United States District Court, N.D. New York
[Copyrighted Material Omitted]
For Plaintiff: HOWARD D. OLINSKY, ESQ., OF COUNSEL, Syracuse, NY.
For Defendant: SIXTINA FERNANDEZ, ESQ., OF COUNSEL, OFFICE OF REGIONAL GENERAL COUNSEL, SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION REGION II, New York, NY.
David N. Hurd, United States District Judge.
MEMORANDUM-DECISION and ORDER
This matter is brought pursuant to § § 205(g) of the Social Security Act, as amended, 42 U.S.C. § § 405(g) & 1383(c)(3), to review a final determination of the Commissioner of Social Security denying the plaintiff's claim for Social Security Disability benefits. The parties have filed their briefs, including the Administrative Record on Appeal, and the matter has been submitted for decision without oral argument.
Plaintiff Pamela Yates (" plaintiff" or " Yates" ) filed an application for social security disability benefits on August 2, 2007, claiming a period of disability beginning on November 24, 2005. Her claims were denied on November 8, 2007. She filed a request for a hearing on December 14, 2007, and a hearing by video was held before an Administrative Law Judge (" ALJ" ) on September 29, 2009. The ALJ rendered a decision on November 17, 2009, denying plaintiff's claim. Plaintiff appealed the ALJ's decision and submitted additional evidence to the Appeals Council. On May 6, 2011, the Appeals Council declined further review of the ALJ's decision. Thus, the ALJ's decision became the final decision of the Commissioner.
A. Standard of Review
The scope of a court's review of the Commissioner's final decision is limited to determinating whether the decision is supported by substantial evidence and the correct legal standards were applied. Poupore v. Astrue, 566 F.3d 303, 305 (2d Cir. 2009) (per curiam) (citing Machadio v. Apfel, 276 F.3d 103, 108 (2d Cir. 2002)); Martone v. Apfel, 70 F.Supp.2d 145, 148 (N.D.N.Y. 1999) (citing Johnson v. Bowen, 817 F.2d 983, 985 (2d Cir. 1987)). " 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.'" Poupore, 566 F.3d at 305 (quoting
Consol. Edison Co. v. NLRB, 305 U.S. 197, 229, 59 S.Ct. 206, 217, 83 L.Ed. 126 (1938)). " To determine on appeal whether an ALJ's findings are supported by substantial evidence, a reviewing court considers the whole record,
examining the evidence from both sides, because an analysis of the substantiality of the evidence must also include tat which detracts from its weight." Williams v. Bowen, 859 F.2d 255, 258 (2d Cir. 1988) (citing Universal Camera Corp. v. NLRB, 340 U.S. 474, 488, 71 S.Ct. 456, 464, 95 L.Ed. 456 (1951)). If the Commissioner's disability determination is supported by substantial evidence, that determination is conclusive. Id.
However, " where there is a reasonable basis for doubting whether the Commissioner applied the appropriate legal standards," the decision should not be affirmed even though the ultimate conclusion reached is arguably supported by substantial evidence. Martone, 70 F.Supp.2d at 148 (citing Johnson, 817 F.2d at 986).
A reviewing court may enter " a judgment affirming, modifying, or reversing the decision of the Commissioner of Social Security, with or without remanding the cause for a rehearing." 42 U.S.C. § 405(g);
see Martone, 70 F.Supp.2d at 148. " Remand is appropriate where there are gaps in the record or further development of the evidence is needed," such as where new, material evidence has become available. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g); Martone, 70 F.Supp.2d at 148 (citing Parker v. Harris, 626 F.2d 225, 235 (2d Cir. 1980)). A remand for rehearing directing the taking of additional evidence is warranted only if it is shown that there is new, material evidence " 'and that there is good cause for the failure to incorporate such evidence into the record'" at the administrative hearing. Carroll v. Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., 705 F.2d 638, 643-44 (2d Cir. 1983) (quoting 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), as amended in 1980)). Remand may also be appropriate if the Commissioner " misapplies the law or failed to provide a fair hearing." Id. at 644. However, where the underlying administrative decision is not supported by substantial evidence, reversal is appropriate because there would be no useful purpose in remanding the matter for further proceedings. Id. (reversing and remanding solely for calculation of benefits, subject to determination by the district court of any motion by the agency to remand to consider new evidence); Parker, 626 F.2d at 235 (reversing and remanding solely for calculation and payment of benefits); Simmons v. United States R.R. Ret. Bd., 982 F.2d 49, 57 (2d Cir. 1992) (same); Williams, 859 F.2d at 261 (same).
B. Disability Determination--The Five Step Evaluation Process
The Social Security Act defines " disability" to include the " inability to engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment which can be expected to result in death or which has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than 12 months." 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A). In addition, the Act requires that a claimant's
physical or mental impairment or impairments [must be] of such severity that he is not only unable to do his previous work but cannot, considering his age, education, and work experience, engage in any other kind of substantial gainful work which exists in the national economy, regardless of whether such work exists in the immediate area in which he lives, or ...