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Stevens v. Colvin

United States District Court, N.D. New York

March 21, 2014

LISA ELLEN STEVENS, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

JAYA A. SHURTLIFF, ESQ. Stanley Law Offices, Syracuse, NY. for the Plaintiff.

KENNETH R. HILLER, ESQ. Law Offices of Kenneth Hiller, PLLC, Amherst, NY.

HON. RICHARD S. HARTUNIAN, BENIL ABRAHAM, United States Attorney, Special Assistant U.S. Attorney, Syracuse, NY. for the Defendant.

Steven P. Conte, Regional Chief Counsel, Social Security Administration, Office of General Counsel, Region II, New York.

MEMORANDUM-DECISION AND ORDER

GARY L. SHARPE, Chief Judge.

I. Introduction

Plaintiff Lisa Ellen Stevens challenges the Commissioner of Social Security's denial of Disability Insurance Benefits (DIB) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI), seeking judicial review under 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and 1383(c)(3). (Compl., Dkt. No. 1.) After reviewing the administrative record and carefully considering Stevens' arguments, the court affirms the Commissioner's decision and dismisses the complaint.

II. Background

On April 27, 2010 and April 28, 2010, Stevens filed applications for DIB and SSI, respectively, under the Social Security Act ("the Act"), alleging disability since November 14, 2008. (Tr.[1] at 85-86, 249-55, 256-59.)[2] After her applications were denied, ( id. at 98-104), Stevens requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ), ( id. at 109), which was held on August 25, 2011, ( id. at 36-84). On September 12, 2011, the ALJ issued an unfavorable decision denying the requested benefits, which became the Commissioner's final determination upon the Social Security Administration Appeals Council's denial of review. ( Id. at 1-4, 19-35.)

Stevens commenced the present action by filing her complaint on September 6, 2012, wherein she sought review of the Commissioner's determination. ( See generally Compl.) The Commissioner filed an answer and a certified copy of the administrative transcript. (Dkt. Nos. 7, 8.) Each party, seeking judgment on the pleadings, filed a brief. (Dkt. Nos. 10, 11.)

III. Contentions

Stevens contends that the Commissioner's decision is tainted by legal error and is not supported by substantial evidence. (Dkt. No. 10 at 11-25.) Specifically, Stevens claims that: (1) the ALJ committed factual and legal errors at step three by failing to find that Stevens met listing 12.04; (2) the ALJ's determination of Stevens' mental residual functional capacity (RFC) was unsupported by substantial evidence because she gave no weight to Stevens' treating physician and little weight to the examining physician; (3) the ALJ failed to develop the record in regard to Stevens' exertional RFC; (4) the ALJ did not apply the appropriate legal standards in assessing Stevens' credibility; and (5) the ALJ erroneously relied on the testimony of a vocational expert (VE) in making her step five determination. ( Id. ) The Commissioner counters that the appropriate legal standards were used by the ALJ and her decision is also supported by substantial evidence. (Dkt. No. 11 at 2-17.)

IV. Facts

The court adopts the parties' undisputed factual recitations. (Dkt. No. 10 at 3-11; Dkt. No. 11 at 1.)

V. Standard of Review

The standard for reviewing the Commissioner's final decision under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g)[3] is well established and will not be repeated here. For a full discussion of the standard and the five-step process by which the Commissioner evaluates whether a claimant is disabled under the Act, the court refers the parties to its previous decision in Christiana v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec. Admin., No. 1:05-CV-932, 2008 WL 759076, at *1-2 (N.D.N.Y. Mar. 19, 2008).

VI. Discussion

A. Listing 12.04

First, Stevens contends that the ALJ committed factual and legal errors at step three. (Dkt. No. 10 at 13-15.) Specifically, Stevens claims that her affective disorder meets the criteria of listing 12.04(B) and listing 12.04(C). ( Id. ) In opposition, the Commissioner argues that the ALJ's findings with respect to the paragraph B criteria are supported by substantial evidence, [4] and, with respect to listing 12.04(C), the two-year durational requirement was not met and the medical evidence of ...


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