United States District Court, D. Connecticut
RULING ON PENDING MOTIONS
F. Martinez United States Magistrate Judge
Eneida Mangual, seeks judicial review of the denial of her
application for supplemental security income
(“SSI”). Currently pending are plaintiff's
motion to reverse the decision of the Commissioner of Social
Security (“Commissioner”) (doc. #13) and
defendant's motion to affirm the decision of the
Commissioner. (Doc. #16.) On September 30, 2016, pursuant to
the court's order, counsel filed a joint stipulation of
facts and medical chronology, which I incorporate by
reference. (Doc. #33.) For the following reasons,
plaintiff's motion is GRANTED and defendant's motion
standards for determining an individual's entitlement to
SSI, the Commissioner's five-step framework for
evaluating claims, and the district court's review of the
final decision of the Commissioner are well-settled. I am
following those standards, but do not repeat them here.
applied for SSI on October 21, 2010. (R. 133-35.) Her
application was denied initially and upon reconsideration.
(R. 74, 80-82.) On November 8, 2011, plaintiff requested a
hearing before an Administrative Law Judge
(“ALJ”). (R. 84-92.) The Social Security
Administration Office of Disability Adjudication and Review
(“ODAR”) scheduled a hearing for June 18, 2012.
(R. 93-100.) Plaintiff appeared without representation and
requested a continuance. ODAR senior attorney Sally Rogers
conducted a pre-hearing conference to (1) advise plaintiff of
her right to representation; (2) confirm that the medical
evidence was up to date; and (3) schedule a hearing before an
ALJ. (R. 34-39.) Plaintiff's hearing before an ALJ was
scheduled for September 20, 2012.
went to the Greater Hartford Legal Aid (“GHLA”)
office on September 7, 2012. (R. 132.) Attorney Veronica
Halpine reviewed plaintiff's file and told her that she
would represent plaintiff “if she was able to get a
continuance” of the September 20 hearing. (R. 132.)
Attorney Halpine filed an “Appointment of
Representative” form on September 17, 2012. (R. 131.)
That same day, she requested a postponement of the hearing in
order to “complete the record and advocate on
[plaintiff's] behalf.” (R. 132.) The ALJ denied the
request for postponement on September 18, 2012. (R. 228.)
Attorney Halpine withdrew. (R. 228.)
appeared unrepresented at the September 20 hearing. (R.
40-55.) The ALJ issued an unfavorable decision dated October
15, 2012. (R. 30.) Plaintiff appealed the ALJ's decision
to the Appeals Council, which denied her request for review
on March 20, 2014. (R. 1-4.) She timely appealed to this
argues that the ALJ failed to fully develop the record. I
as here, the claimant [was] unrepresented by counsel, the ALJ
is under a heightened duty to scrupulously and
conscientiously probe into, inquire of, and explore for all
the relevant facts . . . . A reviewing court must determine
whether the ALJ adequately protect[ed] the rights of [a] pro
se litigant by ensuring that all of the relevant facts [are]
sufficiently developed and considered.” Echevarria
v. Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., 685 F.2d 751,
755 (2d Cir. 1982) (citations and internal quotation marks
primary language is Spanish and her ability to communicate
effectively in English is limited. (R. 184.) She also has a
limited education, having attended school only through 9th
grade in Puerto Rico. (R. 184.) Plaintiff testified through
an interpreter at both the pre-hearing conference and the
hearing before the ALJ. The record is replete with instances
where plaintiff's tenuous command of English affected her
ability to understand the proceedings. At the pre-hearing
conference, Attorney Rogers asked plaintiff about her medical
records as follows:
SR. ATTY: I'd like to go over your medical records.
You're treated at St. Francis Clinic. Who do you see
SR. ATTY: Are you treated anywhere else?
CLMT: No, only there.
SR. ATTY: Have you had any hospitalizations or emergency room
visits in the past year?
CLMT: No, I went on the 15th.
SR. ATTY: To St. Francis?
SR. ATTY: But you haven't been to the emergency room?
CLMT: No, I went to the ER.
SR. ATTY: Which hospital did you go to?
CLMT: St. Francis.
SR. ATTY: Before that, when were you seen ...