United States District Court, N.D. New York
PETER W. ANTONOWICZ, ESQ., OFFICE OF PETER W. ANTONOWICZ, Rome, NY, Counsel for Plaintiff.
DAVID L. BROWN, ESQ., U.S. SOCIAL SECURITY ADMIN, OFFICE OF REG'L GEN. COUNSEL - REGION II, New York, NY, Counsel for Defendant.
DECISION and ORDER
GLENN T. SUDDABY, District Judge.
Currently before the Court, in this Social Security action filed by Mary Hamlin ("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. 11, 14.) For the reasons set forth below, Plaintiff's motion is denied and Defendant's motion is granted.
I. RELEVANT BACKGROUND
A. Factual Background
At the time of her application, Plaintiff was 52 years old. Plaintiff has completed education through the doctorate level, having graduated from law school. She has most recently worked as an attorney and a fraud investigator. Generally, Plaintiff's alleged disability consists of bipolar disorder, agoraphobia, ulcers, gastroesophageal reflux disease and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease ("COPD"). Her alleged disability onset date is July 1, 2008, and her date last insured is December 31, 2011.
B. Procedural History
On December 15, 2008, Plaintiff applied for Social Security Disability Insurance and Supplemental Security Income. Plaintiff's application was initially denied, after which she timely requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge ("the ALJ"). On April 15, 2010, Plaintiff appeared before the ALJ, Edward Pitts. (T. 106-133.) On July 20, 2010, the ALJ issued a written decision finding Plaintiff not disabled under the Social Security Act. (T. 136-147.) Thereafter, the Appeals Council granted Plaintiff's request for review, vacated the prior decision and remanded the case to the ALJ for further proceedings. (T. 148-151.)
On May 1, 2012, Plaintiff again appeared at a hearing before the ALJ. (T. 52-98.) On May 8, 2012, the ALJ issued a partially favorable written decision, finding Plaintiff disabled under the Social Security Act beginning November 1, 2011 but not disabled prior to that date. (T. 14-41.) On July 1, 2013, the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review, rendering the ALJ's May 1, 2012 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 nine findings of fact and conclusions of law. (T. 21-34.) First, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since her alleged onset date. (T. 21.) Second, the ALJ found that Plaintiff's affective disorder, anxiety disorder and COPD were severe impairments but that her laryngitis, ulcers, gastroesophageal reflux disease, tobacco abuse and alcohol abuse were not severe. ( Id. ) 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. 22-24.) Fourth, the ALJ found that, prior to November 1, 2011, Plaintiff
had the [RFC] to perform work at all exertional levels. Due to her respiratory impairment, [Plaintiff] needed to avoid concentrated respiratory irritants. She was limited to unskilled and semiskilled work with a specific vocational preparation of no more than 5 due to her memory problems. [Plaintiff] was limited to no more than occasional multitasking and decision-making. She was able to maintain her attention and concentration for 90% of an eight-hour day. She was able to have frequent contact with coworkers and supervisors, but only occasional in person contact with the general public. She had no limitation for phone contact with others. [Plaintiff] should not have had overall financial management responsibilities but was able to handle money with supervision.
(T. 24.) Fifth, the ALJ found that, beginning on November 1, 2011, Plaintiff has the RFC
to perform work at all exertional levels. [Plaintiff] should avoid concentrated respiratory irritants. She is limited to unskilled and semiskilled work with a specific vocational preparation of no more than 5 due to her memory problems. [Plaintiff] is limited to more than occasional multitasking and decision-making. She is able to maintain her concentration for 80% of an eight-hour day. She is able to have frequent contact with coworkers and supervisors, but only occasional in person contact with the general public. She has no limitation for phone contact with others. [Plaintiff] should not have overall financial management responsibilities but is able to handle money with supervision. [Plaintiff] would be unable to complete an ordinary workday without interference with psychological symptoms 20% of the time and is likely to miss more than four days of work per month due to her psychological condition.
(T. 29.) Sixth, the ALJ found that Plaintiff is unable to perform her past relevant work. (T. 32.) Seventh, the ALJ found that, prior to November 1, 2011, there were jobs that existed in significant numbers in the national economy that Plaintiff could have performed. (T. 32-33.) Eighth, the ALJ found that, beginning November 1, 2011, there are no jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy that Plaintiff can perform. (T. 33-34.) Ninth, and finally, the ALJ found that Plaintiff's substance abuse disorder is not a contributing factor material to the determination of disability. (T. 34.)
II. THE PARTIES' BRIEFINGS ON PLAINTIFF'S MOTION
A. Plaintiff's Arguments
Plaintiff makes two separate arguments in support of her motion for judgment on the pleadings. First, Plaintiff argues that the ALJ committed errors of law in determining Plaintiff's RFC because he failed to assign the proper weight to Dr. Parker's opinion and arbitrarily chose November 1, 2011 as Plaintiff's onset date. (Dkt. No. 11 at 13-17 [Pl.'s Mem. of Law].) Second, and finally, Plaintiff argues that the ALJ failed ...