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Jones v. Colvin

United States District Court, W.D. New York

June 6, 2014

FADREA JONES, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, ACTING COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.

DECISION AND ORDER

MICHAEL A. TELESCA, District Judge.

INTRODUCTION

Plaintiff Fadrea Jones ("Plaintiff" or "Jones"), filed this action, pursuant to the Social Security Act ("the Act"), codified at 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and 1383(c), seeking review of a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner" or "Defendant"), denying her application for Supplemental Security Insurance ("SSI").

Currently before the Court are the parties' competing motions for judgment on the pleadings pursuant to Rule 12(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. For the reasons set forth below, I grant the Commissioner's motion, deny the Plaintiff's motion, and dismiss the Complaint.

PROCEDURAL HISTORY

On August 17, 2010, Fatiha Jones filed an application for SSI on behalf of her then-17 year old daughter Fadrea Jones, alleging disability as of August 11, 2010 due to optic atrophy, headaches, and Brown's Syndrome. The application was denied. Administrative Transcript [T.] 58, 192-194. A hearing was held on January 17, 2012 before administrative law judge ("ALJ") Stanley K. Chin. Plaintiff, her mother, and a vocational expert ("VE") testified at the hearing. T. 21-57. On January 27, 2012, the ALJ issued a decision finding that Plaintiff was not disabled from August 17, 2010, the date of her SSI application, to January 27, 2012, the date of the ALJ's decision. T. 59-82.

On June 21, 2013, the Appeals Councils denied Plaintiff's request for review, making the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner. T. 1-5. This action followed.

FACTUAL BACKGROUND

Plaintiff was born in 1993 and was 18 years old at the time of the administrative hearing. T. 28. Plaintiff testified that her vision problems, asthma and depression prevent her from working full time. T. 29-30. Also at the hearing, Plaintiff's mother testified, as did a vocational expert. T. 49-53.

Evidence Prior to the Relevant Time Period

School records from 2002 show that Plaintiff was "functioning with the average range of cognitive ability." T. 317.

In 2005, Patricia Markus ("Markus"), Special Education and TBI Consultant for MATCH Team for the Rochester City School District, completed an Assistive Technology Assessment Report in which she indicated that Plaintiff "does not appear to be a good candidate for assistive technology." Markus noted that Plaintiff was non-compliant" with any strategy or tool that makes her look different from her peers." Markus made a recommendation to help Plaintiff with keyboarding skills, and also suggested that the school "look at possibly giving her some curricular and testing modifications." T. 316.

In September 2006, Plaintiff met with her primary care physician Andre Jacobs-Perkins, M.D., who provided her with a note for school indicating that she had mild asthma and exotropia of the eye, but that she was physically qualified to participate in sports or use the playground. T. 257.

From October 2009 to January 2010, Plaintiff underwent treatment at Rochester Mental Health Center ("RMHC"). On October 5, 2009, Plaintiff reported to Kelly Schmidt ("Schmidt"), LMSW, that she cried frequently and was sad when thinking about her father with whom she had no contact. T. 345. Schmidt diagnosed mood disorder, and assessed Plaintiff's global assessment of functioning ("GAF") at 65. T. 346. Schmidt reported that Plaintiff had "no disability." T. 347. At subsequent follow-up visits, Plaintiff's GAF score remained 65. T. 358, 362, 364. Plaintiff was discharged from treatment on January 19, 2010 because her mother did not believe that Plaintiff needed consistent appointments. T. 362-363.

Evidence from August 17, 2010 to January 27, 2012

On November 30, 2010, Plaintiff saw Gary D. Markowitz, M.D., and reported that Plaintiff was "seeing well, " that she was wearing her glasses full time, and that her vision was 20/70 in one eye and 20/125 in the other eye. T. 334.

On December 14, 2010, Dr. Markowitz diagnosed Plaintiff with optic atrophy, extropia, myopia, and astigmatism. T. 307. At that time, Dr. Markowitz indicated that he was unable to provide a medical opinion regarding Plaintiff's ability to do work-related activities. T. 309.

On December 20, 2010, Plaintiff also saw Elizabeth Harvey, OD, who assessed that Plaintiff had a moderate impairment in her right eye and a severe impairment in her left eye. T. 312. Dr. Harvey prescribed a monocular telescope to be used by Plaintiff on the right eye for seeing at a distance, and advised her to continue to use a hand-held magnifier for fine print in the classroom and to enlarge the font size of her computer. T. 313.

