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Jones v. Taylor

United States District Court, District Circuit

July 8, 2013

KEVIN MICHAEL JONES, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.[1]

MEMORANDUM OPINION

EMMET G. SULLIVAN United States District Judge.

This matter is before the Court on Defendant’s Motion to Remand and Supporting Memorandum of Points and Authorities [ECF No. 49] and assorted motions filed by plaintiff [ECF Nos. 53, 57, 61-62, 64, 66, 68-70, 72-75]. For the reasons discussed below, all of plaintiff’s motions will be denied, defendant’s motion will be granted, the Commissioner’s final decision will be reversed, and this matter will be remanded to the Commissioner for further administrative proceedings.

I. BACKGROUND

On October 7, 2002, plaintiff applied for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act, see 42 U.S.C. §§ 416(i), 423(d), and for supplemental security income (“SSI”) benefits under Title XVI of the Social Security Act, see 42 U.S.C. § 1382(a)(3), claiming to have been disabled since January 3, 2000 due to cervical disc disease, cervical arthritis, and lumbar disc disease with arthritis. See Compl. ¶ 4; Administrative Record (“A.R.”) at 42, 121-23. The application was denied initially and on reconsideration, see Compl. ¶ 4, and on April 27, 2004, plaintiff requested a hearing before an administrative law judge (“ALJ”). Id. ¶ 5; A.R. at 69). The hearing took place on May 15, 2007; plaintiff was not represented by counsel. Compl. ¶ 5; see A.R. at 281-89.

The ALJ determined that plaintiff “ha[d] not been under a disability within the meaning of the Social Security Act from January 3, 2000 through [May 15, 2007, ] the date of [the] decision.” A.R. at 41. Although plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since January 3, 2000, and had severe impairments, see A.R. at 42, the ALJ concluded that he did “not have an impairment or combination of impairments that [met] or medically equal[led] one of the listed impairments in 20 CFR Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix A.” A.R. at 44. Further, the ALJ found that plaintiff had the residual functional capacity to perform a wide range of work at a lighter level of exertion. A.R. at 44. In short, plaintiff was not disabled for purposes of his applications for period of disability, disability insurance, and SSI benefits. A.R. at 47. The Appeals Council affirmed the decision. A.R. at 6.

Plaintiff filed his complaint [ECF No. 1] in May 2008 seeking judicial review of the Commissioner’s final determination. He has alleged that the Commissioner’s finding that he is not disabled is not based on substantial evidence, Compl. ¶ 12, and he demands that the decision “be reviewed, reversed, and set aside.” Id. at 3 (page number designated by ECF). Defendant filed an Answer [ECF No. 6] and the Administrative Record [ECF No. 7] on August 20, 2008.

The ALJ erred in that he “relied exclusively upon a standardized set of guidelines developed by the SSA to determine the types of work an individual with a given set of infirmities generally can perform.” Jones v. Astrue, 650 F.3d 772, 773 (D.C. Cir. 2011). “[E]xclusive reliance on those guidelines [was] inappropriate where, as here, [plaintiff’s] impairment is due in part to pain.” Id. (citing 20 C.F.R. § 416.969a(c)). The error was discovered only after the ALJ’s decision became final and the Commissioner filed an Answer to the Complaint – thus barring a motion for a remand in order that “additional evidence to be taken before the Commissioner . . . upon a showing that there is new evidence which is material and that there is good cause for the failure to incorporate such evidence into the record in a prior proceeding . . . .” 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) (sentence six). The Commissioner then sought an alternative route to remand.

On December 5, 2008, defendant filed a Motion for Entry of Judgment with Remand Pursuant to Sentence Four of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) and Supporting Memorandum of Law [ECF No. 15], in order that, on remand, the Commissioner could:

1. Hold a new hearing to obtain supplemental vocational expert evidence regarding plaintiff’s ability to perform other work, evidence provided in response to a complete hypothetical question;
2. Identify and resolve any conflicts between the occupational evidence provided by the vocational expert and information in the Dictionary of Occupational Titles and the Selected Characteristics of Occupations, and in doing so, ensure that the hypothetical question to the vocational expert is consistent with the hearing decision's residual functional capacity finding; and
3. Issue a new decision.

Mot. for Entry of J. at 1-2.

The fourth sentence of § 405(g) authorizes the district court “to enter, upon the pleadings and transcript of the record, a judgment affirming, modifying, or reversing the decision of the Commissioner of Social Security, with or without remanding the cause for a rehearing.” 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) (sentence four). A sentence four remand, then, is “a post-judgment remand in conjunction with a decision affirming, modifying, or reversing the decision of the Secretary.” Faucher v. Sec’y of Health & Human Servs., 17 F.3d 171, 174 (6th Cir. 1994).

The Court issued an Order [ECF No. 17] on December 8, 2008, reversing the Commissioner’s decision and remanding the matter for further administrative proceedings. On February 25, 2009, in a subsequent Order denying various motions filed by plaintiff, the Court stated:

In reviewing an agency’s final decision in a case such as this one brought under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), this Court is not empowered to make substitute findings of fact or decisions for the agency. Rather, it is empowered to enter “a judgment affirming, modifying, or reversing the decision of the Commissioner of Social Security, with or without remanding the cause for a rehearing.” 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). In this case, the final agency decision was reversed and the matter was remanded so that the Commissioner could issue a new decision after further proceedings. In ...

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