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Johnson v. Colvin

United States District Court, W.D. New York

April 9, 2014

CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, [1] Defendant.

Christopher M. Mesh, Esq. Connors & Ferris, LLP Rochester, NY, for Plaintiff.

Mary C. Kane, A.U.S.A. United States Attorney's Office Buffalo, NY, for Defendant.


CHARLES J. SIRAGUSA, District Judge.


Plaintiff Denise Johnson brings this action pursuant to the Social Security Act, (codified in relevant parts at 42 U.S.C. § 401 et. seq. and 42 U.S.C. § 1381 et. seq. ) claiming that Defendant Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner") improperly denied her application for benefits under Title II and Title XVI of the Act. Specifically, Plaintiff alleges that the decision of an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") denying her benefits was erroneous and not supported by the substantial evidence contained in the record, or was contrary to law. She seeks a reversal of that decision and a remand only for calculation of benefits. The Commissioner cross-moves for judgment on the pleadings, seeking affirmation of his determination. For the reasons stated below, Plaintiff's motion is denied, and the Commissioner's motion is granted.


Procedural History and Factual Background

Plaintiff was born in 1959. R. 173. She earned a General Educational Development (GED®)[2] diploma in 1977, did not attend special education classes, and has not completed any type of specialized job training, trade, or vocational school. R. 191.

By application dated May 10, 2010, Plaintiff filed for Disability benefits under Title II. Previously, on April 23, 2010, she filed an application under Title XVI for Supplemental Security Income benefits. R. 66. For both applications, she listed the date on which her disability started as December 1, 2009. The applications were initially denied on July 14, 2010, and Plaintiff pursued a hearing before an ALJ, which hearing was held on July 28, 2011. Plaintiff appeared in Rochester, New York, and the ALJ was connected to her via video conference from Baltimore, Maryland. At the hearing a Vocational Expert ("VE") also testified via a telephone connection.

On August 10, 2010, the ALJ issued a decision denying Plaintiff's applications, finding at the fourth sequential step that she was not disabled, and that she was able to perform two of her past jobs: pharmaceutical package inspector, and camera inspector. Plaintiff appealed, but on April 25, 2013, the Appeals Council denied her review, making the ALJ's decision the Commissioner's final decision.

The ALJ's Findings

The ALJ determined that Plaintiff met the coverage requirements under the Act through March 31, 2010, and that she had not engaged in any gainful employment since December 1, 2009. R. 68. He determined she suffered from the following severe combination of impairments: degenerative disc disease, lumbar radiculitis[3] and pain disorder and that those impairments imposed more than a minimal limitation on Plaintiff's ability to perform basic work activities and were expected to last more than twelve continuous months. Id. He also determined that despite those severe impairments, Plaintiff did not meet the requirements of Listing 1.04 because she did not have evidence of nerve root compression, or spinal arachnoiditis, [4] or lumbar spinal stenosis[5] resulting in pseudoclaudication.[6] R. 4.

The ALJ found that Plaintiff had the residual functional capacity to lift and carry at the sedentary exertional level, and the capacity to stand and walk at the light exertional level. He also found that she must be allowed the option to alternate between sitting and standing positions at will throughout the workday and is precluded from repetitive bending or twisting and limited to no more than occasional pushing and pulling or overhead reaching with her upper extremities. R. 69. In assessing Plaintiff's credibility, the ALJ concluded that "Plaintiff's statements concerning the intensity, persistence and limiting effects of her symptoms are not credible to the extent that they are inconsistent with [the ALJ's] residual functional assessment." He further concluded that Plaintiffs treating physicians, Dr. Clifford Everett and Dr. Clifford J. Ameduri, both found that she was "limited to essentially the sedentary exertional category." R. 70.

After hearing testimony from the VE, the ALJ determined that plaintiff was capable of performing her past relevant work as a pharmaceutical packaging inspector as actually performed and as a camera inspector, also as actually and normally performed.


Jurisdiction and Scope of Review

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