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Crawley-Nunez v. Astrue

December 22, 2009


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Honorable Richard J. Arcara Chief Judge United States District Court



Plaintiff Dorothy Crawley-Nunez brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), claiming that the defendant, Michael Astrue, the Commissioner of Social Security (the "Commissioner"), improperly denied her application for Disability Insurance Benefits ("DIB") and Supplemental Security Income ("SSI") as provided for in Titles II and XVI of the Social Security Act. The plaintiff claims to be disabled as a result of bilateral knee degeneration, obesity, depression, breast cysts, and lower back pain. (R. 18-19). The Commissioner moves for judgment on the pleadings pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(c), on grounds that the Administrative Law Judge's ("ALJ") decision was supported by substantial evidence in the record and is based upon the application of the correct legal standards. The plaintiff also cross-moves for judgment on the pleadings, alleging that the Commissioner's determination is erroneous and that she was and continues to be disabled. For the reasons stated herein, the Court finds that the plaintiff is not entitled to benefits because substantial evidence supports the ALJ's determination that she is not disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act. Therefore, the ALJ's decision is affirmed.


The plaintiff, Dorothy Crawley-Nunez, applied for DIB and SSI on December 9, 2004, alleging her disability began on January 1, 2003. (R. 44, 295).*fn1 Her application was denied by ALJ Timothy M. McGuan on August 28, 2006. (R. 308-17). The Appeals Council remanded the case back to the ALJ on March 9, 2007, directing the ALJ to give consideration to the opinion of the examining source, to further evaluate plaintiff's subjective complaints and her obesity, and to obtain evidence from a vocational expert. (R. 332-35).

Another hearing was held before the ALJ on August 15, 2007, at which the plaintiff and an impartial vocational expert ("VE"), Jay Steinbrenner, testified. (R. 359-406). On September 5, 2007, ALJ McGuan found that the plaintiff had not been disabled at any time since her alleged onset date of January 1, 2003. (R. 12-26). When the Appeals Council denied the plaintiff's request for review, the plaintiff then commenced this action on April 17, 2008. (R. 6-9). The Commissioner filed a motion for judgment on the pleadings on November 6, 2008, and the plaintiff cross-moved for judgment on the pleadings on January 12, 2009.

The plaintiff was born on January 12, 1962, and was therefore forty-five years old on the date of ALJ McGuan's decision. (R. 363). She graduated from high school, was a telecommunications operator in the Air Force from 1981 to 1988, and worked intermittently as a home health aide from 1996 until November 2004. (R. 66, 363-64). She had also worked as a cashier/server and as a light industrial worker. (R. 25).

The plaintiff lives at home with her mentally disabled son and prepares his food and helps him with his medication. (R. 80-81). The plaintiff also stated at her administrative hearing that she was 5'5", weighed 308 pounds, and her weight had remained within plus/minus ten pounds since her alleged onset date in 2002. (R. 368-69). Her typical day consists of bathing, attempting housework, paying bills, shopping for food, eating supper, reading, and listening to the radio. (R. 81).


This Court has jurisdiction under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) to hear claims based on the denial of Social Security benefits. This Court may set aside the Commissioner's decision only if it is based upon legal error or his factual findings are not supported by substantial evidence. See 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). "Substantial evidence means more than a mere scintilla. It means such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Burgess v. Astrue, 537 F.3d 117, 127 (2d. Cir. 2008) (internal quotation marks omitted); Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971) (quoting Consolidated Edison Co. v. NLRB, 305 U.S. 197, 229 (1938)).

In order to establish disability under the Act, the plaintiff has the burden of demonstrating (1) that she was unable to engage in substantial gainful activity by reason of a physical or mental impairment that could have been expected to last for a continuous period of at least twelve months, and (2) that the existence of such impairment was demonstrated by evidence supported by medically acceptable clinical and laboratory techniques. See 42 U.S.C. § 1382c(a)(3); see also Barnhart v. Walton, 535 U.S. 212, 215 (2002). Moreover, eligibility for SSI based upon disability is conditioned upon compliance with the income and resource requirements of 42 U.S.C. §§ 1382a and 1382b.

The Commissioner has established a five-step sequential evaluation for the adjudication of disability claims:

The first step of this process requires the Secretary to determine whether the claimant is presently employed. If the claimant is not employed, the Secretary then determines whether the claimant has a severe impairment that limits her capacity to work. If the claimant has such an impairment, the Secretary next considers whether the claimant has an impairment that is listed in Appendix 1 of the regulations. When the claimant has such an impairment, the Secretary will find the claimant disabled. However, if the claimant does not have a listed impairment, the Secretary must determine, under the fourth step, whether the claimant possesses the residual functional capacity to perform her past relevant work. Finally, if the claimant is unable to perform her past relevant work, the Secretary determines whether the claimant is capable of performing any other work.

See Perez v. Chater, 77 F.3d 41, 46 (2d Cir. 1996); 20 C.F.R. § 416.920. The burden is on the claimant at the first four steps of the evaluation. Bapp v. Bowen, 802 F.2d 601, 604 (2d Cir. 1986). If the claimant establishes that she is not capable of performing her past relevant work, then the burden shifts to the Commissioner who must then determine whether the claimant is ...

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