United States District Court, D. New Jersey
LETTER OPINION AND ORDER
MICHAEL VAZQUEZ United States District Judge
Mary Thompson (“Plaintiff”) appeals the final
decision of the Commissioner of Social Security
(“Commissioner”), which approved her application
for disability insurance benefits (“DIB”).
Plaintiff submits that while the finding of disability was
correct, the Commissioner should have found that she was
entitled to benefits at an earlier date. The Commissioner
asks that the Court remand the matter. Plaintiff objects to
the remand and instead urges the Court rule that she is
entitled to benefits from the earlier date. For the reasons
that follow, the Court grants the Commissioner's motion.
to the Social Security Act, Plaintiff filed a Title II
application for DIB and a Title XVI application for
supplemental security income (“SSI”) on July 19,
2012. Tr. at 17. Plaintiff alleged a disability onset date
of February 15, 2011. Id. On reconsideration at the
initial stage, Plaintiff was found disabled as of October 24,
2012. Tr. at 103-04. Plaintiff then contested the date in a
proceeding before an Administrative Law Judge
September 25, 2014, the Administrative Law Judge
(“ALJ”) held a hearing. Id. at 30.
Plaintiff, who was represented by counsel, testified as did a
vocational expert. Id. at 36-53. Following a
hearing, the ALJ denied Plaintiff's claim in a written
decision dated on November 17, 2014. Id. at 17-24.
The ALJ concluded that Plaintiff was not disabled.
Id. at 17.
appealed to the Appeals Council of the Social Security
Administration. In a decision dated February 1, 2017, the
Appeals Council found that Plaintiff was disabled as of March
31, 2013. Id. at 8. As a result, the decision of the
Appeals Council became the final decision of the Commissioner
for purposes of appeal.
then sought review in this Court, arguing that the correct
starting date for her disability was February 15, 2011. D.E.
1. By letter dated June 21, 2017, Plaintiff wrote to the
Commissioner requesting a voluntary remand. D.E. 7. The
Commissioner denied the remand. D.E. 8. As a result,
Plaintiff was forced to file her substantive brief with the
Court. D.E. 9. After Plaintiff's brief was submitted, the
Commissioner decided to remand the matter, and filed a motion
in support. D.E. 12. Plaintiff, however, objected to the
remand and asked the Court to find Plaintiff disabled as of
February 15, 2011. D.E.13. The Commissioner then filed a
short reply. D.E. 14.
U.S.C. § 405(g) provides in part as follows:
Any individual, after any final decision of the Commissioner
of Social Security made after a hearing to which he was a
party . . . may obtain a review of such decision by a civil
action . . . . Such action shall be brought in the district
court of the United States for the judicial district in which
the plaintiff resides[.] . . . The court shall have power
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. The findings of the
Commissioner of Social Security as to any fact, if supported
by substantial evidence[.] . . . The court may, on motion
of the Commissioner of Social Security made for good cause
shown before the Commissioner files the Commissioner's
answer, remand the case to the Commissioner of Social
Security for further action by the Commissioner of Social
Security, and it may at any time order additional evidence to
be taken before the Commissioner of Social Security, but only
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[.] .
. . The judgment of the court shall be final except that it
shall be subject to review in the same manner as a judgment
in other civil actions. . . .
(Emphases added). See also Powell v. Chater, 959
F.Supp. 1238, 1246 (N.D. Cal. 1997); Macchiera v.
Shalala, 892 F.Supp. 427, 432 (N.D.N.Y. 1995).
legal issues are subject to plenary review by this Court.
Matthews v. Apfel, 239 F.3d 589, 591 (3d Cir. 2001).
An ALJ's findings, including credibility determinations,
must be upheld if they are supported by substantial evidence.
42 U.S.C. § 405(g). “Substantial evidence is such
relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as
adequate to support a conclusion.” Rutherford v.
Barnhart, 399 F.3d 546, 552 (3d Cir. 2005) (citation and
internal quotation marks omitted). Such evidence is less than
a preponderance but more than a mere scintilla. Id.
The Court reviews the record as a whole to determine whether
an ALJ's finding is supported by substantial evidence.
Zirnsak v. Colvin, 777 F.3d 607, 610 (3d Cir. 2014)
(citation omitted). In this matter, the Court finds that the
final decision of the Commissioner was not supported by
substantial evidence. Although the Commissioner does not
expressly admit as much, the Court does note that the
Commissioner agrees that a remand is appropriate.
the issue before the Court is whether to remand the matter,
as the Commissioner requests, or to find Plaintiff disabled
as of the earlier date, as Plaintiff urges. The Court will
remand the matter. First, Plaintiff complains of the time
lapse between the finding of her disability on
reconsideration of her initial review and the ALJ's
decision along with the Appeals Council's determination.
D.E. Plaintiff is correct that the ALJ clearly misstated the
record when he indicated that Plaintiff had been denied
disability at the initial stage (because she was found
disabled on reconsideration). However, the time lag between
the initial finding of disability and the ALJ's decision
was due to Plaintiff's decision to appeal to the ALJ. The
Court is not criticizing Plaintiff for exercising her rights,
but she cannot exercise those rights and then complain about
effects of doing so.
Plaintiff originally requested a voluntary remand in this
matter. The only fact that has changed since her request to
remand and her current objection to remand is that she filed
her brief with the Court. The Court is sympathetic to
Plaintiff's plight. The administrative record in this
matter several hundred pages long and social security appeals
are fact sensitive in light of the numerous laws, including
regulations, that control. Moreover, in her request for
voluntary remand, Plaintiff made specific arguments in
support, as opposed to a general request without support.
Obviously, the preferred practice is for the Commissioner to
expend the necessary time evaluating a remand request
before Plaintiff files her brief. Plaintiff has a
right to be frustrated. Nevertheless, the Court cannot
overlook the fact that Plaintiff did initially request the
Plaintiff in large part relies on speculation as to the
Commissioner's bad faith and machinations in opposing the
Commissioner's motion. D.E. 13 at 3. In short, Plaintiff
lists a parade of horrible that could occur on
remand if the Commissioner is not acting in good faith. The
Court, however, has no basis to credit this unsupported
supposition. In fact, the Court is very familiar with
Plaintiff's counsel. Counsel always vigorously ...