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Cruz v. Astrue

January 29, 2009

MODESTO CRUZ, PLAINTIFF,
v.
MICHAEL J. ASTRUE, COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Lynne A. Sitarski United States Magistrate Judge

MEMORANDUM

Plaintiff Modesto Cruz ("plaintiff") brought this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405 (g), seeking judicial review of a final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration ("Commissioner") denying plaintiff's claim for Disability Insurance Benefits ("DIB") under Title II of the Social Security Act. 42 U.S.C. §§ 401, et seq. On August 21, 2008, a notice, consent, and order of reference was filed by consent of the parties and order of court in accordance with 28 U.S.C. § 636(c) and Fed. R. Civ. P. 73, giving this Court jurisdiction to order the entry of final judgment and conduct all post-judgment proceedings in connection with this matter. Oral argument was held on January 12, 2009 and both parties subsequently submitted supplemental briefs at the request of the Court.

For the reasons set forth below, this case shall be remanded to the Commissioner of Social Security for further proceedings consistent with this Memorandum.

I. BACKGROUND AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

Plaintiff was born on February 12, 1947. (R. at 27). He completed the ninth grade in Puerto Rico. (R. at 177). Prior to 1996, plaintiff worked as a fabric machine attendant. (R. at 319). From 2000 to 2005, plaintiff worked as a rolling machine attendant. (R. at 319).

Plaintiff alleges that his disability began on November 23, 1996. In this appeal, he seeks an award of disability benefits for a closed period from November 23, 1996 through November 15, 2000. (R. at 362). Plaintiff began working again on November 15, 2000 for the same company and continued working there until they relocated in 2005. Plaintiff was found to be disabled and awarded benefits from November 7, 2005 to date. (R. at 318-19). This award of benefits has not been challenged by either party.

With respect to the denial of benefits that is at issue in this case, plaintiff claims that he was disabled for a closed period from 1996 to 2000 due to back and neck impairments. (R. at 187). During that time, plaintiff took various medications and underwent physical therapy for management of his pain. (R. at 57, 179-80).

Plaintiff applied for DIB on August 22, 1997. (R. at 46). On December 3, 1997, his claim was denied. (R. at 27). Plaintiff timely requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ), which was held on November 19, 1998. (R. at 176-197). The ALJ denied plaintiff's request for benefits on March 18, 1999. (R. at 11-19). The Appeals Council denied his request for review on October 11, 2001. (R. at 3-4). Plaintiff filed a civil action on November 19, 2001 (Dckt. No. 01-cv-5795). The District Court granted in part, plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment and remanded the matter to the Commissioner for consideration of all the relevant medical evidence in determining plaintiff's RFC and his ability to return to his past relevant work. (R. at 218-226).

On remand, plaintiff sought disability benefits for a closed period of time from November 23, 1996 through November 15, 2000. (R. at 212). The ALJ held a hearing on August 13, 2004.

(R. at 289). The ALJ found that plaintiff was not disabled and that he could return to his past relevant work as a machine operator. (R. at 217). Plaintiff appealed the second ALJ's decision to the Appeals Council, which declined review on February 21, 2006. (R. at 198).

Plaintiff filed another civil action on March 2, 2006 (Dckt. No. 06-1008). On July 17, 2006, the Commissioner filed an Uncontested Motion For Remand (R. at 351), seeking remand for the ALJ to: (1) reevaluate plaintiff's RFC considering the state agency opinions; (2) address the treating physician's opinions that plaintiff is disabled and provide rationale for the weight assigned those opinions; (3) obtain vocational expert testimony to determine the physical and mental demands of plaintiff's past work; and (4) in the event plaintiff is unable to perform past work, determine if there are any other jobs plaintiff can perform. (R. at 352). This uncontested motion was granted on July 19, 2006 (R. at 348).

Plaintiff also filed a second application on April 17, 2006 seeking benefits from August 30, 2004 forward. (R. at 373-75, 408). Plaintiff was granted benefits pursuant to this application. (R. at 371-72). In the second remand order, the Appeals Council consolidated the remanded action with the new application for consideration by the ALJ. (R. at 360-61).

A third hearing was held on April 24, 2007. (R. at 311). On September 26, 2007, the ALJ denied benefits for the closed period from November 23, 1996 to November 15, 2000, but granted benefits from November 7, 2005 forward. (R. at 310-21).

Plaintiff filed this civil action on January 11, 2008, challenging the denial of benefits for the closed period from November 23, 1996 to November 15, 2000. As noted above, the parties have consented to magistrate judge jurisdiction, and this matter is therefore before me on the parties' motion for summary judgment.

II. SOCIAL SECURITY ...


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