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Gagnon v. Colvin

United States District Court, Second Circuit

July 2, 2013

CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, [1] Defendant.

Conboy, McKay, Bachman & Kendall, LLP LAWRENCE D. HASSELER, ESQ., Carthage, New York, Attorneys for Plaintiff.

Social Security Administration Office of Regional General Counsel Region II, KATRINA M. LEDERER, ESQ., Attorney for Defendant.


MAE A. D'AGOSTINO, District Judge.

The above matter comes to me following a Report-Recommendation by Magistrate Judge Victor E. Bianchini duly filed on the 3rd day of June 2013. Following fourteen (14) days from the service thereof, the Clerk has sent me the file, including any and all objections filed by the parties herein.

After careful review of all of the papers herein, including the Magistrate Judge's Report-Recommendation, and no objections submitted thereto, it is


1. The Report-Recommendation is hereby adopted in its entirety.

2. The Commissioner is granted judgment on the pleadings and plaintiff's motion for judgment on the pleadings is denied.

3. The Clerk is directed to close the case and enter judgment accordingly.

4. The Clerk of the Court shall serve a copy of this Order upon all parties and the Magistrate Judge assigned to this case




In April of 2008, Plaintiff Paula Marie Gagnon applied for Supplemental Security Income ("SSI") benefits and disability insurance benefits ("DIB") under the Social Security Act. Plaintiff alleges that she has been unable to work since November of 2004 due to physical and emotional impairments. The Commissioner of Social Security denied Plaintiff's applications.

Plaintiff, by and through her attorneys, Conboy McKay Bachman & Kendall, LLP, Lawrence D. Hasseler, Esq., of counsel, commenced this action seeking judicial review of the Commissioner's denial of benefits pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 405 (g) and 1383 (c)(3).

On March 22, 2013, the Honorable Gary L. Sharpe, Chief United States District Judge, referred this case to the undersigned for a Report and Recommendation pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(A) and (B). (Docket No. 14).


The relevant procedural history may be summarized as follows: Plaintiff applied for SSI benefits and DIB on April 16, 2008, alleging disability beginning on November 1, 2004. (T at 106-110).[2] The applications were denied initially and Plaintiff requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"). A hearing was held on May 18, 2010, in Syracuse, New York before ALJ Barry E. Ryan. (T at 32). Plaintiff, represented by counsel, appeared and testified. (T at 36-54). On July 12, 2010, ALJ Ryan issued a written decision denying Plaintiff's applications. (T at 10-31). The ALJ's decision became the Commissioner's final decision on February 17, 2012, when the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review. (T at 1-6).

Plaintiff, through counsel, timely commenced this action on April 4, 2012. (Docket No. 1). The Commissioner interposed an Answer on July 17, 2012. (Docket No. 7). Plaintiff filed a supporting Brief on August 28, 2012. (Docket No. 10). The Commissioner filed a Brief in opposition on September 24, 2012. (Docket No. 13).

Pursuant to General Order No. 18, issued by the Chief District Judge of the Northern District of New York on September 12, 2003, this Court will proceed as if both parties had accompanied their briefs with a motion for judgment on the pleadings.[3]

For the reasons that follow, it is recommended that Plaintiff's motion be denied, the Commissioner's motion be granted, and that this case be dismissed.


A. Legal Standard

A court reviewing a denial of disability benefits may not determine de novo whether an individual is disabled. See 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g), 1383(c)(3); Wagner v. Sec'y of Health & Human Servs. , 906 F.2d 856, 860 (2d Cir.1990). Rather, the Commissioner's determination will only be reversed if the correct legal standards were not applied, or it was not supported by substantial evidence. Johnson v. Bowen , 817 F.2d 983, 986 (2d Cir.1987) ("Where there is a reasonable basis for doubt whether the ALJ applied correct legal principles, application of the substantial evidence standard to uphold a finding of no disability creates an unacceptable risk that a claimant will be deprived of the right to have her disability determination made according to the correct legal principles."); see Grey v. Heckler , 721 F.2d 41, 46 (2d Cir.1983); Marcus v. Califano , 615 F.2d 23, 27 (2d Cir.1979).

"Substantial evidence" is evidence that amounts to "more than a mere scintilla, " and it has been defined as "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, 1427, 28 L.Ed.2d 842 (1971). Where evidence is deemed susceptible to more than one rational interpretation, the Commissioner's conclusion must be upheld. See Rutherford v. Schweiker , 685 F.2d 60, 62 (2d Cir.1982).

If supported by substantial evidence, the Commissioner's finding must be sustained "even where substantial evidence may support the plaintiff's position and despite that the court's independent analysis of the evidence may differ from the [Commissioner's]." Rosado v. Sullivan , 805 F.Supp. 147, 153 (S.D.N.Y.1992). In other words, this Court must afford the Commissioner's determination considerable deference, and may not substitute "its own judgment for that of the [Commissioner], even if it might justifiably ...

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