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Long v. Colvin

United States District Court, Second Circuit

May 23, 2013

CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

Lachman, Gorton Law Firm PETER A. GORTON, ESQ., Endicott, New York, for the Plaintiff.

Social Security Administration Office of Regional General Counsel DAVID L. BROWN, ESQ., NOAH M. SCHABACKER, ESQ., Region II, New York, New York, for the Defendant.


EARL S. HINES, Magistrate Judge.


The above-captioned matter comes to this court following a Report-Recommendation by Magistrate Judge Earl S. Hines, duly filed May 23, 2013. Following ten days from the service thereof, the Clerk has sent the file, including any and all objections filed by the parties herein.

No objections having been filed, and the court having reviewed the Magistrate Judge's Report-Recommendation for clear error, it is hereby

ORDERED that the Report-Recommendation of Magistrate Judge Earl S. Hines filed May 23, 2013 is ACCEPTED in its entirety for the reasons state therein; and it is further

ORDERED that the Commissioner's decision be REVERSED and the case REMANDED pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), sentence four, for receipt of evidence regarding the extent that Long's nonexertional environmental limitation further diminishes her occupational base and to guard against necessity for further actions seeking judicial review, the court requests the Commissioner, upon remand, to review his decision in light of all other errors Long asserts in this action; and it is further

ORDERED, that the Clerk of the Court is to mail copies of the Order to the parties in accordance with the court's local rules.


Georgette Long ("Long") brings this action under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), seeking review of an adverse decision on her application for disability-based Supplemental Security Income benefits under the Social Security Act. Complying with General Order # 18 (Dkt. No. 3), the parties join issues through competing briefs.[1]

A reviewing court's limited role is to determine whether (a) the Commissioner applied proper legal standards and (b) the decision is supported by substantial evidence. See Lamay v. Commissioner of Soc. Sec., 562 F.3d 503, 507 (2d Cir. 2009), cert. denied, ___ U.S. ___, 130 S.Ct. 1503 (2010); Berry v. Schweiker, 675 F.2d 464, 467 (2d Cir. 1982); see also 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Reviewing courts cannot retry factual issues de novo or substitute their interpretations of administrative records for that of the Commissioner when the record contains substantial support for the decision. Yancey v. Apfel, 145 F.3d 106, 111 (2d Cir. 1998). Neither can reviewing courts overturn the Commissioner's administrative rulings because they would have reached a different conclusion had the matter come before them in the first instance. See Campbell v. Astrue, 465 Fed.App'x 4, 5 (2d Cir. 2012).

I. Background

Long's application claimed disability due to degenerative disc disease and depression. (T. 12, 84-87, 99).[2] Administrative law judge, John P. Ramos ("ALJ Ramos"), conducted a video conference evidentiary hearing, and eventually issued a written decision denying Long's application. (T. 12-20). After unsuccessfully requesting Appeals Council review, Long timely instituted this proceeding. (Dkt. No. 1).

II. Commissioner's Decision

ALJ Ramos utilized a five-step sequential evaluation procedure prescribed by regulation and approved by courts as a fair and just way for determining disability applications in conformity with the Social Security Act. See 20 C.F.R. § 416.920; Bowen v. Yuckert, 482 U.S. 137, 153 (1987) (citing Heckler v. Campbell, 461 U.S. 458, 461 (1983)). A full discussion of the Commissioner's five-step process is contained in Christiana v. Commissioner of Soc. Sec. Admin., No. 1:05-CV-932, 2008 WL 759076, at *1-2 (N.D.N.Y. Mar. 19, 2008).

ALJ Ramos determined that Long has several severe impairments, including degenerative disc disease of the lumbar spine, asthma, depression, adjustment disorder with depressed mood, and bereavement. (T. 14). These impairments reduce Long's ability to perform work-related activities to the "sedentary" exertional level.[3] Even at that diminished level, Long cannot perform a full range of sedentary work. One limitation at that exertional level is that she should avoid exposure to respiratory irritants.[4] (T. 16).

ALJ Ramos found that Long has moderate difficulties with regard to concentration, persistence or pace. (T. 15). He did not, however, impose any limitations on Long's mental residual functional capacity arising from such difficulties. Rather, he found that Long retains ability to understand and follow simple and complex instructions and directions. (T. 16). She can perform simple and complex tasks with both supervision and independently. Id. She also can maintain attention and/or concentration for tasks, regularly attend to a ...

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