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Dutcher v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec.

United States District Court, N.D. New York

June 4, 2014

Wanda Lee Dutcher, Plaintiff,
v.
Comm'r of Soc. Sec., Defendant.

SCOT G. MILLER, ESQ., COUGHLIN & GERHART, LLP, Counsel for Plaintiff, Binghamton, NY.

PETER W. JEWETT, ESQ. U.S. SOCIAL SECURITY ADMIN. OFFICE OF REG'L GEN. COUNSEL - REGION II, Counsel for Defendant, New York, NY.

DECISION and ORDER

GLENN T. SUDDABY, District Judge.

Currently before the Court, in this Social Security action filed by ("Plaintiff") against the Commissioner of Social Security ("Defendant" or "the Commissioner") pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and 1383(c)(3), are the parties' cross-motions for judgment on the pleadings. (Dkt. Nos. 16, 17.) For the reasons set forth below, Plaintiff's motion is granted, and Defendant's motion is denied.

I. RELEVANT BACKGROUND

A. Factual Background

Plaintiff was born on August 30, 1974. She completed twelve years of high school, including some courses in cosmetology through BOCES, but is not licensed in that field. In the past, Plaintiff was most recently employed as a promotional media inserter at a newspaper printing company. In addition, Plaintiff has worked as a child care-giver and a waitress. Generally, her alleged disability consists of a low back injury, bilateral carpal tunnel syndrome, right knee pain, migraine headaches, anxiety and depression. Her alleged disability onset date is August 1, 2006.

B. Procedural History On February 23, 2007, Plaintiff applied for Supplemental Security Income and Social

Security Disability Insurance benefits. Plaintiff's application was initially denied, after which she timely requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge ("the ALJ"). On July 2, 2009, Plaintiff appeared before the ALJ, Thomas P. Tielens. (T. 54-96.) The ALJ issued a written decision finding Plaintiff not disabled under the Social Security Act on September 15, 2009. (T. 150-159.) On March 11, 2011, the Appeals Council vacated the ALJ's decision and remanded the case to the ALJ for further proceedings. (T. 160-165.)

On October 27, 2011, Plaintiff appeared before a different ALJ, Elizabeth W. Koennecke. (T. 97-147.) The ALJ issued a written decision finding Plaintiff not disabled under the Social Security Act on December 13, 2011 (T. 16-46.) On April 5, 2013, the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review, rendering the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner. (T. 1-6.) Thereafter, Plaintiff timely sought judicial review in this Court.

C. The ALJ's Decision

Generally, in her decision, the ALJ made the following five findings of fact and conclusions of law. (T. 22-38.) First, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since her alleged onset date. (T. 22.) Second, the ALJ found that Plaintiff's residual symptoms from a lumbar fusion, carpal tunnel syndrome and personality disorder are severe impairments but that her migraine headaches, asthma, allergies, shin splints and right knee pain are not severe. (T. 22-24.) Third, the ALJ found that Plaintiff's impairments did not meet or medically equal one of the listed impairments located in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix. 1. (T. 24-26.) The ALJ considered listings 1.02, 1.04, 11.00, 12.04, 12.06 and 12.08. ( Id. ) Fourth, the ALJ found that Plaintiff has the residual functional capacity ("RFC") to perform a wide range of sedentary work as defined in 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1567(a) and 416.967(a) as follows: Plaintiff can occasionally lift, carry push or pull ten pounds; can frequently lift, carry, push or pull less than ten pounds; can stand or walk for up to two hours total in an eight-hour workday; has unlimited ability to sit; can manipulate frequently; can rarely perform bending; retains the ability (on a sustained basis) to frequently understand, remember and carry out simple instructions; can frequently respond appropriately to supervision, co-workers and usual work situations; and can frequently deal with changes in a routine work setting. (T. 26-35.) Fifth, and finally, the ALJ determined that there are jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy that Plaintiff can perform. (T. 36-38.)

II. THE PARTIES' BRIEFINGS ON PLAINTIFF'S MOTION

Plaintiff makes two separate arguments in support of her motion for judgment on the pleadings. First, Plaintiff argues that the ALJ erred in failing to properly evaluate the opinion evidence. (Dkt. No. 14 at 17-22 [Pl.'s Mem. of Law].) Second, and finally, Plaintiff argues that the ...


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