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Sickles v. Colvin

United States District Court, N.D. New York

February 27, 2014

JENNIFER SICKLES, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

PETER A. GORTON, ESQ., LACHMAN & GORTON, Endicott, New York, Attorneys for Plaintiff.

MARIA P. FRAGASSI SANTANGELO, Special Assistant United State Attorney, HON. RICHARD S. HARTUNIAN, United States Attorney for the Northern District of New York Syracuse, New York, Attorneys for Defendant.

MEMORANDUM-DECISION AND ORDER

MAE A. D'AGOSTINO, District Judge.

I. INTRODUCTION

Plaintiff Jennifer Sickles brought this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), seeking a review of the Commissioner of Social Security's ("Commissioner") decision to deny her application for Disability Insurance Benefits ("DIB") and Social Security Income ("SSI") under the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. § 401 et seq. The matter was referred to United States Magistrate Judge Christian F. Hummel for a Report-Recommendation and order pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b) and Local Rule 72.3(d). Magistrate Judge Hummel recommended that this Court affirm the decision of the Commissioner denying Plaintiff's application for benefits and dismiss Plaintiff's complaint. Presently before the Court is Plaintiff's objection to the Report-Recommendation and Order. See Dkt. No. 21.

II. BACKGROUND

A. Facts

Born on June 16, 1978, Plaintiff was thirty years old when she applied for disability benefits. Plaintiff obtained her general educational development ("GED") degree as well as vocational training as a certified nurses' assistant ("CNA"); however that license has since expired. Plaintiff's previous work experience includes food service and being a nurse's aid and teacher's assistant. Plaintiff alleges disability from multiple impairments including degenerative bone disease and bulging discs in her back.

B. Procedural History

Plaintiff filed applications for DIB on May 6, 2009, and for SSI on May 7, 2009, pursuant to the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. § 401 et seq., claiming an alleged onset of her disability as of February 13, 2009. Dkt. No. 9-2 at 11. Those applications were denied on September 2, 2009. Dkt. No. 9-3 at 2-4. Plaintiff requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"), which was eventually held on February 1, 2011, through video conference before Administrative Law Judge Robert E. Gale. Dkt. No. 9-2, 26; Dkt. No. 9-4 at 19. In a decision dated April 22, 2011, the ALJ held that Plaintiff was not disabled under 42 U.S.C. § 216(i) and § 223(d) of the Social Security Act, and therefore was not entitled to disability benefits. Dkt. No. 9-2 at 19. Plaintiff's counsel filed a timely request for review with the Appeals Council. On April 20, 2012, the Appeals Council affirmed the ALJ's decision, thus making the ALJ's findings the final decision of the Commissioner. Dkt. No. 1 at3.

On May 9, 2012, Plaintiff sought review of the Commissioners's final decision pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) and 42 U.S.C. § 1383(c)(3) by the United States District Court of the Northern District of New York. The matter was referred to United States Magistrate Judge Christian F. Hummel pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b) and Local Rule 72.3(d). In a Report-Recommendation and Order issued on October 3, 2013, Magistrate Judge Hummel recommended that Plaintiff's motion for a finding of disability be denied and the Commissioner's motion for judgment on the pleadings be granted. Thereafter, on October 22, 2013, Plaintiff's counsel submitted objections to the Report-Recommendation and Order pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1).

C. Report-Recommendation and Order

In his the Report-Recommendation and Order Magistrate Judge Hummel held that: 1) the ALJ's decision to accord little evidentiary weight to the assessments conducted by Doctors Magurno and Fang was not in error and in doing so, the ALJ did not err in, a) addressing the medical opinions, and b) finding that there was substantial evidence to support his conclusions; and 2) the ALJ did not err in assessing Plaintiff's credibility by failing to evaluate required factors to determine pain level as the determination was supported by substantial evidence. Dkt. No. 18, 17.

As best as this Court is able to decipher from Plaintiff's Brief in Support of Objections ("Plaintiff's Objections"), Plaintiff has objected to the Report-Recommendation and Order on the following grounds:

I. The ALJ erred in his RFC determination because the administrative record does not contain sufficient "medical opinions" to support the ALJ's decision or the Magistrate Judge's affirmation of that decision;
II. The ALJ erred in his RFC determination because he ignored the only medical opinions of record as to the period during which Plaintiff could not work;
III. The ALJ erred in his RFC determination because Defendant's expert witness, as a treating source, provided an assessment of Plaintiff that precludes the ALJ's RFC determination;
IV. Magistrate Judge Hummel incorrectly affirmed the ALJ's credibility determination;
V. The ALJ erred in his credibility determination because he failed to indicate in his decision whether Plaintiff's daily activities were taken into account;.
VI. The ALJ erred in his credibility determination because he misconstrued Plaintiff's statements;
VII. The ALJ erred in his credibility determination because he failed to specifically mention all of the factors required in a credibility by regulation; and
VIII. The ALJ erred in his credibility determination because his decision to accord less than controlling weight to Plaintiff's testimony was based purely on the ALJ's assessment of the medical records differing from the assessments of Doctors Magurno and Fang.

See Dkt. No. 21.

III. DISCUSSION

A. Standard of Review

When reviewing the Commissioner's final decision, the court must determine whether the Commissioner applied the correct legal standards and whether substantial evidence supports the decision. See Urtz v. Callahan, 965 F.Supp. 324, 326 (N.D.N.Y. 1997) (citing Johnson v. Bowen, 817 F.2d 983, 985 (2d Cir. 1987)). Although the Commissioner is ultimately responsible for determining a claimant's eligibility for benefits, an ALJ makes the actual disability determination; and that decision is subject to judicial review on appeal. A court may not affirm an ALJ's decision if it reasonably doubts that the ALJ applied the proper legal standards, even if it appears that there is substantial evidence to support the ALJ's decision. See id. (citing [ Johnson, 817 F.2d] at 986). Additionally, the ALJ must set forth the crucial factors ...


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