United States District Court, W.D. New York
HUGH B. SCOTT, Magistrate Judge.
Before the Court are the parties' respective motions for judgment on the pleadings (Docket Nos. 19 (plaintiff), 20 (defendant Commissioner)).
This is an action brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) to review the final determination of the Commissioner of Social Security that plaintiff is not disabled and, therefore, is not entitled to disability insurance benefits and/or Supplemental Security Income benefits.
The plaintiff ("Barbara Anne Lindsley" or "plaintiff") filed an application for disability insurance benefits on January 15, 2010. That application was denied initially and on reconsideration. The plaintiff appeared before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"), who considered the case de novo and concluded, in a written decision dated March 28, 2012, that the plaintiff was not disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act. The ALJ's decision became the final decision of the Commissioner on May 28, 2013, when the Appeals Council denied plaintiff's request for review.
Plaintiff commenced this action on July 25, 2013 (Docket No. 1). The parties moved for judgment on the pleadings (Docket Nos. 19, 20). The motions were argued and deemed submitted on July 8, 2013.
Plaintiff was born February 23, 1976, and has a high school education (R. 30). She performed unskilled labor before her claimed disability, last working at a motel until her medical condition worsened and accommodations for it were removed (R. 22). She claims major depression, recurrent cannabis and opioid dependence, post-traumatic stress disorder, as well as wrist problem; rotator cuff impingement and tendonitis, diabetes, and asthma deemed non-severe by the ALJ.
MEDICAL AND VOCATIONAL EVIDENCE
Plaintiff claims a number of subjective complaints and functional limitations attributable to her asserted impairments, namely mental health conditions and carpel tunnel (R. 24, 41, 136). At her hearing, plaintiff testified that she worked part time as a laundry worker and housekeeper from 2003-10, working up to 30 hours a week (R. 25, 42, 43). She stated that she missed a lot of time at work and could not stay in control of her actions (R. 25, 43). In 2010, plaintiff had a mental breakdown and a doctor ordered her not to work (R. 25). Her impairment was an overdose of alcohol and pills (R. 25). She lives with two of her four children and has a case manager for her and her children, with a parent aid coming in daily for an hour (R. 25). She sees a therapist every other week or weekly and takes her medication (R. 25), although there are reports in her medical record of periods when she stopped taking her medication (R. 26, 447). She writes everything down, she gets DVT therapy and goes into her room and fantasizes about being in another world (R. 25).
The ALJ found that plaintiff had severe impairments for major depression and cannabis and opioid dependence, and post-traumatic stress disorder ("PTSD"), but found her other claimed impairments to be non-severe (R. 23). As for her claimed mental impairments, the ALJ found that she did not have at least two "marked" limitations or one "marked" limitation and "repeated" episodes of decompensation to meet the regulatory "paragraph B" requirements for a qualifying impairment (R. 23). The ALJ also concluded that, regarding "paragraph C" requirements, the evidence failed to show paragraph C criteria (R. 24).
Regarding her asthma, the ALJ found that it was non-severe and that plaintiff had no pulmonary function tests, emergency room or other hospital admissions for any attacks and no notation of asthma in treating notes (R. 23). The ALJ concluded that plaintiff did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that met or exceeded the severity of one of the impairments listed in the Social Security regulations (R. 23-24).
The ALJ next found that plaintiff had a residual functional capacity to perform all exertional levels of work, with nonexertional limitations to avoid interactions with the public as her duties and she could occasionally understand, remember and carry out complex and detailed task (R. 24). The ALJ concluded that plaintiff could resume her past relevant work in housekeeping and laundry laborer (R. 30).
Analyzing plaintiff's medal impairments under listings 12.04, 12.06, and 12.09, the ALJ found that "paragraph B" criteria were not met, since she did not have two "marked" limitations or one "marked limitation and "repeated" episodes of decompensation (as defined in paragraph B) (R. 23, 24). The ALJ found that "paragraph C" criteria were not met (R. 24).
The ALJ asked the vocational expert whether plaintiff can return to her past relevant work as a hotel housekeeper or laundry worker, posing a series of hypotheticals (R. 55). In the first hypothetical, the subject would have non-exertional limitations to avoid interactions with the public, and occasionally understanding and carrying out complex and detailed tasks, and that subject could perform plaintiff's past relevant work (R. 55). The expert also opined that a similar subject could work (for example) as ...