United States District Court, N.D. New York
MAURA A. KENNEDY-SMITH, ESQ., SHAPIRO & KENNEDY-SMITH LAW FIRM, Ithaca, NY, Counsel for Plaintiff.
LAUREN E. MYERS, ESQ., U.S. SOCIAL SECURITY ADMIN. OFFICE OF REG'L GEN. COUNSEL-REGION II, New York, NY, Counsel for Defendant.
GLENN T. SUDDABY, District Judge.
Currently before the Court, in this Social Security action filed by Kellie Larkin ("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. 12, 14.) For the reasons set forth below, Plaintiff's motion is granted in part and denied in part,  and Defendant's motion is denied.
I. RELEVANT BACKGROUND
A. Factual Background
Plaintiff was born on November 4, 1981. Plaintiff earned a general equivalency diploma and attended community college for one year and a half. Her most recent full time employment was as a janitor. Generally, Plaintiff's alleged disability consists of anxiety, low back pain, depression, post traumatic stress disorder ("PTSD"), and agoraphobia. Her alleged disability onset date is April 1, 2006.
B. Procedural History
On September 11, 2009, Plaintiff applied for Supplemental Security Income. Plaintiff's application was initially denied, after which she timely requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge ("the ALJ"). On May 3, 2011, Plaintiff appeared at hearing before the ALJ, Robert E. Gale. (T. 29-59.) The ALJ issued a written decision finding Plaintiff not disabled under the Social Security Act on August 13, 2011. (T. 12-28.) On March 11, 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 his decision, the ALJ made the following five findings of fact and conclusions of law. (T. 17-24.) First, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since her application date. (T. 17.) Second, the ALJ found that Plaintiff's degenerative disc disease of the lumbar spine, polysubstance dependency, dysthymic disorder, panic disorder and PTSD are severe impairments, but that Plaintiff's asthma, ear infection, appendicitis, hypertension, headaches, possible seizure related activities, twitching in her lower extremities, right knee pain and obesity are not severe. (T. 17-19.) Third, the ALJ found that Plaintiff's severe 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. 19-20.) The ALJ considered Listings 1.04, 12.04, 12.06 and 12.09. Fourth, the ALJ found that Plaintiff has
the residual functional capacity ["RFC"] to lift and/or carry 50 pounds occasionally and 25 pounds frequently, stand and/or walk for six hours in an eight-hour workday, and sit for six hours in an eight-hour workday. She can occasionally engage in postural activities, which include climbing, balancing and kneeling. Mentally, she retains the abilities (on a sustained basis) to perform simple, routine work in a low stress environment, which is defined as understanding, carrying out, and remembering simple instructions; responding appropriately to supervision, coworkers and the public with occasional social contact; responding appropriately to usual work situations; and dealing with changes in a routine work setting.
(T. 20-23.) Fifth, and finally, the ALJ found that Plaintiff is capable of performing her past relevant work as a janitor. (T. 23-24.)
II. THE PARTIES' BRIEFINGS ON PLAINTIFF'S MOTION
Plaintiff makes four separate arguments in support of her motion for judgment on the pleadings. First, Plaintiff argues that the ALJ erred in the weight he accorded the medical opinions of record. (Dkt. No. 12 at 12-16 [Pl.'s Mem. of Law].) Second, Plaintiff argues that the ALJ impermissibly substituted his lay opinion for that of a competent medical source. ( Id. at 16-18.) Third, Plaintiff argues that the ALJ erred in his assessment of Plaintiff's credibility. ( Id. at 18-20.) Fourth, and finally, Plaintiff argues that the ALJ's determination is not supported by substantial evidence. ( Id. at 20-21.)
In response, Defendant argues that substantial evidence supports the ALJ's RFC determination. (Dkt. No. 14 ...