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GLAZE v. BARNHART

January 3, 2003

DEBRA GLAZE, PLAINTIFF,
V.
JOANNE B. BARNHART, COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: David G. Larimer, United States District Judge

DECISION AND ORDER

INTRODUCTION

FACTUAL BACKGROUND

Debra Glaze was born on November 9, 1953. (Tr. 57.)*fn1 She completed a high school education. (Tr. 58.) Her previous work experience includes work as a mail room attendant, a nursery school teacher's aide, and an office assistant. (Tr. 59-62.) This work experience required her to be on her feet no more than four to five hours per day and lift nothing heavier than five pounds. (Id.) She applied for SSDI and DIB benefits on October 18, 1994, alleging that her uncontrolled diabetes mellitus, leg pain and left knee bursitis became disabling on September 9, 1987. (Tr. 123-132.)

Her application was denied initially and on reconsideration. (Tr. 106, 103-104.) Plaintiff requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"), and after a hearing the ALJ vacated the decision denying benefits and remanded the matter for consideration of plaintiff's claim of a mental impairment, which arose for the first time at the hearing. (Tr. 42.) Plaintiff's application was again denied, and a second hearing before an ALJ was held on April 9, 1998. (Tr. 54-75.) After that hearing, the ALJ determined that plaintiff was not entitled to benefits and denied her claim. (Tr. 11-17.) The ALJ's decision became the Commissioner's final decision on February 23, 2001 when the Appeals Council denied plaintiff's request for review. (Tr. 5-6.) Plaintiff timely commenced this action seeking review of the Commissioner's final decision.

DISCUSSION

The Commissioner's decision that plaintiff was ineligible to receive benefits must be affirmed if it is supported by substantial evidence. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g); see also Rivera v. Sullivan, 923 F.2d 964, 967 (2d Cir. 1991). Substantial evidence is defined as "more than a mere scintilla. It means such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion." See Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401(1971) (quoting Consolidated Edison Co. v. NLRB, 305 U.S. 197, 229 (1938)). Thus, "[i]t is not the function of a reviewing court to decide de novo whether a claimant was disabled." See Melville v. Apfel, 198 F.3d 45, 52 (2d Cir. 1999). Therefore, the Court must determine whether the ALJ adhered to the appropriate legal standards, and whether his determination that plaintiff was not disabled prior to the expiration of her insured status is supported by substantial evidence.

Five-Step Process

Substantial Evidence Determination

The only question remaining before the Court is whether the ALJ's decision is supported by substantial evidence. In my view, the ALJ's determination that plaintiff's RFC was sufficient to engage in her past relevant work is supported by substantial evidence from several medical sources.

First of all, evaluations from plaintiff's treating physicians, Drs. John Gerich and Elizabeth Romero (Tr. 62), support the ALJ's findings. Based upon a physical exam of plaintiff conducted on March 25, 1998, Dr. Gerich determined that plaintiff had no limitations on her ability to lift and carry, stand, walk, and sit. (Tr. 308-309.) He also opined that she had little trouble with postural activities (climbing, stooping, crouching, etc.) and had no environmental restrictions. (Id.) Dr. Gerich stated that no work-related activities were affected by any of plaintiff's impairments. (Id.) Similarly, Dr. Romero noted that plaintiff was not in distress and had no acute findings during a 1995 examination. (Tr. 196.) Dr. Romero did note, however, that plaintiff did not take her insulin on a daily basis. (Id.) Notably, Dr. Romero's treatment notes indicate that plaintiff had an interest in returning to work, and that the doctor felt that once her diabetes was under control, plaintiff could return to the workforce. The uncontradicted findings of Drs. Gerich and Romero are crucial, since a treating source's uncontradicted opinion on the nature and severity of impairments is given controlling weight if well-supported by the record. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.1527(d)(2) and 416.927(d)(2).

The ALJ's determination concerning plaintiff's RFC is further supported by two consultative assessments by state agency medical examiners. Dr. Judith Bodnar determined that plaintiff could occasionally lift 50 pounds and frequently lift 25 pounds, could stand, sit or walk for six out of eight hours a day, and was unlimited in her abilities to push and pull. (Tr. 86-93.) A second ...


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