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Moore v. Acting Commissioner of Social Security

United States District Court, S.D. New York

March 24, 2014

DELVIA M. MOORE, Plaintiff,
v.
ACTING COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.

OPINION AND ORDER

KATHERINE POLK FAILLA, District Judge.

Delvia Moore brings this action under Section 205(g) of the Social Security Act, as amended, 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), to seek review of a final decision of the Acting Commissioner of Social Security (the "Commissioner") denying her application for disability insurance benefits. The parties cross-moved for judgment on the pleadings according to Rule 12(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, and the matter was referred to Magistrate Judge Gabriel W. Gorenstein for a report and recommendation.

Judge Gorenstein has concluded in a 35-page Report & Recommendation (the "Report") that Defendant's motion should be denied and Plaintiff's motion should be granted in part and denied in part; he has also recommended that the case be remanded to the Social Security Administration for further proceedings. Specifically, Judge Gorenstein recommends that on remand, the Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") develop the record and/or make findings related to whether and, if so, how Plaintiff's pain level, as well as her painmanagement medication regime and its side effects, impact her ability to function in the workplace, and whether Plaintiff needs to straighten her leg while sitting.

Defendant filed objections ("Def. Obj.") to the Report on March 3, 2014. (Dkt. #21). In broad summary, Defendant submits that Judge Gorenstein erred in remanding for further proceedings because substantial medical evidence supported the ALJ's determination of Plaintiff's residual functional capacity (or "RFC"), irrespective of her pain level or any side effects of her pain medication. (Def. Obj. 6-9).[1] Defendant also argues that Judge Gorenstein should have proceeded to conclude that the remainder of the ALJ's decision was also supported by substantial evidence. ( Id. at 9).

Plaintiff filed her own objections ("Pl. Obj.") on March 14, 2014. (Dkt. #23-24). Not surprisingly, Plaintiff agrees with Judge Gorenstein that the case should be remanded. Separately, however, Plaintiff objects to four of Judge Gorenstein's conclusions concerning: (i) the ALJ's evaluation of the opinions of Plaintiff's treating and examining physicians; (ii) his assessment of "the medical evidence of record"; (iii) his consideration of the combined effect of Plaintiff's limitations; and (iv) "related matters involving Plaintiff's residual functional capacity." (Dkt. #23).

The Court has reviewed the challenged issues de novo, as is its obligation, and has reached the same conclusions as did Judge Gorenstein in his careful and well-reasoned Report. Accordingly, the Report is adopted in its entirety.

BACKGROUND[2]

The factual background and procedural history of this case set out in Judge Gorenstein's Report are incorporated herein. The Court assumes the parties' familiarity with the underlying facts, the procedural history, and the specification of issues for review, to which the Court refers only as necessary to explain its decision.

DISCUSSION

A. The Standard of Review

A district court reviewing a magistrate judge's report and recommendation addressing a dispositive motion "may accept, reject, or modify, in whole or in part, the findings or recommendations made by the magistrate judge." 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1); see also Grassia v. Scully, 892 F.2d 16, 19 (2d Cir. 1989).

Parties may submit objections to a magistrate judge's report and recommendation. 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1); Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(b). Where a party submits timely objections to a report and recommendation, the district court reviews de novo the parts of the report and recommendation to which the party objected. See 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1); Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(b)(3); see also Lang ex rel. Morgan v. Astrue, No. 05 Civ. 7263 (KMK) (PED), 2009 WL 3747169, at *1 (S.D.N.Y. Nov. 6, 2009). Where no "specific written objection'" is made, the district court may adopt those sections "as long as the factual and legal basis supporting the findings and conclusions set forth... are not clearly erroneous or contrary to law.'" Norman v. Astrue, 912 F.Supp.2d 33, 39 (S.D.N.Y. 2012) (quoting Eisenberg v. New England Motor Freight, Inc., 564 F.Supp.2d 224, 226 (S.D.N.Y. 2008)) (alteration in Norman ).

When a claimant seeks review of a Social Security hearing regarding disability benefits, the court's function is not to determine whether the appellant is disabled. See Sava v. Astrue, No. 06 Civ. 3386 (KMK) (GAY), 2010 WL 3219311, at *1 (S.D.N.Y. Aug. 12, 2010) ("[I]t is not our function to determine de novo whether plaintiff is disabled.'" (quoting Schaal v. Apfel, 134 F.3d 496, 501 (2d Cir. 1998)) (alteration in Sava )). Rather, the court determines only "whether the correct legal standards were applied and whether substantial evidence supports the decision." Butts v. Barnhart, 388 F.3d 377, 384 (2d Cir. 2004). The Supreme Court has defined "substantial evidence" as "more than a mere scintilla... ...


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