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Coppeta v. Commissioner of Social Security

United States District Court, W.D. New York

November 2, 2012

Christine L. COPPETA, Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.

Page 433

Christine L. Coppeta, Rochester, NY, pro se.

Kathryn L. Smith, U.S. Attorney's Office, Rochester, NY, for Defendant.

DECISION AND ORDER

DAVID G. LARIMER, District Judge.

In this action brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) to review the final determination of the Commissioner of Social Security (" the Commissioner" ), plaintiff Christine Coppeta (" plaintiff" ) appeals from the Commissioner's denial of disability insurance benefits.

On July 14, 2008, plaintiff, then 45 years old, filed an application for disability insurance benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act. Plaintiff alleged an inability to work since March 1, 2005, due primarily to migraine headaches, degenerative disc disease, carpal tunnel syndrome. (T. 10). Her application was initially denied. (T. 10). Plaintiff requested a hearing, which was held on January 11, 2010 before Administrative Law Judge (" ALJ" ) John P. Costello, and at which plaintiff was represented by counsel. (T. 24-44). The ALJ issued a decision on January 27, 2010, concluding that plaintiff was not disabled under the Social Security Act. (T. 10-17). That decision became the final decision of the Commissioner when the Appeals Council denied review on April 29, 2011 (T. 1-3). Plaintiff now appeals, pro se.

The Commissioner has moved (Dkt. # 10) for judgment on the pleadings pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. Proc. 12(c). For the reasons discussed below, the Commissioner's motion is granted, and the complaint is dismissed.

DISCUSSION

Determination of whether a claimant is disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act requires an ALJ to follow a five-step sequential evaluation. See Bowen v. City of New York, 476 U.S. 467, 470-71, 106 S.Ct. 2022, 90 L.Ed.2d 462 (1986). At step one, the ALJ must determine whether the claimant is engaged in substantial gainful work activity. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(b). If so, the claimant is not disabled. If not, the ALJ proceeds to step two, and determines whether the claimant has an impairment, or combination

Page 434

of impairments, that is " severe" within the meaning of the Act, e.g., that imposes significant restrictions on the claimant's ability to perform basic work activities. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(c). If not, the analysis concludes with a finding of " not disabled." If so, the ALJ continues to step three.

At step three, the ALJ examines whether the claimant's impairment meets or equals the criteria of a listed impairment in Appendix 1 of Subpart P of Regulation No. 4. If the impairment meets or medically equals the criteria of a listing and meets the durational requirement (20 C.F.R. § 404.1509), the claimant is disabled. If not, analysis proceeds to step four, and the ALJ determines the claimant's residual functional capacity (" RFC" ), which is the ability to perform physical or metal work activities on a sustained basis, notwithstanding limitations for the collective impairments. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(e), (f). Then, the ALJ determines whether the claimant's RFC permits her to perform the requirements of her past relevant work. If so, the claimant is not disabled. If not, analysis proceeds to the fifth and final step, wherein the burden shifts to the Commissioner to show that the claimant is not disabled, by presenting evidence demonstrating that the claimant " retains a residual functional capacity to perform alternative substantial gainful work which exists in the national economy" considering her age, education, and work experience. See Rosa v. Callahan, 168 F.3d 72, 77 (2d Cir.1999) (quoting Bapp v. Bowen, 802 F.2d 601, 604 (2d Cir.1986)). See 20 C.F.R. § 404.1560(c).

The Commissioner's decision that plaintiff is not disabled must be affirmed if it is supported by substantial evidence, and if the ALJ applied the correct legal standards. See 42 U.S.C. § 405(g); Machadio v. Apfel, 276 F.3d 103, 108 (2d Cir.2002). Substantial evidence is defined as " more than a mere scintilla. It means such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401, 91 S.Ct. 1420, 28 L.Ed.2d 842 (1971) (quoting Consolidated Edison Co. v. N.L.R.B., 305 U.S. 197, 229, 59 S.Ct. 206, 83 L.Ed. 126 (1938)). " The Court carefully considers the whole record, examining evidence from both sides ‘ because an analysis of the substantiality of the evidence must also include that which detracts from its weight.’ " Tejada v. Apfel, 167 F.3d 770, 774 (2d Cir.1999) quoting Quinones v. Chater, 117 F.3d 29, 33 (2d Cir.1997). Still, " it is not the function of a reviewing court to decide de novo whether a claimant was disabled." Melville v. Apfel, 198 F.3d ...


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