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Bridget Sanderson v. Michael J. Astrue

UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT NORTHERN DISTRICT OF NEW YORK


March 24, 2011

BRIDGET SANDERSON, PLAINTIFF,
v.
MICHAEL J. ASTRUE, COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, DEFENDANT.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Hon. Glenn T. Suddaby, United States District Judge

MEMORANDUM-DECISION and ORDER

Currently before the Court in this action, filed by Bridget Sanderson ("Plaintiff") against Social Security Commissioner Michael J. Astrue ("Defendant") pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) seeking Social Security benefits, are the following: (1) Plaintiff's motion for judgment on the pleadings (Dkt. No. 10); (2) Defendant's motion for judgment on the pleadings (Dkt. No. 12); and (3) the Report-Recommendation of United States Magistrate Judge Victor E. Bianchini, issued pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(A) and (B) and Local Rule 72.3(c) of the Local Rules of Practice for this Court, recommending that (a) Plaintiff's motion for judgment on the pleadings be granted, (b) Defendant's motion for judgment on the pleadings be denied, (c) Defendant's decision denying disability benefits be reversed, and (d) the case be remanded to Defendant for further proceedings pursuant to sentence four of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) (Dkt. No. 15). For the reasons set forth below, Magistrate Judge Bianchini's Report-Recommendation is accepted and adopted in its entirety; Plaintiff's motion for judgment on the pleadings is granted; Defendant's motion for judgment on the pleadings is denied; Defendant's decision denying disability benefits is reversed; and the case is remanded to Defendant for further proceedings pursuant to sentence four of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).

I. RELEVANT BACKGROUND

A. Procedural History

Because neither party has objected to Part II of Magistrate Judge Bianchini's Report-Recommendation, which sets forth the procedural background of this action, the Court adopts that description of this action's procedural background. (See generally Dkt. No. 15, at II [Report-Rec].)

More specifically, on November 28, 2005, Plaintiff applied for disability insurance benefits ("DIB") and supplemental security income ("SSI") under the Social Security Act based on medical impairments which left her unable to work. (See Administrative Transcript ["T."] at 62-66, 225-227.)*fn1 In February 2006, her application was denied by the Social Security Administration. (T. at 228.) On January 9, 2008, a hearing was held before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") of the Social Security Administration. (T. at 230.)

On May 14, 2008, the ALJ issued his decision denying Plaintiff's applications. (T. at 22-30.) In his decision, the ALJ applied the five-step sequential evaluation process for determining whether an individual is disabled,*fn2 and concluded that Plaintiff was not under a disability, as that term is defined under the Social Security Act, from July 1, 2005 (i.e., the alleged onset date) through May 14, 2008 (i.e., the date of the ALJ's decision). (Dkt. No. 15.) More specifically, in reaching this conclusion, the ALJ made the following findings: (1) Plaintiff met the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act through December 31, 2010; (2) Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since July 1, 2005, the alleged onset date; (3) Plaintiff had the following medically determinable impairments considered "severe" under the Act: biopolar disorder and generalized anxiety disorder; (4) Plaintiff did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that met or medically equaled one of the impairments found in 20 CFR Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 (the "Listings"); (5) Plaintiff retained the residual functional capacity ("RFC") to engage in sustained physical work activities at any level of exertion in jobs with simple tasks and in a low stress work environment; and (6) Plaintiff was capable of performing her past relevant work as an assembly worker or plater. (Id.)

Plaintiff appealed from the ALJ's decision to the Social Security Administration's Appeals Council. (T. at 8-13.) On September 23, 2008, the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review, making the ALJ's decision the final decision of Defendant. (T. at 5-7.) On November 4, 2008, Plaintiff commenced this action in federal court. (Dkt. No. 1.)

Generally, in her brief in support of her Complaint, Plaintiff asserts the following three arguments: (1) the ALJ failed to apply the appropriate legal standard when evaluating Plaintiff's residual functioning capacity; (2) the ALJ erred in assessing Plaintiff's credibility; and (3) the ALJ was obligated to consult a vocational expert before determining that she could perform her past relevant work. (Dkt. No. 10.) Generally, in his brief in response to Plaintiff's brief, Defendant opposes each of these three arguments, and argues that the Commissioner's decision should be affirmed. (Dkt. No. 12.)

