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Cole v. Colvin

United States District Court, S.D. New York

March 24, 2014

ANDREA J. COLE, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

OPINION AND ORDER

ANDREW L. CARTER, Jr., District Judge.

This is an action for review of the Commissioner of Social Security's ("Commissioner") decision that Plaintiff Andrea J. Cole ("Plaintiff") is not entitled to Social Security Disability or Supplemental Security Income benefits. Currently pending are cross motions for judgment on the pleadings. The Court has considered the parties' arguments and for the reasons set forth below, the Commissioner's motion (ECF No. 13) is GRANTED, and the Plaintiff's motion (ECF No. 9) is DENIED.

I. BACKGROUND

Plaintiff suffers from back problems, obesity, headaches, and seizures. (Compl. ¶ 4, ECF No. 1). At the onset of her alleged disability, on January 1, 2007, she was forty-four years old and had completed two years of college. (R. at 124, 128, 150, ECF No. 7). At the time she became disabled, she had not worked for about three years, but had been employed as a payroll clerk before that. (R. at 530, ECF No. 7).

On February 28, 2008, Plaintiff filed an application for Social Security Disability and Supplemental Security Income under the Social Security Act ("Act"). (R. at 554, ECF No. 7). Plaintiff attended a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") on January 5, 2009. (R. at 150, ECF No. 7). The ALJ denied her claims on January 30, 2009. ( Id. ). The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review, and she filed a federal court action. (R. at 554, ECF No. 7). This initial federal action was terminated when her matter was remanded on consent for additional administrative proceedings. ( Id. ).

A supplemental hearing was held on February 10, 2011. (R. at 492-495, ECF No. 7). The evidence presented to the ALJ consisted of Plaintiff's medical records, which included functional assessments by her treating physicians, and Plaintiff's own testimony about her limitations. (Pl.'s Mot. J. Pleadings 2-10, ECF No. 10). Applying the five-step sequential analysis set forth in the Social Security Regulations ("Regulations"), the ALJ denied her claims on March 11, 2011. (R. at 492-495, ECF No. 7). At the first step, the ALJ found that the Plaintiff had not engaged in "substantial gainful activity" during the alleged disability period. (R. at 497, ECF No. 7). At steps two and three, the ALJ found that although the Plaintiff had discogenic and degenerative back disorder, obesity, a history of a seizure episode, and headaches, her impairments did not meet or equal the requirements of any impairment listed in the Regulations. (R. at 498, ECF No. 7). At step four, the ALJ assessed Plaintiff's residual functional capacity ("RFC") and determined that she was able to continue her past work as a payroll clerk. ( Id. ). Finally, at step five, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff is able to perform sedentary level work. ( Id. ). On September 26, 2011, the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request to review this decision. (R. at 488, ECF No. 7).

On November 27, 2012, Plaintiff brought this action for review of the ALJ's decision. (Compl., ECF No. 1). Plaintiff contends that the Commissioner's decision that she is not disabled because she has the RFC to perform sedentary work is not supported by substantial evidence. (Compl. ¶¶ 19-20, ECF No. 1). Plaintiff also alleges that the ALJ improperly assessed her credibility. (Pl.'s Mot. J. Pleadings 17-19, ECF No. 10). Thereafter, the parties filed the instant cross-motions for judgment on the pleadings.

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

A court may only set aside a determination by the Commissioner if it is based on legal error or not supported by substantial evidence in the record. Kane v. Astrue, 942 F.Supp.2d 301, 304 (E.D.N.Y. 2013). Substantial evidence is "a very deferential standard of review - even more so than the clearly erroneous' standard." Brault v. Soc. Sec. Admin., Com'r, 683 F.3d 443, 448 (2d Cir. 2012). "It means such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Galiotti v. Astrue, 266 F.Appx. 66, 67 (2d Cir. 2008) (internal quotation marks omitted) (quoting Halloran v. Barnhart, 362 F.3d 28, 31 (2d Cir. 2004)). Findings of fact, reasonable inferences from those findings, and conclusions of law are all subject to the substantial-evidence test. Kane, 942 F.Supp.2d at 304. The Commissioner is not required to "reconcile explicitly every conflicting shred of medical testimony" but may not issue an "an unreasoned rejection of all the medical evidence in a claimant's favor." Galiotti, 266 F.Appx. at 67.

III. DISCUSSION

The Social Security Act defines "disability" as an "inability to engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment... which has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than 12 months." Gennardo v. Astrue, 333 F.Appx. 609, 610 (2d Cir. 2009) (citing 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A)). A claimant must be unable to perform any "kind of substantial gainful work which exists in the national economy." Draegert v. Barnhart, 311 F.3d 468, 472 (2d Cir. 2002) (citing 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(2)(A)).

The Commissioner must engage in a five-step sequential analysis to determine whether an individual is disabled under Titles II and XVI of the Act. Rosa v. Callahan, 168 F.3d 72, 77 (2d Cir. 1999).

[1] [T]he Commissioner considers whether the claimant is presently working in substantial gainful activity. [2] If the claimant is not so engaged, the Commissioner next considers whether the claimant has a "severe impairment" that significantly limits his physical or mental ability to do basic work activities. [3] If the severity requirement is met, the third inquiry is whether, based solely on medical evidence, the claimant has an impairment that is listed in Appendix 1 of the regulations, or is equal to a listed impairment. If the claimant has such an impairment, there will be a finding of disability. [4] If not, the fourth inquiry is to determine whether, despite the claimant's severe impairment, the claimant's [RFC] allows the claimant to perform his or her past work. [5] Finally, if a claimant is unable to perform past work, the ...

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