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Betty Ann Mills v. Michael J. Astrue

December 21, 2012

BETTY ANN MILLS, PLAINTIFF,
v.
MICHAEL J. ASTRUE, COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Gary L. Sharpe Chief Judge

I. Introduction

Plaintiff Betty Ann Mills challenges the Commissioner of Social Security's denial of her claim for Disability Insurance Benefits (DIB) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI), seeking judicial review under 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and 1383(c)(3). (See Compl., Dkt. No. 1.) After reviewing the administrative record and carefully considering Mills' arguments, the Commissioner's decision is reversed and remanded.

II. Background

On September 24, 2009, Mills, who suffers from, among other things, coronary artery disease, filed applications for DIB and SSI under the Social Security Act ("the Act"), alleging disability since June 11, 2009. (See Tr.*fn1 at 77, 178-90.) After her applications were denied, (see id. at 87-94), Mills requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ), which was held on February 2, 2011. (See id. at 28-68, 98.) On April 5, 2011, the ALJ issued an unfavorable decision denying the requested benefits, which became the Commissioner's final determination upon the Social Security Administration Appeals Council's denial of review. (See id. at 1-6, 72-86.)

Mills commenced the present action by filing her Complaint on August 12, 2011 wherein she sought review of the Commissioner's determination. (See generally Compl.) The Commissioner filed an answer and a certified copy of the administrative transcript. (See Dkt. Nos. 9, 10.) Each party, seeking judgment on the pleadings, filed a brief. (See Dkt. Nos. 13, 14.)

III. Contentions

Mills contends that the Commissioner's decision is tainted by legal error and is not supported by substantial evidence. (See Dkt. No. 13 at 12-25.) Specifically, Mills claims that the: (1) ALJ erred by failing to find that listing 1.04 was met; (2) residual functional capacity (RFC) determination is unsupported by substantial evidence and is the product of legal error; (3) ALJ failed to apply the appropriate legal standards in assessing her credibility; and (4) step five determination is unsupported by substantial evidence. (See id.) The Commissioner counters that the appropriate legal standards were used by the ALJ and his decision is also supported by substantial evidence. (See Dkt. No. 14 at 12-24.)

IV. Facts

The court adopts the parties' undisputed factual recitations. (See Dkt. No. 13 at 2-12; Dkt. No. 14 at 2-12.)

V. Standard of Review

The standard for reviewing the Commissioner's final decision under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g)*fn2 is well established and will not be repeated here. For a full discussion of the standard and the five-step process by which the Commissioner evaluates whether a claimant is disabled under the Act, the court refers the parties to its previous decision in Christiana v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec. Admin., No. 1:05-CV-932, 2008 WL 759076, at *1-2 (N.D.N.Y. Mar. 19, 2008).

VI. Discussion

A. Listed Impairment

At step three, the ALJ determined that Mills' central disk herniation, canal stenosis, and osteophytes, though severe, did not meet or medically equal a listed impairment. (See Tr. at 77-78.) Mills contends that the ALJ erred in this determination, contending that her neck impairment met Listing 1.04(A). (See Dkt. No. 13 at 14-17.) To satisfy Listing 1.04(A), a claimant must show that she suffers from a spinal disorder resulting in the compromise of a nerve root or the spinal cord with evidence of: (1) nerve root compression characterized by neuro-anatomic distribution of pain; (2) limitation of motion of the spine; (3) motor loss accompanied by sensory or reflex loss; and (4) if there is involvement of the lower back, positive straight-leg raising test. See ...


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