, 2013

MICHAEL CROW, 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 June 13, 2012, plaintiff Michael Crow filed a complaint against defendant, the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration ("Commissioner"), seeking a review of a denial of 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) (2009). The parties' briefing is now complete, and the court deems the matter suitable for adjudication without oral argument.

Two interrelated issues are presented for decision here: (1) whether the Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") properly considered the opinions of plaintiff's three examining psychologists; and (2) whether the ALJ properly determined plaintiff's residual functional capacity ("RFC"). Pl.'s Mem. at 3-10; Def.'s Mem. at 1-3.

Having carefully studied, inter alia, the parties' written submissions and the Administrative Record ("AR"), the court finds that, as detailed herein, the ALJ failed to properly consider the opinion of examining psychologist Dr. Reznick in assessing plaintiff's RFC. Therefore, the court remands this matter to the Commissioner in accordance with the principles and instructions enunciated in this Memorandum Opinion and Order.

II. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

Plaintiff, who was thirty-nine years old on the date of his May 23, 2008 administrative hearing, is a college graduate. AR at 36, 42. His past relevant work includes employment as an activity assistant at a convalescent hospital. Id. at 50-52, 168.

On May 31, 2007, plaintiff protectively filed an application for SSI, alleging that he has been disabled since December 13, 2004 due to lateral hernia, partial bowel blockage, depression, memory lapses, hypogonadism, high blood pressure, and back pain. Id. at 155, 167. Plaintiff's application was denied, after which he filed a request for a hearing. Id. at 99-103, 104-105.

On April 22, 2008, plaintiff appeared pro se before the ALJ and requested a continuance in order to obtain representation. Id. at 82. The ALJ conducted a continued hearing on May 23, 2008, at which plaintiff, represented by counsel, appeared and testified. Id. at 38-79. At that hearing, the ALJ referred plaintiff for a consultative examination with a psychologist. Id. at 77-78. On February 2, 2009, the ALJ denied plaintiff's request for benefits (the "2009 Decision"). Id. at 88-98.

Plaintiff requested a review of the decision by the Appeals Council. Id. at 124-25.

On March 19, 2009, the Appeals Council vacated the 2009 Decision and remanded the case. Id. at 126-29. The Appeals Council ordered the ALJ to: (1) give plaintiff an opportunity to examine and comment upon the evidence obtained after the hearing; namely, the consultative psychological evaluation; (2) further evaluate plaintiff's mental impairment in accordance with the technique prescribed in the Code of Federal Regulations; (3) give further consideration to plaintiff's RFC during the entire period at issue and provide rationales, with specific references to evidence in the record, supporting the assessed limitations; (4) obtain vocational evidence sufficient to allow for a comparison between the plaintiff's RFC and the mental and physical demands of his past relevant work; and (5) if reaching step five, secure a vocational expert to clarify the effect of plaintiff's limitations, identify appropriate jobs, and resolve any conflicts with the Dictionary of Occupational Titles. Id. at 128.

On January 19, 2010, plaintiff, represented by counsel, appeared at a third hearing before the ALJ. At this hearing, the ALJ ordered another consultative psychological examination of plaintiff; no testimony was offered. Id. at 24-35. On May 18, 2010, the ALJ again denied plaintiff's claim for benefits (the "2010 Decision"). Id. at 7-18.

Applying the well-known five-step sequential evaluation process, the ALJ found, at step one, that plaintiff has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since May 31, 2007, the application date. Id. at 12.

At step two, the ALJ found that plaintiff suffers from severe medically determinable impairments consisting of: hypertension, ventral hernia with status post partial bowel obstruction surgery, mild degenerative disease of the lumbar spine, and obesity. Id. With regard to plaintiff's mental status, the ALJ found that while plaintiff has medically determinable conditions, including depressive disorder ...


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