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LEWIS v. APFEL

April 22, 1999

GISELLE L. LEWIS, PLAINTIFF,
v.
KENNETH S. APFEL, COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, DEFENDANT.



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

  DECISION AND ORDER

In this action, Plaintiff appeals the final determination of the Defendant denying her claim for disability insurance benefits. This matter comes before this Court following a Report-Recommendation filed on March 31, 1999 by the Honorable Ralph W. Smith, Jr., Magistrate Judge, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b) and L.R. 72.3(d) of the Northern District of New York. See Lewis v. Apfel, No. 98-CV-1392, 1999 WL 184003 (N.D.N Y March 30, 1999). As no objections have been filed, this Court may reject the conclusions of the Report-Recommendation only if they are clearly erroneous or contrary to law. See Fed. R.Civ.P. 72(b), Advisory Committee Notes.

Magistrate Judge Smith found that the Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") had failed to adequately specify what weight he assigned to the opinions of the various treating physicians involved in Plaintiff's treatment according to the factors set out in 20 C.F.R. § 404.1527(d)(2). On review of the ALJ's decision and the regulation, this Court finds no clear error.

The magistrate judge also found that the ALJ had failed to adequately analyze whether the pain Plaintiff reported feeling rendered her disabled according to the applicable regulations and agency rulings. In this determination, the magistrate judge noted that the ALJ must first determine the extent of Plaintiff's pain, based in part on a determination of her credibility, and then examine whether Plaintiff's symptoms were totally disabling.

"An administrative law judge may properly reject claims of severe, disabling pain after weighing the objective medical evidence in the record, the claimant's demeanor, and other indicia of credibility, but must set forth his or her reasons `with sufficient specificity to enable us to decide whether the determination is supported by substantial evidence.'" Gallardo v. Apfel, No. 96 CIV 9435, 1999 WL 185253, *5 (S.D.N.Y. March 25, 1999) (citations omitted). According to the applicable Social Security Ruling, "[i]f an individual's statements about pain . . . are not substantiated by the objective medical evidence, the adjudicator must consider all of the evidence in the case record . . . [and] make a finding on the credibility of the individual's statements out symptoms and their functional effects." Social Security Ruling 96-7P, 1996 WL 374186, *4 (July 2, 1996). In making this credibility determination,

  [i]t is not sufficient for the adjudicator . . .
  simply to recite the factors that are described in
  the regulations for evaluating symptoms. The
  determination or decision must contain specific
  reasons for the finding on credibility, supported by
  the evidence in the case record, and must be
  sufficiently specific to make clear to the individual
  and to any subsequent reviewers the weight the
  adjudicator gave to the individual's statements and
  the reasons for that weight.

Id. at *2.

The ALJ determined that Plaintiff's statements regarding the extent to which her pain left her disabled were not "fully credible as they are not supported by the evidence of record, clinical findings or claimant's medical treatment." Transcript at 12. The magistrate judge's conclusion that this assessment lacks the necessary specificity is not clearly erroneous.

The magistrate judge also found that the ALJ failed to provide substantial evidence for his conclusion that her subjective symptoms were not totally disabling, and advised that on remand, the ALJ should consider each relevant function separately and determine whether it is limited in light of Plaintiff's subject symptoms before making a final determination regarding Plaintiff's residual functional capacity. This Court finds no error in Magistrate Judge Smith's analysis or prescriptions and accordingly adopts the Report-Recommendation in its entirety for the reasons stated therein.

Accordingly, it is

ORDERED that the Report-Recommendation is APPROVED and ADOPTED; and it is further

ORDERED that case is remanded for further proceedings in accordance with this opinion and the Report-Recommendation; and it is further

ORDERED that the Clerk serve a copy of this order on all parties by regular mail.

IT IS SO ORDERED.

REPORT RECOMMENDATION AND ORDER

This matter was referred to the undersigned for a Report and Recommendation by the Honorable Lawrence E. Kahn pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b) and Local Rule 72.3(d). The case arises under § 205(g) of the Social Security Act (the "Act"), as amended, 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), for review of a final determination of the Commissioner of Social Security (the "Commissioner") denying Plaintiff Giselle Lewis' claim for disability insurance benefits. The parties have filed their briefs,*fn1 including the Administrative Record on Appeal, and the matter has been submitted without oral argument. For the reasons set forth below, the Court recommends that the Commissioner's decision be affirmed in part and reversed in part.

I. Procedural History

On November 27, 1995, Plaintiff filed an application for disability insurance benefits pursuant to Subchapter II of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. § 401 et seq. Tr. 41-43.*fn2 This application was denied after an initial determination, Tr. 56-57, and upon reconsideration. Tr. 69-70. Plaintiff then filed a request for a hearing on August 21, 1996. Tr. 71-73. Her case was heard on April 16, 1997 before Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") Joachim J. Volhard. After considering the facts de novo, the ALJ rejected Plaintiff's claims in a written decision dated July 22, 1997. Tr. 10-15. On July 31, 1997, Plaintiff requested a review of the ALJ's decision by the Appeals Council. Tr. 5. The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request on June 25, 1998, Tr. 3-4, and the ALJ's decision became the final decision of the Commissioner. This action followed.

II. Facts

The Court adopts the facts set forth in Plaintiff's brief with any ...


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