B. Magistrate Judge Bianchini's Report-Recommendation

On January 19, 2011, Magistrate Judge Bianchini issued a Report-Recommendation recommending that Plaintiff's motion for judgment on the pleadings be granted, that the Commissioner's motion be denied, that the decision of the Commissioner be reversed, and that the case be remanded to the Commissioner pursuant to sentence four of 42 U.S.C. § 405 (g) for further administrative proceedings. (Dkt. No. 15.) Generally, in support of his recommendations, Magistrate Judge Bianchini found as follows: (1) the ALJ failed to substantiate Plaintiff's RFC determination with substantial evidence or address Plaintiff's RFC determination in terms of work-related functions, as required by the applicable regulations; (2) the ALJ's analysis of Plaintiff's credibility was flawed; (3) the ALJ's analysis of Plaintiff's past relevant work did not take into account the relevant mental demands associated with that work; and (4) the ALJ's determination that Plaintiff should be denied benefits due to her substance abuse problem is flawed. (Id.)

II. APPLICABLE LEGAL STANDARDS

A. Standard of Review of Magistrate Judge Bianchini's Report-Recommendation

When specific objections are made to a magistrate judge's report-recommendation, the Court makes a "de novo determination of those portions of the report or specified proposed findings or recommendations to which objection is made." See 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(C).*fn3

When only general objections are made to a magistrate judge's report-recommendation, or where the objecting party merely reiterates the same arguments taken in its original papers submitted to the magistrate judge, the Court reviews the report-recommendation for clear error or manifest injustice. See Brown v. Peters, 95-CV-1641, 1997 WL 599355, at *2-3 (N.D.N.Y. Sept. 22, 1997) (Pooler, J.) [collecting cases], aff'd without opinion, 175 F.3d 1007 (2d Cir. 1999).*fn4

Similarly, when a party makes no objection to a portion of a report-recommendation, the Court reviews that portion for clear error or manifest injustice. See Batista v. Walker, 94-CV-2826, 1995 WL 453299, at *1 (S.D.N.Y. July 31, 1995) (Sotomayor, J.) [citations omitted]; Fed. R. Civ. P. 72(b), Advisory Committee Notes: 1983 Addition [citations omitted]. After conducing the appropriate review, the Court may "accept, reject, or modify, in whole or in part, the findings or recommendations made by the magistrate judge." 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(C).

B. Standard Governing Judicial Review of Defendant's Decision

Magistrate Judge Bianchini correctly recited the legal standard governing judicial review of Defendant's decision. (Dkt. No. 15.) As a result, this standard is incorporated by reference in this Decision and Order, which is intended primarily for the review of the parties.

III. ANALYSIS

Objections to the Report-Recommendation have not been filed in this case, and the time in which to do so has expired. As a result, the Court need review the Report-Recommendation only for clear error.

After carefully reviewing all of the papers in this action, including Magistrate Judge Bianchini's Report-Recommendation, the Court concludes that Magistrate Judge Bianchini's thorough Report-Recommendation is correct in all respects.(Dkt. No. 15.) Magistrate Judge Bianchini employed the proper standards, accurately recited the facts, and reasonably applied the law to those facts. (Id.) As a result, the Court accepts and adopts the Report-Recommendation in its entirety for the reasons stated therein. (Id.)

ACCORDINGLY, it is ORDERED that Magistrate Judge Bianchini's Report-Recommendation (Dkt. No. 15) is ACCEPTED and ADOPTED in its entirety; and it is further

ORDERED that Plaintiff's motion for judgment on the pleadings (Dkt. No. 10) is GRANTED; and it is further

ORDERED that Defendant's motion for judgment on the pleadings (Dkt. No. 12) is DENIED; and it is further

ORDERED that Defendant's decision denying disability benefits is REVERSED; and it is further

ORDERED that this matter is REMANDED to Defendant for further proceedings pursuant to sentence four of 42 U.S.C. 405(g).

Syracuse, New York


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