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Tremblay v. Colvin

United States District Court, W.D. New York

September 23, 2014

LORI A. TREMBLAY, Plaintiff,
and CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Commissioner of Social Security, [1] Defendant.


MICHAEL A. TELESCA, District Judge.


Plaintiff Lori A. Tremblay ("Plaintiff"), who is represented by counsel, brings this action pursuant to the Social Security Act ("the Act"), seeking review of the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security ("the Commissioner") denying her application for Supplemental Security Income ("SSI"). This Court has jurisdiction over the matter pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g), 1383(c).

Presently before the Court are the parties' motions for judgment on the pleadings pursuant to Rule 12(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Dkt.##8, 11. Plaintiff alleges that the decision of the Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") who heard her case is erroneous because it is not supported by substantial evidence contained in the record, or is legally deficient and therefore she is entitled to judgment on the pleadings. Pl. Mem. (Dkt.#8-1) 8-18. The Commissioner cross-moves for judgment on the pleadings on the grounds that the ALJ's decision is correct, is supported by substantial evidence, and was made in accordance with applicable law. Comm'r Mem. (Dkt.#11-1) 11-23.


Plaintiff applied for SSI benefits on July 11, 2008, alleging disability on the basis of anxiety disorder. She received a Notice of Disapproved Claim on September 4, 2008. T. 78-81, 125. She then requested an administrative hearing, which was held on August 20, 2010, before ALJ Robert C. Harvey. T. 41.

In applying the familiar five-step sequential analysis, as contained in the administrative regulations promulgated by the SSA, see 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 416.920; Lynch v. Astrue, No. 07-CV-249 , 2008 WL 3413899, at *2 (W.D.N.Y. Aug. 8, 2008) (detailing the five steps), the ALJ found at step one that Plaintiff did not engage in substantial gainful activity since the date of her SSI application. T. 26. At step two, he found that Plaintiff's anxiety, depression, and panic disorder with agoraphobia were severe impairments. Id . Next, the ALJ found that Plaintiff's impairments did not meet or equal the Listings set forth at 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appx. 1. Id . Because Plaintiff could not be found disabled at the third step, the ALJ proceeded to determine that Plaintiff retained the residual functional capacity ("RFC") to lift/carry/push/pull 100 pounds occasionally and 50 pounds frequently; stand and/or walk for six hours per workday; and sit for two hours per workday. T. 44-45. He further found that Plaintiff could not climb ropes, ladders, or scaffolds; work in unprotected heights; or work around heavy, moving, or dangerous machinery. Id . Given her mental impairments, the ALJ found that plaintiff had a moderate limitation in the ability to understand, remember, and carry out detailed instructions; interact appropriately with the general public; and respond appropriately to changes in a work setting; and could only perform work that entailed no more than a moderate amount of stress. T. 45.

Plaintiff had no past relevant work, so the ALJ proceeded to step five of the sequential evaluation process. T. 47-48. Relying on the testimony of a Vocational Expert ("VE"), the ALJ found that jobs existed in significant numbers in the national economy that Plaintiff could perform, including cleaner and dining room attendant. T. 48-49. He concluded that Plaintiff was not disabled. T. 49.

Following the ALJ's unfavorable determination, Plaintiff requested review by the Appeals Council on December 7, 2011. On April 2, 2012, the Appeals Council denied review, making the ALJ's determination the final decision of the Commissioner. T. 1-6, 20, 178-81. This timely action followed. Dkt.#1.

For the following reasons, Plaintiff's motion is denied, and the Commissioner's cross-motion is granted.


I. General Legal Principles

42 U.S.C. § 405(g) grants jurisdiction to district courts to hear claims based on the denial of Social Security benefits. Section 405(g) provides that the District Court "shall have the power to enter, upon the pleadings and transcript of the record, a judgment affirming, modifying, or reversing the decision of the Commissioner of Social Security, with or without remanding the cause for a rehearing." 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) (2007). 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)); see also Metro. Stevedore Co. v. Rambo , 521 U.S. 121, 149 (1997).

When determining whether the Commissioner's findings are supported by substantial evidence, the Court's task is "to examine the entire record, including contradictory evidence and evidence from which conflicting inferences can be drawn." Brown v. Apfel , 174 F.3d 59, 62 (2d Cir. 1999) (quoting Mongeur v. Heckler , 722 F.2d 1033, 1038 (2d Cir. 1983) (per curiam)). 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. ...

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