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Karen J. Hinkson v. Commissioner of Social Security

March 8, 2011


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Pisano, District Judge.



Presently before the Court is a motion by Plaintiff, Karen Hinkson ("Plaintiff"), for Attorney's Fees after obtaining a fully favorable decision against the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration ("Commissioner") in which she was awarded Social Security benefits and Supplemental Security Income benefits. Pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), this Court has jurisdiction over this matter. For the reasons expressed below, Plaintiff is a prevailing party under the Equal Access to Justice Act, 28 U.S.C. § 2412(d)(1)(a), and the Commissioner was not substantially justified in his opposition to remand the matter. Therefore, Plaintiff is entitled to attorney's fees.

I.Procedural History

On February 22, 2006, the Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") held that Plaintiff did not meet the requirements for mental retardation*fn1 and Plaintiff was not entitled to benefits. Plaintiff unsuccessfully requested a review of the ALJ's decision by the Appeals Council, leading to an appeal in this Court. During the appeal to this Court, Plaintiff submitted new evidence containing medical and school records regarding her development before the age of twenty-two. In light of the new evidence, Plaintiff moved this Court to remand the case back to the ALJ. The Commissioner believed that this new information did not change the record-that Plaintiff would still not be considered disabled, even with the new evidence. He therefore submitted an opposition to Plaintiff's motion.

This Court granted Plaintiff's motion to remand holding that Plaintiff had good cause for failure to include the evidence and this evidence could have impacted the ALJ's initial decision. Upon consideration of the new evidence, the ALJ ultimately concluded that Plaintiff was eligible for Social Security and Supplemental Security Income benefits. Plaintiff now requests that as a "prevailing party" under 28 U.S.C. 2412 (d)(1)(a), she is entitled to attorney's fees for all work performed by her counsel before this Court to date.

I.Factual History

On February 22, 2006, the ALJ initially rendered a decision against Plaintiff, holding that she did not meet the criteria under 12.05C 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpt. P App. 1, §12.05C, for mental retardation and therefore was not entitled to Social Security or Supplemental Security Income benefits. Defendant's Opposition to Attorney's Fees (Def. Opp.) 3. According to the ALJ, the record lacked evidence that showed Plaintiff's significant deficits in adaptive functioning. Id. Specifically, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff did not meet the diagnostic definition of mental retardation which requires significant deficits in adaptive functioning before the age of twenty-two. Id.

In the record ("T.") were medical reports from Dr. Figurelli and Dr. Mangel. (T. 141, 186, 187.) On April 22, 2003, Dr. Figurelli reported that Plaintiff had great difficulty with expressive speech and speech articulation, difficulty containing saliva in her mouth, and consequent drooling. (T. 141, 186.) Further, he diagnosed her with borderline intellectual functioning. Id. Dr. Mangel reported on December 8, 2004 that Plaintiff had a significant speech impediment and poor recollection of her younger academic training. (T. 187.) Dr. Figurelli concluded that Plaintiff's difficulties around age two were the direct result of organic damage that occurred as the result of choking and loss of an adequate supply of oxygen to the brain. (T. 141.)

The ALJ based his decision on her work history when concluding that Plaintiff was not eligible for benefits. Def. Opp. 3. Regardless of Plaintiff's IQ scores and articulation impairment, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff's adaptive functioning was not significant because she worked for 25 years, and therefore she did not meet the listing of the mental retardation requirement under 12.05C. Id. Plaintiff worked as a mail clerk and a stock clerk. (T. 223, 229-30.) She obtained the mail clerk position through the intervention of a vo-tech school she attended. (T. 234.) The job was in a structured environment and she always had a supervisor around to answer her questions. Id. As a stock clerk, Plaintiff was responsible for stocking shelves. (T. 229.) After stocking for six years, Plaintiff was allowed to sell items, until a new, more advanced cash register arrived and she became confused when trying to process credit cards. Id. Lastly, Plaintiff worked as a stock person at a Marshall's department store. (T. 230.)

After five years of employment, management attempted to make her an assistant manager. Id. Plaintiff could not perform the responsibilities requested of her and was ultimately let go. (T. 231.)

Based on this evidence the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff had the residual functional capacity to perform work at all exertional levels, except for complex or skill work, and work that required good speech articulation. Def. Opp. 6. Consequently, Plaintiff was denied Social Security and Supplemental Security benefits by the ALJ.

While appealing to this Court, Plaintiff came across new evidence that she was unable to obtain previously. Pl. Motion for Remand 3. Her mother had kept some of her medical records and failed to tell Plaintiff she had them. Id. This evidence contained school and medical records discussing her condition prior to the age of twenty-two. Pl. Motion for Remand, Ex. 1-5. The ALJ, in light of this new evidence, reversed the ...

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