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Pagnani v. Commissioner of Social Security

United States District Court, N.D. New York

March 26, 2014

Elaine Pagnani, Plaintiff,
v.
Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

Peter M. Margolius Peter M. Margolius, Esq., of counsel Catskill, New York, Attorney for Plaintiff

Hon. Richard S. Hartunian, United States Attorney Sergei Aden, Esq., Special Assistant United States Attorney Social Security Administration New York, New York

MEMORANDUM-DECISION AND ORDER

NORMAN A. MORDUE, Senior District Judge.

Plaintiff's initial application for Supplemental Security Income ("SSI") benefits and disability insurance benefits under the Social Security Act was denied. Plaintiff requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"). After a hearing at which plaintiff testified, the ALJ issued a decision denying plaintiff's applications. The Appeals Council denied plaintiff's request for review. Thus, the ALJ's decision became the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner"). Plaintiff brought this action for judicial review of the Commissioner's decision. See 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g); 1383(c)(3).

Upon referral pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B) and Local Rule 72.3(c), United States Magistrate Judge Victor E. Bianchini issued a Report and Recommendation (Dkt. No. 13) recommending that plaintiff be granted judgment on the pleadings, that judgment in favor of the Commissioner be denied, and that the case be remanded to the ALJ for further proceedings consistent with the Report and Recommendation. Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(C), this Court reviews de novo those parts of a report and recommendation to which a party specifically objects. As set forth briefly below, upon de novo review, the Court adopts Magistrate Judge Bianchini's Report and Recommendation in its entirety. The Report and Recommendation sets forth the procedural history of the case and the applicable law, and the Court repeats them only to the extent necessary to explain its decision.

The five-step process through which the Commissioner makes a disability determination is as follows:

First, the Commissioner considers whether the claimant is currently engaged in substantial gainful activity. Where the claimant is not, the Commissioner next considers whether the claimant has a "severe impairment" that significantly limits her physical or mental ability to do basic work activities. If the claimant suffers such an impairment, the third inquiry is whether, based solely on medical evidence, the claimant has an impairment that is listed in 20 C.F.R. pt. 404, subpt. P, appx. 1. If the claimant has a listed impairment, the Commissioner will consider the claimant disabled without considering vocational factors such as age, education, and work experience; the Commissioner presumes that a claimant who is afflicted with a listed impairment is unable to perform substantial gainful activity. Assuming the claimant does not have a listed impairment, the fourth inquiry is whether, despite the claimant's severe impairment, she has the residual functional capacity to perform her past work. Finally, if the claimant is unable to perform her past work, the burden then shifts to the Commissioner to determine whether there is other work which the claimant could perform.

Tejada v. Apfel, 167 F.3d 770, 774 (2d Cir. 1999) (footnote omitted). The Social Security Administration defines residual functional capacity as follows: "Your impairments(s), and any related symptoms, such as pain, may cause physical and mental limitations that affect what you can do in a work setting. Your residual functional capacity is what you can still do despite your limitations." Id. at 774, n.3 (citing 20 C.F.R. § 416.945(a)).

In his decision, the ALJ found that the claimant had the following severe, although unlisted, impairments: asthma, Crohn's disease, dysthymic disorder, and generalized anxiety disorder. The ALJ then addressed the fourth factor, that is, "whether, despite the claimant's severe impairment, she has the residual functional capacity to perform her past work." Regarding the fourth factor, he wrote:

After careful consideration of the entire record, the undersigned finds that the claimant has the residual functional capacity to perform work at all exertional levels provided that she has consistent access to restroom facilities, is not in an environment that would increase her respiratory complaints, is limited to working with simple and detailed rather than complex instructions and is not required to have repeated or frequent contact with the general public.
* * *
The claimant is capable of performing past relevant work as a teaching assistant. This work does not require the performance of work-related activities precluded by the claimant's residual functional capacity.
* * *
Specifically, there is nothing about the claimant's past relevant work as a teaching assistant that would increase her respiratory complaints, prohibit her from having steady access to a restroom, or require her to work with complex ...

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