Friday, April 5, 2013

Thank You Judge Irizarry

According to the attorney representing the plaintiffs in the Padro class action, the purpose of the lawsuit was to remove Hazel C. Strauss, David Z. Nisnewitz, Michael D. Cofresi, Seymour Fier, and Marilyn P. Hoppenfeld as Administrative Law Judges (“ALJs”) from the Queens Social Security hearing office (the “Queens Five”). Countless decisions from the U.S. District Court judges that rejected the Queens Five denials of Social Security Disability (“SDD”) benefits was the lynchpin that led to the proposed settlement of the Padro class action. 

The Padro settlement does not call for any of the Queens Five to be removed. Moreover, all the settlement does in essence is to require the Queens Five to follow the law, which is what they have always been charged with doing. Therefore, SSD claimants may still have to appeal the Queens Five decisions in federal court. At least one U.S. District Court Judge, Dora L. Irizarry, has finally explicitly stated that the biased decisions of the Queens Five cannot continue. 

In Fernandez v. Astrue, 2013 WL 1291284 (E.D.N.Y. March 28, 2013), Judge Irizarry reviewed a claim that had been denied both by ALJ Fier and then ALJ Strauss. As usual, both Fier and Strauss denied SSD benefits by refusing to comply with the rules and regulations for reviewing SSD claims, in particular, relying on patently erroneous reasons for elevating the opinions of non-treating doctors over the treating doctors. Judge Irizarry found ALJ Strauss’ reasons for relying on the hearing medical expert “troubling” and “egregious,” and ordered Social Security to award SSD benefits. 

Judge Irizarry went out of her way to criticize the decisions of ALJ Strauss, and indirectly ALJ Fier as well, by referring to the Padro class action: 

The Court is constrained to make a few final observations. The Court is greatly disturbed by the manner in which the ALJ's prior to ALJ Strauss mishandled this case and utterly disregarded the Appeals Council's directives on remand. 
The Court especially is disturbed by ALJ Strauss' persistence in disregarding the legal standards and regulations she is bound to follow to insure that the beneficent purposes of Social Security Disability benefits are properly fulfilled. Just a day or two prior to issuing the opinion in this case, this Court remanded yet another case for further administrative proceedings based on similar legal errors committed by ALJ Strauss. See Faherty v. Astrue, Docket No. 11–cv–2476 (DLI). Notably, she and several other ALJ's are the subject of a civil suit pending before another judge of this Court for their failure to execute their duties properly. FN3. Therefore, it is this Court's recommendation to the Commissioner of Social Security that, at a minimum, there be some oversight or review of the procedures followed by ALJ's as well as periodic training of ALJ's to insure that they are aware of and abide by the rulings of the federal district and appellate courts, as it seems that they continue to use the same flawed analytical frameworks that result in wrongful denial of benefits, remands, and unnecessarily protracted administrative proceedings. 

FN3. See, Padro, et. al. v. Astrue, Docket No. 11–cv–1788 (CBA) (RLM) Fernandez, 2013 WL 1291284 at *21. 

Judge Irizarry’s comments confirm exactly what I have been arguing in federal court and to the Appeals Council for years - the Queens Five use the same flawed analytical frameworks that have resulted in wrongful denial of benefits, remands, and unnecessarily protracted administrative proceedings. Hopefully, the other District Court judges will follow suit, and start awarding SSD benefits rather than remanding the decisions of the Queens Five for a “do over.”

1 comment:

miladt said...

My name is Maritza Pinero I received a letter from Social Security Adm.I was one of the probably many who had bad experience with judge Hazel Strauss when I have my hearing with her she made me feel like a mouse in front of a lion, she did not listen to my case in a proper way and denied me of ssi. she made me feel like I was begging and she was so superior to me. six months latter I reapply with the of a legal aid lawyer who was very helpful to me.
I miss about two years of benefits because of her.I was qualify for benefits. I have Aids, opportunist infection,been in the hospital in /out,shingle,lactid accidousis hip replacement,fracture on my spine, spinal fusion, fibromyalgia,depressed.
I will be very happy if she is fired from Social Security Administration
Maritza Pinero 718-813-3628