Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

Rockwell v. Colvin

United States District Court, Second Circuit

July 3, 2013

SHIRLEY ROCKWELL, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, [1] Defendant.

REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

VICTOR E. BIANCHINI, Magistrate Judge.

I. INTRODUCTION

In November of 2008, Plaintiff Shirley Rockwell applied for Supplemental Security Income ("SSI") benefits under the Social Security Act. Plaintiff alleges that she has been unable to work since May of 2008 due to physical and emotional impairments. The Commissioner of Social Security denied Plaintiff's application.

Plaintiff, by and through her attorneys, Olinsky Law Group, Tanish T. Bramwell, 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).

II. BACKGROUND

The relevant procedural history may be summarized as follows: Plaintiff applied for benefits on November 6, 2008, alleging disability beginning on May 17, 2008. (T at 106-110, 129, 134).[2] The application was denied initially and Plaintiff requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"). A hearing was held on June 15, 2010, in Utica, New York before ALJ Elizabeth Koennecke.[3] (T at 27). Plaintiff, represented by counsel, appeared and testified. (T at 31-58). On July 29, 2010, ALJ Koennecke issued a written decision denying Plaintiff's application. (T at 6-26). The ALJ's decision became the Commissioner's final decision on March 30, 2012, when the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review. (T at 1-4).

Plaintiff, through counsel, timely commenced this action on May 11, 2012. (Docket No. 1). The Commissioner interposed an Answer on September 25, 2012. (Docket No. 7). Plaintiff filed a supporting Brief on November 1, 2012. (Docket No. 11). The Commissioner filed a Brief in opposition on January 15, 2013. (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.[4]

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.

III. DISCUSSION

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 have reached a different result upon a de novo review." Valente v. Sec'y of Health & Human Servs. , 733 F.2d 1037, 1041 (2d Cir.1984).

The Commissioner has established a five-step sequential evaluation process to determine whether an individual is disabled as defined under the Social Security Act. See 20 C.F.R. §§ 416.920, 404.1520. The United States Supreme Court recognized the validity of this analysis in Bowen v. Yuckert , 482 U.S. 137, 140-142, 107 S.Ct. 2287, 96 L.Ed.2d 119 (1987), and it remains the proper approach for analyzing whether a claimant is disabled.[5]

While the claimant has the burden of proof as to the first four steps, the Commissioner has the burden of proof on the fifth and final step. See Bowen , 482 U.S. at 146 n. 5; Ferraris v. Heckler , 728 F.2d 582 (2d Cir.1984).

The final step of the inquiry is, in turn, divided into two parts. First, the Commissioner must assess the claimant's job qualifications by considering his or her physical ability, age, education, and work experience. Second, the Commissioner must determine whether jobs exist in the national economy that a person having the claimant's qualifications could perform. See 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(2)(A); 20 C.F.R. §§ 416.920(g); 404.1520(g); Heckler v. Campbell , 461 U.S. 458, 460, 103 S.Ct. 1952, 76 L.Ed.2d 66 (1983).

B. Analysis

1. Commissioner's Decision

The ALJ found that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since the alleged onset date (May 17, 2008) and met the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act through December 31, 2013. (T at 11). The ALJ found that Plaintiff had the following severe impairments: degenerative disc disease of the lumbar spine and an anxiety disorder. (T at 11-12). However, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that met or medically equaled one of the listed impairments found in 20 CFR Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 (the "Listings"). (T at 12-15).

The ALJ found that Plaintiff retained the residual functional capacity ("RFC") to lift and/or carry 10 pounds occasionally and less than 10 pounds frequently; stand/walk between 4 and 6 hours in an 8-hour workday; and sit on an unlimited basis. (T at 15). The ALJ determined that Plaintiff maintained the ability (on a sustained basis) to understand, carry out, and remember simple instructions; respond appropriately to supervision, coworkers, and usual work situations; and deal with changes in a routine work setting. (T at 15).

The ALJ found that Plaintiff was unable to perform her past relevant work as an accounting clerk due to her mental limitations. (T at 19).

Considering Plaintiff's age (41 years old on the alleged onset date), education (high school), work experience, and RFC, the ALJ concluded that there were jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy that Plaintiff can perform. (T at 19-21). As such, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had not been under a disability, as defined under the Social Security Act, from the alleged onset date (May 17, 2008) to the date of her decision (July 29, 2010). (T at 21).

As noted above, the ALJ's decision became the Commissioner's final decision on March 30, 2012, when the Appeals Council denied ...


Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.