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Rose Bonifacio v. Commissioner of Social Security

August 3, 2012

ROSE BONIFACIO, PLAINTIFF,
v.
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: David R. Homer U.S. Magistrate Judge

MEMORANDUM-DECISION AND ORDER*fn1

Plaintiff Rose Bonifacio ("Bonifacio") brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) seeking review of a decision by the Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner") denying her application for benefits under the Social Security Act. Bonifacio moves for a finding of disability and the Commissioner cross-moves for a judgment on the pleadings. Dkt. Nos. 12, 13. For the reasons which follow, the Commissioner's decision should be affirmed.

I. Background

A. Facts

Born on March 9, 1967, Bonifacio was thirty-eight years old when she last applied for disability benefits. T. 125, 130.*fn2 Bonifacio successfully completed the tenth grade, as well as a six-week program to become a certified nursing assistant ("CNA") at a community college, and around the time of her hearing had begun pursuing her general educational development ("GED") degree as the vocational secretarial programs were full. T. 35-36. Bonifacio previously worked primarily as a cashier and CNA, although she also briefly worked at a fast food restaurant and the Department of Social Services. T. 38-41. Bonifacio alleges disability from multiple impairments including her lower back; right shoulder, hand and knee; left knee; diabetes; heart murmurs; and asthma. T. 31.

B. Procedural History

On February 17, 2006, Bonifacio filed an application for disability insurance benefits and social security income ("SSI") pursuant to the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. § 401 et seq. claiming an alleged onset date of December 13, 2005. T. 116-24. On March 20, 2008, Bonifacio filed a second application for both disability insurance benefits and SSI claiming an alleged onset date of January 24, 2008. T. 125-37. That application was denied on May 27, 2008. T. 78-89. Bonifacio requested a hearing before an administrative law judge ("ALJ"), Terrence Farrell, which was held on November 13, 2009. T. 27-75, 90, 93-112. In a decision dated November 24, 2009, the ALJ held that Bonifacio was entitled to partial disability benefits. T. 9-26. Bonifacio's counsel filed a timely request for review with the Appeals Council and on June 14, 2011, the request was denied, thus making the ALJ's findings the final decision of the Commissioner. T. 1-8. This action followed.

II. Discussion

A. Standard of Review

In reviewing a final decision of the Commissioner, a court must determine whether the correct legal standards were applied and whether substantial evidence supports the decision. Berry, 675 F.2d at 467. Substantial evidence is "more than a mere scintilla," meaning that in the record one can find "such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.'" Halloran v. Barnhart, 362 F.3d 28, 31 (2d Cir. 2004) (citing Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971) (internal citations omitted)).

"In addition, an ALJ must set forth the crucial factors justifying his findings with sufficient specificity to allow a court to determine whether substantial evidence supports the decision." Barringer v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 358 F. Supp. 2d 67, 72 (N.D.N.Y. 2005) (citing Ferraris v. Heckler, 728 F.2d 582, 587 (2d Cir. 1984)). However, a court cannot substitute its interpretation of the administrative record for that of the Commissioner if the record contains substantial support for the ALJ's decision. Yancey v. Apfel, 145 F.3d 106, 111 (2d Cir. 1998). If the Commissioner's finding is supported by substantial evidence, it is conclusive. 42 USC § 405(g) (2006); Halloran, 362 F.3d at 31.

B. Determination of Disability*fn3 "Every individual who is under a disability shall be entitled to a disability. . . benefit. . . ." 42 U.S.C. § 423(a)(1) (2004). Disability is defined as the "inability to engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment . . . which has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than 12 months." Id. § 423(d)(1)(A). A medically determinable impairment is an affliction that is so severe that it renders an individual unable to continue with his or her previous work or any other employment that may be available to him or her based upon age, education, and work experience. Id. § 423(d)(2)(A). Such an impairment must be supported by "medically acceptable clinical and laboratory diagnostic techniques." Id. § 423(d)(3). Additionally, the severity of the impairment is "based [upon] objective medical facts, diagnoses or medical opinions inferable from [the] facts, subjective complaints of pain or disability, and educational background, age, and work experience." Ventura v. Barnhart, No. 04-CV-9018(NRB), 2006 WL 399458, at *3 (S.D.N.Y. Feb. 21, 2006) (citing Mongeur v. Heckler, 722 F.2d 1033, 1037 (2d Cir. 1983)).

The Second Circuit employs a five-step analysis, based upon 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520, to determine whether an individual is entitled to disability benefits:

First, the [Commissioner] considers whether the claimant is currently engaged in substantial gainful activity. If he [or she] is not, the [Commissioner] next considers whether the claimant has a 'severe impairment' which significantly limits his [or her] physical or mental ability to do basic work activities. If the claimant suffers such an impairment, the third inquiry is whether, based solely on medical evidence, the claimant has an impairment which is listed in Appendix 1 of the regulations. If the claimant has such an impairment, the [Commissioner] will consider him [or her] disabled without considering vocational factors such as age, education, and work experience; the [Commissioner] presumes that a claimant who is afflicted with a 'listed' impairment is unable to perform substantial gainful activity. Assuming the claimant does not have a listed impairment, the fourth inquiry is whether, despite the claimant's severe impairment, he [or ...


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