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Donna Lee May v. Commissioner of Social Security

June 21, 2011

DONNA LEE MAY, PLAINTIFF,
v.
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Mae A. D'Agostino, U.S. District Judge:

MEMORANDUM-DECISION AND ORDER

I. INTRODUCTION

Plaintiff brought this action pursuant to the Social Security Act ("the Act"), 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g), 1383(c)(3), seeking review of a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner"), denying her application for Disability Insurance Benefits ("DIB") and Social Security Income ("SSI"). Specifically, plaintiff alleges that the Administrative Law Judge's ("ALJ") decision denying her application for benefits was not supported by substantial evidence and was contrary to the applicable legal standards. The Commissioner disagrees.

On May 24, 2011, Magistrate Judge Bianchini issued a Report and Recommendation in which he recommended that this Court remand the Commissioner's decision for failure to develop the record properly by obtaining a consultative psychological or psychiatric evaluation. See Dkt. No. 18 at 13.

Currently before the Court is Magistrate Judge Bianchini's Report and Recommendation to which the Commissioner has filed objections.

II. BACKGROUND

Plaintiff initially filed for SSI and DIB benefits on March 21, 2005, alleging disability beginning on February 25, 2005. See Administrative Record ("AR") at 77-80, 297-99. Plaintiff alleged disability due to several impairments, including hereditary blindness in her right eye, significant blindness in her left eye, headaches, depression, anxiety, carpal tunnel syndrome, a possible diagnosis of Lupus,*fn1 and osteoarthritis. The applications were denied. See id. at 32-35, 300-04.

Plaintiff timely requested a hearing, which was held in Johnstown, New York, on August 7, 2008, before ALJ Terence Farrell. See id. at 36-38, 343-78. Plaintiff, represented by counsel, appeared and testified. See id. at 351-52, 361-78. Robert Adler, a medical expert, also testified.

See id. at 352-61. On September 25, 2008, the ALJ issued a decision finding plaintiff not disabled. See id. at 14-25. Plaintiff filed a request for review of that decision. See id. at 10. The ALJ's decision became the Commissioner's final decision on March 13, 2009, when the Appeals Council denied plaintiff's request for review. See id. at 6-9.

On May 15, 2009, plaintiff, through counsel, timely commenced this action. See Dkt. No. 1. The Commissioner interposed an answer on January 4, 2010. See Dkt. No. 10. Plaintiff filed a supporting brief on February 18, 2010, see Dkt. No. 12, and the Commissioner filed a brief in opposition on May 20, 2010, see Dkt. No. 15.

On May 24, 2011, Magistrate Judge Bianchini issued a Report and Recommendation in which he recommends that this Court "remand for failure to properly develop the record by obtaining a psychological or psychiatric evaluation." See Dkt. No. 18 at 13. On June 7, 2011, the Commissioner filed objections to Magistrate Judge Bianchini's Report and Recommendation, arguing that the ALJ was only required to obtain additional evidence if he could not decide whether plaintiff was disabled based on the existing evidence. See Dkt. No. 19 at 2. Since the ALJ had "sufficient medical records concerning plaintiff's mental health," none of which indicated that plaintiff had a severe mental impairment, the Commissioner argues that "the ALJ [wa]s under no obligation to seek additional information." See id. (citing Rosa v. Callahan, 168 F.3d 72, 79, n.5 (2d Cir. 1999)).

III. DISCUSSION

A. Standard of review

When reviewing the Commissioner's final decision, the court must determine whether the Commissioner applied the correct legal standards and whether substantial evidence supports the decision. See Urtz v. Callahan, 965 F. Supp. 324, 326 (N.D.N.Y. 1997) (citing Johnson v. Bowen, 817 F.2d 983, 985 (2d Cir. 1987)). Although the Commissioner is ultimately responsible for determining a claimant's eligibility for benefits, an ALJ makes the actual disability determination; and that decision is subject to judicial review on appeal. A court may not affirm an ALJ's decision if it reasonably doubts that the ALJ applied the proper legal standards, even if it appears that there is substantial evidence to support the ALJ's decision. See id. (citing[Johnson, 817 F.2d] at 986). Additionally, the ALJ must set forth the crucial factors ...


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