In January 2011, state agency pediatrician R. Mohanty, M.D. reviewed the evidence in the file and opined that Plaintiff had no limitation in acquiring and using information, attending and completing tasks, interacting and relating with others, moving about and manipulating objects, and caring for herself. T. 326-327. Dr. Mohanty opined that Plaintiff had a marked limitation in health and physical well-being in light of her congenital eye impairment. T. 327.

On March 11, 2011, Plaintiff saw Dr. Markowitz for a follow-up visit, at which time Plaintiff reported that her new eyeglass prescription was working well but that she experienced one episode of eye pain when looking overhead. T. 373. He reported that Plaintiff's vision was 20/70 in one eye and 20/100 in the other eye. He also reported no ptosis. On March 15, 2011, Dr. Markowitz reported that Plaintiff's exam showed stable left extropia. He discussed with Plaintiff and her mother having an optional additional surgery to repair Plaintiff's strabismus, and Plaintiff and her mother elected to proceed with the surgery. T. 374.

Also in March 2011, Plaintiff saw nurse practitioner Karen McMurty ("McMurty") for asthma related issues. McMurty noted that Plaintiff reported that she was doing well and only occasionally use Albuterol, although she had experienced a cough and wheeze in the prior two weeks. T. 386. A pulmonary function test showed that Plaintiff had "significant improvement" with bronchodilator and that Plaintiff reported feeling much better. McMurty started Plaintiff on Advair, and instructed Plaintiff to call if her symptoms worsened or did not improve. T. 387.

Plaintiff underwent eye surgery in April 2011, after which Dr. Markowitz reported that her eye alignment looked better. T. 377. Her vision in one eye was 20/70 and the other eye was 20/125. No ptosis was reported. Dr. Markowitz noted that Plaintiff could resume gym/sports on May 4, 2011. T. 378. No significant findings were reported at subsequent follow-up appointments throughout May 2011. T. 381.

In December 2011, Dr. Jacobs-Perkins completed a NYS disability assessment form in which he assessed that Plaintiff had optic nerve hypoplasia, chronic depression, and asthma. T. 394. Dr. Jacobs-Perkins opined that Plaintiff had no limitation in the areas of moving about and manipulating objects, and moderate limitation in the areas of interacting and relating with others, caring for herself. He reported "moderate limitations" with respect to Plaintiff's health and physical well-being but also indicated that he "would defer to opthamologist." T. 398. With respect to the areas of acquiring and using information and attending and completing tasks, he indicated that Plaintiff's limitations were "unknown." T. 398. He also opined that Plaintiff had no limitation in lifting and carrying, sitting, standing and/or walking, and pushing and/or pulling. He noted that Plaintiff needed a magnifying glass to read, and could not use public transportation because she could not read bus numbers. T. 409.

Also in December 2011, Dr. Markowitz completed a Vision Impairment RFC Questionnaire. T. 402. He assessed that Plaintiff's vision in both eyes was 20/100 and reported that Plaintiff saw well and had no symptoms during her last visit with him in August 2011. T. 400. Dr. Markowitz indicated that Plaintiff's visual limitations in competitive work situations was "unknown." T. 400.

DISCUSSION

I. Jurisdiction and Scope of Review

42 U.S.C. § 405(g) grants jurisdiction to district courts to hear claims based on the denial of Social Security benefits. The section directs that when considering such a claim, the Court must accept the findings of fact made by the Commissioner, provided that such findings are supported by substantial evidence in the record. Substantial evidence is defined as "more than a mere scintilla. It means such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.'" Richardson v. Perales , 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971) (quoting Consolidated Edison Co. v. NLRB , 305 U.S. 197, 229 (1938)).

Section 405 (g) limits the scope of the Court's review to two inquiries: determining whether the Commissioner's findings were supported by substantial evidence in the record as a whole, and whether the Commissioner's conclusions are based upon an erroneous legal standard. Green-Younger v. Barnhart , 335 F.3d 99, 105-06 (2d Cir. 2003); see also Mongeur, 722 F.2d at 1038 (finding a reviewing court does not try a benefits case de novo).

Under Rule 12(c), judgment on the pleadings may be granted where the material facts are undisputed and where judgment on the merits is possible merely by considering the contents of the pleadings. Sellers v. M.C. Floor Crafters, Inc. , 842 F.2d 639, 642 (2d Cir. 1988). A party's motion will be dismissed if, after a review of the pleadings, the Court is convinced that the party does not set out factual allegations that are "enough to raise a right to relief beyond the speculative level." Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly , 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007).

II. The Commissioner's Decision Denying Plaintiff Benefits is Supported by Substantial Evidence in the Record

The ALJ evaluated Plaintiff's claim for benefits under the disability standards for both adults and children because Plaintiff's SSI application was filed ...


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