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Nieves v. Astrue

July 27, 2009

SHANEEKQUA NIEVES PLAINTIFF,
v.
MICHAEL J. ASTRUE*FN1 COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, DEFENDANT,



REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

I. Introduction

Plaintiff Shaneekqua Nieves brings this action pursuant to the Social Security Act ("the Act"), 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and 1383(c)(3), seeking review of a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner"), denying her application for Supplemental Security Income ("SSI").*fn2 Specifically, Plaintiff alleges that the decision of the Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") denying her application for benefits was not supported by substantial evidence and contrary to the applicable legal standards. The Commissioner argues that the decision was supported by substantial evidence and made in accordance with the correct legal standards.

For the reasons set forth below, the Court finds the Commissioner's decision is not supported by substantial evidence and not determined in accordance with the applicable law. Therefore, the Court recommends that the Plaintiff's motion for judgment on the pleadings be granted and Defendant's cross-motion for judgment on the pleadings be denied.*fn3

II. Background

On October 26, 2005, Plaintiff, then 27 years old, filed an application for SSI, claiming disability since October 26, 2005, because of a social anxiety disorder, a manic disorder, post-traumatic stress syndrome, and migraine headaches (R. at 35-38, 47-48).*fn4 Her application was denied initially on January 10, 2006 (R. at 25-29). Plaintiff filed a timely request for a hearing on February 16, 2006 (R. at 9, 30).

On November 27, 2007, Plaintiff and her attorney appeared before the ALJ (R. at 208-24).The ALJ considered the case de novo and, on December 7, 2007, issued a decision finding Plaintiff was not disabled (R. at 11-20). The ALJ's decision became the Commissioner's final decision in this case when the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review on February 20, 2008 (R. at 5-8). On March 19, 2008, Plaintiff filed this action disputing her disability determination.

Based on the entire record, the Court finds that the ALJ failed to properly assess the medical opinions, and he failed determine the relevant mental demands of Plaintiff's past work.

III. Discussion

A. Legal Standard and Scope of Review

A court reviewing a denial of disability benefits may not determine de novo whether an individual is disabled. See 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g), 1383 (c)(3); Wagner v. Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., 906 F.2d 856, 860 (2d Cir. 1990). Rather, the Commissioner's determination will only be reversed if the correct legal standards were not applied, or it was not supported by substantial evidence. Johnson v. Bowen, 817 F.2d 983, 986 (2d Cir. 1987); see Grey v. Heckler, 721 F.2d 41, 46 (2d Cir. 1983); Marcus v. Califano, 615 F.2d 23, 27 (2d Cir. 1979). "Substantial evidence" is evidence that amounts to "more than a mere scintilla," and it has been defined as "such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971). Where evidence is deemed susceptible to more than one rational interpretation, the Commissioner's conclusion must be upheld. See Rutherford v. Schweiker, 685 F.2d 60, 62 (2d Cir. 1982).

"To determine on appeal whether the ALJ's findings are supported by substantial evidence, a reviewing court considers the whole record, examining evidence from both sides, because an analysis of the substantiality of the evidence must also include that which detracts from its weight." Williams ex rel. Williams v. Bowen, 859 F.2d 255, 258 (2d Cir. 1988). If supported by substantial evidence, the Commissioner's finding must be sustained "even where substantial evidence may support the plaintiff's position and despite that the court's independent analysis of the evidence may differ from the [Commissioner's]." Rosado v. Sullivan, 805 F. Supp. 147, 153 (S.D.N.Y. 1992). In other words, this Court must afford the Commissioner's determination considerable deference, and may not substitute "its own judgment for that of the [Commissioner], even if it might justifiably have reached a different result upon a de novo review." Valente v. Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., 733 F.2d 1037, 1041 (2d Cir. 1984).

The Commissioner has established a five-step sequential evaluation process*fn5 to determine whether an individual is disabled as defined under the Social Security Act. See 20 C.F.R. §§ 416.920, 404.1520.

B. Analysis

1. The Commissioner's ...


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