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Nicholson v. Colvin

United States District Court, N.D. New York

March 13, 2014

CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

HOWARD D. OLINKSY, ESQ., OLINSKY LAW GROUP, Syracuse, New York, Attorneys for Plaintiff.

BENIL ABRAHAM, ESQ., SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION, Office of General Counsel, New York, New York, Attorneys for Defendant.


MAE A. D'AGOSTINO, District Judge.


Plaintiff Jennifer Nicholson brought this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), seeking a review of the Commissioner of Social Security's decision to deny her application for Disability Insurance Benefits ("DIB") and Supplemental Security Income ("SSI"). Presently before the Court are Plaintiff's motion for judgment on the pleadings, see Dkt. No. 11, and Defendant's cross-motion for judgment on the pleadings, see Dkt. No. 12.


On April 20, 2010, Plaintiff protectively filed applications for DIB and SSI, alleging a disability onset date of June 15, 2005. See Dkt. No. 9, Administrative Transcript ("T."), at 179-84, 195. On September 22, 2010, Plaintiff's application was denied, T. at 73-74, and on July 25, 2011, Plaintiff and her counsel appeared by video at a hearing before Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") Susan Wakshul, T. at 45-72. The ALJ issued a decision denying Plaintiff's claim for benefits on July 28, 2011. T. at 24-38. Plaintiff timely filed a request for review by the Appeals Council on October 3, 2011, which was denied on November 12, 2012, T. at 1-6, thereby making the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security.

Plaintiff alleges disability as a result of seizures, impaired vision, stress and anxiety, all secondary to tuberous sclerosis. T. at 55, 57, 200. The record evidence in this case is undisputed and the Court adopts the parties' factual recitations. See Dkt. No. 11 at 2-9; Dkt. No. 12 at 1 ("The Commissioner... incorporates by reference the statement of facts set forth in Plaintiff's Brief... with the exception of any arguments, conclusions, or inferences therein").


A. Standard of Review

In reviewing a final decision by the Commissioner under 42 U.S.C. § 405, the Court does not determine de novo whether a plaintiff 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 Court must examine the Administrative Transcript to ascertain whether the correct legal standards were applied, and whether the decision is supported by substantial evidence. See Shaw v. Chater, 221 F.3d 126, 131 (2d Cir. 2000); Schaal v. Apfel, 134 F.3d 496, 500-01 (2d Cir. 1998). "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 (1971) (citations and quotations omitted).

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 and Human Servs., 733 F.2d 1037, 1041 (2d Cir. 1984).

For purposes of both DIB and SSI, a person is disabled when she is unable "to engage in 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), 1382c(a)(3)(A).

In reviewing the denial of a claim, the Court will typically employ the traditional five-step analysis set forth in Berry v. Schweiker, 675 F.2d 464, 467 (2d Cir. 1982). However, where, as here, a plaintiff raises an issue of newly submitted evidence, the Court addresses that issue first. "Judicial economy warrants addressing the new evidence issue first because if a remand is necessary then the other issues will not need to be considered at this time. On remand, the Commissioner may resolve the case in such a way that consideration of the other issues is not necessary." Clemons v. Astrue, No. ...

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