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Cordero v. Astrue

United States District Court, Second Circuit

July 29, 2013

IVETTE Z. CORDERO, Plaintiff,
v.
MICHAEL J. ASTRUE, Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

OPINION & ORDER

PAUL A. ENGELMAYER, District Judge.

Plaintiff Ivette Cordero brings this action pursuant to § 205(g) of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), seeking judicial review of a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security denying her application for disability benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act. Both parties have moved for judgment on the pleadings pursuant to Rule 12(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Before the Court is the January 2, 2013 Report and Recommendation of Magistrate Judge Henry B. Pitman, recommending that the Court grant the Commissioner's motion and deny Cordero's motion (the "Report"). For the reasons that follow, the Court adopts the Report in full.

I. Background

On May 23, 2008, Cordero filed an application for disability benefits, alleging that she had been disabled since February 12, 2003. After the Social Security Administration initially denied Cordero's application for benefits, she timely requested and was granted a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"). On June 30, 2010, the ALJ conducted a hearing, which included testimony from both Cordero and a vocational expert. On September 9, 2010, the ALJ issued a decision finding that Cordero was not disabled and thus was not entitled to benefits. The Appeals Council denied Cordero's request for review, and on July 11, 2011, Cordero commenced this action. Dkt. 2.

On August 16, 2011, Honorable Barbara S. Jones, to whom the case was then assigned, referred the case to Judge Pitman. Dkt. 3. On June 7, 2012, the Commissioner moved for judgment on the pleadings. Dkt. 10. On June 22, 2012, Cordero cross-moved for judgment on the pleadings. Dkt. 12 ("Cordero Br."). On January 2, 2013, Judge Pitman issued the Report. Dkt. 15. On January 23, 2013, Cordero filed objections to the Report. Dkt. 17 ("Cordero Obj."). On February 12, 2013, the Commissioner filed a response to Cordero's objections. Dkt. 18. On May 29, 2013, the case was reassigned to this Court.

II. The Report

Judge Pitman's 63-page Report sets forth Cordero's personal and medical background in exhaustive detail. See Report 3-28. To summarize, Cordero worked as a nurse's aide for 23 years and a mail carrier for nine years before ceasing work in 2003. Beginning in 2001, Cordero made frequent visits to physicians regarding various health issues, including lower back pain, carpal tunnel syndrome, heart palpitations, diabetes, and depression. In October 2003, she ceased her employment with the United States Postal Service due to "heart fibrilliations." She continued to be treated by various physicians through the time of her application for benefits in 2008, and up to the time of her 2010 hearing before the ALJ. Cordero does not object to the Report's recitation of the facts, and the Court adopts that recitation in full.

The Report also sets forth the proceedings before the ALJ in great detail. See Report 28-34. Cordero testified about her work history and her physical and psychological symptoms. See id. at 28-31. The ALJ also heard from Salvatore Garozzo, a vocational expert who testified as to Cordero's ability to perform different occupations, ultimately opining that Cordero could perform three suitable jobs existing in the economy in sufficient numbers: housekeeper, assembly worker, and electronics assembly worker. Id. at 31-33.

The Report then recounted the ALJ's decision. After finding that Cordero met the disability insured status requirement through December 31, 2008 (her last insured date), the ALJ conducted the five-step analysis required in evaluating disability claims. Report 41-47; see Balsamo v. Chater, 142 F.3d 75, 79-80 (2d Cir. 1998) (setting forth five-step analysis). Relevant here, the ALJ found at step four of the analysis-which involves an inquiry into the claimant's residual functional capacity, i.e., "the most [the claimant] can still do despite [her] limitations, " see 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1545(a)(1), 416.945(a)(1)-that Cordero had the residual functional capacity to perform "light work... that did not entail greater than occasional interaction with members of the public." Report 42 (quoting Transcript of ALJ Decision ("Tr.") at 29). The ALJ determined that Cordero could lift and carry 20 pounds occasionally and 10 pounds frequently, and could stand or walk for a total of six hours during an eight-hour work day. Id. The ALJ also considered Cordero's mental conditions, concluding that although the evidence showed "intermittent manifestations of a depressive disorder, an anxiety disorder, and alcohol abuse, " these conditions "resulted in no limitations of [Cordero's] activities of daily living; a moderate restriction in terms of social functioning; and a mild limitation for maintaining concentration, persistence and pace." Id. (quoting Tr. 29). Thus, "[t]he evidence simply [did] not corroborate allegations of mental compromise that would have been preclusive of any work-related activity." Id. (quoting Tr. 30).

At step five-which, if the claimant cannot perform her past work, involves inquiring into what other work the claimant can perform, see Balsamo, 142 F.3d at 80-the ALJ found that based on Cordero's age, education, work experience, and residual functional capacity, Cordero could perform at least three jobs that existed in significant numbers in the national economy. Report 46. Thus, the ALJ concluded, Cordero was not disabled under the Social Security Act.

After summarizing Cordero's arguments, see Report 47-49, the Report analyzed the ALJ's decision. The Report found that the ALJ had applied the correct legal standards, and that the ALJ's decision was supported by substantial evidence. Id. at 49-61.

III. Discussion

"A district court may set aside the Commissioner's determination that a claimant is not disabled only if the factual findings are not supported by substantial evidence' or if the decision is based on legal error." Burgess v. Astrue, 537 F.3d 117, 127 (2d Cir. 2008); see 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). "Substantial evidence means more than a mere scintilla. It means such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Burgess, 537 F.3d at 127 (citation omitted).

In reviewing a Report and Recommendation, a district court "may accept, reject, or modify, in whole or in part, the findings or recommendations made by the magistrate judge." 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(C). Where a party timely objects to a report and recommendation, the district court reviews those portions of the report to which the party objected de novo. Id. To accept those portions of the report to which no timely objection has been made, "a district court need only satisfy itself that there is no clear error on the face of the record." Carlson v. Dep't of Justice, No. 10 Civ. 5149 (PAE)(KNF), 2012 WL 928124, at *1 (S.D.N.Y. Mar. 19, 2012) (citation omitted); see also Wilds v. United Parcel Serv., 262 F.Supp.2d 163, 169 (S.D.N.Y. 2003). "[I]t is well-settled that when the objections simply reiterate previous arguments or make only conclusory statements, the Court should review the report for clear error." Dickerson v. Conway, No. 08 Civ. 8024 (PAE)(FM), 2013 WL 3199094, at *1 (S.D.N.Y. June 25, 2013); accord Kirk v. Burge, 646 F.Supp.2d 534, 538 (S.D.N.Y. 2009) (collecting cases). That is, "[r]eviewing courts should ...


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