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Laura Laveck v. Michael J. Astrue

September 28, 2012


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Randolph F. Treece United States Magistrate Judge


In this action, Plaintiff Laura Laveck moves, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), for review of a decision by the Commissioner of Social Security denying her application for Supplemental Security Income (SSI).*fn1 Based upon the following discussion, the Commissioner's decision denying Social Security benefits is reversed and this case is remanded for further development of the record.


Laura Ann Laveck, born on November 4, 1981, protectively filed for SSI benefits on May 23, 2007, alleging disability due to back problems, left ovary removal, anxiety, anxiety attacks, learning disability, degenerative disc disease, and depression. Dkt. No. 9, Admin. Transcript [hereinafter "Tr."] at pp. 104 & 147 . Laveck had filed a prior disability application that was denied on January 19, 2007.*fn2

Id. at pp. 111-14, 143, & 212. In her May 2007 disability application, Laveck asserts that her disability began on August 1, 2006. Id. at pp. 104 & 212. Laveck stopped attending school upon completion of the eighth grade. Having been held back several times, she was eighteen years old when she finished eighth grade. Id. at pp. 35-37 & 121. She previously worked as a cashier at a gas station and a housekeeper. Id. at p. 148.

On October 17, 2007, Laveck's application was initially denied. Id. at pp. 52 & 56-63. A Hearing was held on September 22, 2009 (Tr. at pp. 27-51), before Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) Thomas P. Tielens who, on November 5, 2009, issued a decision finding Laveck not disabled (Tr. at pp. 12-26). On October 13, 2010, after considering further information, the Appeals Council denied Laveck's request to review the ALJ's decision, thus rendering the ALJ's decision the final determination of the Commissioner. Id. at pp. 1-4. Exhausting all of her options for review through the Social Security Administration's tribunals, Plaintiff now brings this appeal.


A. Standard of Review

Under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), the proper standard of review for this Court is not to employ a de novo review, but rather to discern whether substantial evidence supports the Commissioner's findings and that the correct legal standards have been applied. See Rivera v. Sullivan, 923 F.2d 964, 967 (2d Cir. 1991); Urtz v. Callahan, 965 F. Supp. 324, 325-26 (N.D.N.Y. 1997) (citing, inter alia, Johnson v. Bowen, 817 F.2d 983, 985 (2d Cir. 1987)). Succinctly defined, substantial evidence is "more than a mere scintilla," it is "such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Consol. Edison Co. of New York v. N.L.R.B., 305 U.S. 197, 229 (1938).

The ALJ must set forth the crucial factors supporting the decision with sufficient specificity. Ferraris v. Heckler, 728 F.2d 582, 587 (2d Cir. 1984). Where the ALJ's findings are supported by substantial evidence, the court may not interject its interpretation of the administrative record. Williams ex rel. Williams v. Bowen, 859 F.2d 255, 258 (2d Cir. 1988); 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Where the weight of the evidence, however, does not meet the requirement for substantial evidence or a reasonable basis for doubt exists as to whether correct legal principles were applied, the ALJ's decision may not be affirmed. Johnson v. Bowen, 817 F.2d at 986.

B. Determination of Disability

The SSI program, 42 U.S.C. § 1381, et seq., is a federal program providing benefits to needy aged, blind, or disabled individuals who meet the statutory income and resource limitations. 20 C.F.R. § 416.110. The SSI program was designed to replace the former federally assisted state welfare programs for the aged, blind, or disabled. Id. While the SSI program has special eligibility requirements that relate to establishing need,*fn3 the requirements for establishing disability, found at 42 U.S.C. § 1382c, are identical to the requirements under Title II of the Social Security Act for entitlement to disability insurance benefits. See 42 U.S.C. § 423(d). Therefore, the vast case law interpreting the disability provisions under Title II may be relied upon in this case. See Donato v. Sec'y of Health and Human Servs., 721 F.2d 414, 418 n.3 (2d Cir. 1983) (noting that decisions under Titles II and XVI are cited interchangeably).

To be considered disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act, a plaintiff must establish an "inability to engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment which can be expected to result in death or which has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than 12 months." 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A). Furthermore, the claimant's physical or mental impairments must be of such severity as to prevent engagement in any kind of substantial gainful work which exists in the national economy. Id. at § 423(d)(2)(A).

In determining whether a claimant is disabled, the Commissioner follows a five-step analysis set forth in the Social Security Administration Regulations. 20 C.F.R. § 416.920. At Step One, the Commissioner "considers whether the claimant is currently engaged in gainful activity." Berry v. Schweiker, 675 F.2d 464, 467 (2d Cir. 1982). If the claimant is engaged in substantial gainful activity, he or she is not disabled and the inquiry ends. 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(b). If the claimant is not engaged in substantial gainful activity, the Commissioner proceeds to Step Two and assesses whether the claimant suffers from a severe impairment that significantly limits his or her physical or mental ability to do basic work activities. Id. at § 416.920(c). If the claimant suffers from a severe impairment, the Commissioner considers at Step Three whether such impairment(s) meets or equals an impairment listed in Appendix 1, in Part 404, Subpart P of the Regulations. Id. at § 416.920(d). The Commissioner makes this assessment without considering vocational factors such as age, education, and work experience. Berry v. Schweiker, 675 F.2d at 467. Where the claimant has such an impairment the inquiry ceases as he or she is presumed to be disabled and unable to perform substantial gainful activity. Id. If the claimant's impairment(s) does not meet or equal the listed impairments, the Commissioner proceeds to Step Four and considers whether the claimant has the residual functional ...

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