JENNIFER J. ADAMS,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, ACTING COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.
DECISION AND ORDER
WILLIAM M. SKRETNY, Chief District Judge.
1. Plaintiff Jennifer J. Adams challenges an Administrative Law Judge's ("ALJ") determination that she is not disabled under the Social Security Act ("the Act"). Plaintiff alleges that she became disabled on September 17, 2007. Plaintiff contends that her disability has rendered her unable to work since that date. She therefore asserts that she is entitled to payment of disability insurance benefits ("DIB") under the Act.
2. Plaintiff filed an application for DIB on or about September 19, 2009. Her application was denied. At Plaintiff's request, an administrative hearing was held before ALJ Bruce Mazzarella on April 27, 2011, at which Plaintiff appeared with her attorney and testified. ALJ Mazzarella considered the case de novo, and on July 27, 2011, found that Plaintiff was not disabled. On June 4, 2012, the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review. Plaintiff filed the current civil action on June 20, 2012, challenging Defendant's final decision.
3. On May 15, 2013, the Government filed a Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings, pursuant to Rule 12(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Plaintiff filed a Cross Motion for Summary Judgment on June 17, 2013, pursuant to Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. After full briefing, this Court deemed oral argument unnecessary and took the motions under advisement.
4. 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 be reversed only if it is not supported by substantial evidence or there has been a legal error. 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 is 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).
5. "To determine on appeal whether the 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 that which detracts from its weight." Williams on Behalf of Williams v. Bowen , 859 F.2d 255, 258 (2d Cir. 1988). 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).
6. The Commissioner has established a five-step sequential evaluation process to determine whether an individual is disabled as defined under the Act. See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 416.920. The United States Supreme Court recognized the validity of this analysis in Bowen v. Yuckert , 482 U.S. 137, 140-42, 107 S.Ct. 2287, 2291, 96 L.Ed.2d 119 (1987), and it remains the proper approach for analyzing whether a claimant is disabled.
7. This five-step process is detailed below:
First, the [Commissioner] considers whether the claimant is currently engaged in substantial gainful activity. If he is not, the [Commissioner] next considers whether the claimant has a "severe impairment" which significantly limits his physical or mental ability to do basic work activities. If the claimant suffers such an impairment, the third inquiry is whether, based solely on medical evidence, the claimant has an impairment which is listed in Appendix 1 of the regulations. If the claimant has such an impairment, the [Commissioner] will consider him disabled without considering vocational factors such as age, education, and work experience; the [Commissioner] presumes that a claimant who is afflicted with a "listed" impairment is unable to perform substantial gainful activity. Assuming the claimant does not have a listed impairment, the fourth inquiry is whether, despite the claimant's severe impairment, he has the residual functional capacity to perform his past work. Finally, if the claimant is unable to perform his past work, the [Commissioner] then determines whether there is other work which the claimant could perform.
Berry v. Schweiker , 675 F.2d 464, 467 (2d Cir. 1982) (per curiam); see also Rosa v. Callahan , 168 F.3d 72, 77 (2d Cir. 1999); 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520.
8. Although 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, 584 (2d Cir. 1984). The final step of this 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. § 404.1520(f); Heckler v. Campbell , 461 U.S. 458, 460, 103 S.Ct. 1952, 1954, 76 L.Ed.2d 66 (1983).
9. In this case, the ALJ made the following findings with regard to the five-step process set forth above: (1) Plaintiff has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since the application date of September 17, 2007 (R. at 29); (2) Plaintiff has the following "severe" impairments according to the regulations: multiple sclerosis and back pain (R. at 29); (3) Plaintiff does not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meet or medically equal one of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 (R. at 29); (4) Plaintiff retained the residual functional capacity to sit, stand and/or walk for an eight-hour workday with only normal breaks and meal periods, lift and carry 20 pounds occasionally and 10 pounds frequently and should not frequently stoop, crouch, or climb stairs (R. at 30); and (5) Plaintiff is able to perform her past relevant work (R. at 34). Considering Plaintiff's age, college degree, and her residual functional capacity, the ALJ determined, based on the Medical-Vocational Guidelines and the testimony of a vocational expert, that there are a number of jobs in the national economy that Plaintiff could perform. (R. at 34). Ultimately, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff was not under a disability, as defined by the Act, at any time from the alleged onset date of disability through the date of his decision, July 27, 2011. (R. at 34).
10. Based on his examination of the record, the ALJ found that Plaintiff would be able to perform sedentary work. The Code of Federal Regulations defines sedentary work as "lifting no more than 10 pounds at a time and occasionally lifting or carrying articles like docket files, ledgers, and small tools. Although a sedentary job is defined as one that involves sitting, a certain amount of walking and standing is often necessary in carrying out job duties. Jobs are sedentary if walking and standing are required occasionally and other sedentary criteria are met." 20 C.F.R. § 404.1567(a).
11. Plaintiff's first challenge to the ALJ's decision is to his negative credibility determination. The ALJ found that Plaintiff's testimony with respect to the "intensity, persistence and limiting effects" of her symptoms was inconsistent with the medical ...