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Lamb v. Colvin

United States District Court, N.D. New York

November 14, 2014

BRENDA LAMB, Plaintiff,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, in her official capacity as Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, Defendant.

STUART A. KAUFMAN, ESQ., LEGAL AID SOCIETY OF NORTHEASTERN NY, Saratoga Springs, New York, Attorneys for Plaintiff.

EMILY M. FISHMAN, ESQ., SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION, Office of Regional General Counsel, Region II, New York, New York, Attorneys for Defendant.


MAE A. D'AGOSTINO, District Judge.


Plaintiff commenced this action on July 17, 2013, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) and 1383(c)(3), seeking review of a decision by the Commissioner of Social Security denying Plaintiff's application for Supplemental Security Income ("SSI"). See Dkt. No. 1.

On May 20, 2010, Plaintiff filed an application for SSI, alleging a disability onset date of April 28, 2002. See Dkt. No. 8, Administrative Record ("R."), at 14; see also Dkt. No. 1 at ¶ 7. This application was denied on August 31, 2010. See R. at 55-60. Plaintiff then requested a hearing and appeared with her counsel before Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") Arthur Patane on September 13, 2011. See id. at 26-47. On October 21, 2011, ALJ Patane issued a decision denying Plaintiff's application. See id. at 14-20. Plaintiff subsequently requested review by the Appeals Council and was denied such review on May 17, 2013, making the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security. See id. at 1-3.

Presently before the Court are the parties' cross-motions for judgment on the pleadings. See Dkt. Nos. 10, 11.


Plaintiff was born on October 12, 1964, and was forty-six years old at the time of the hearing, held on September 13, 2011. See Dkt. No. 10 at 2. From May 2010 through the date of the hearing, Plaintiff worked part-time through a work program called Community, Work, and Independence, Inc. (CWI). See id. at 3. Plaintiff testified that her job required her to push a foot pedal to fill a cat litter bag and then sew it shut. See id. at 3. Prior to this job, Plaintiff worked as a cleaner in a health care provider's office and in a warehouse. See id. at 3. Plaintiff alleges that she suffers from learning disabilities, obesity, diabetes, depression, anxiety, and a history of frequent urination as a result of kidney cancer. See id. at 3. The record evidence in this case is undisputed and the Court adopts the parties' factual recitations. See Dkt. No. 10 at 2-4; Dkt. No. 11 at 2 ("The Commissioner incorporates by reference the facts set forth in the ALJ's decision, as well as those in Plaintiff's brief, except with respect to any inferences, arguments, and conclusions made by Plaintiff").


A. Legal Standards

1. Five-step analysis

For purposes of SSI, a person is disabled when she is unable "to engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment which can be expected to result in death or which has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than 12 months." 42 U.S.C. §§ 1382(c)(3)(A). There is a five-step analysis for evaluating disability claims:

"First, the [Commissioner] considers whether the claimant is currently engaged in substantial gainful activity. If he is not, the [Commissioner] next considers whether the claimant has a "severe impairment" which significantly limits his physical or mental ability to do basic work activities. If the claimant suffers such an impairment, the third inquiry is whether, based solely on medical evidence, the claimant has an impairment which is listed in Appendix 1 of the regulations. If the claimant has such an impairment, the [Commissioner] will consider him disabled without considering vocational factors such as age, education, and work experience; the [Commissioner] presumes that a claimant who is afflicted with a "listed" impairment is unable to perform substantial gainful activity. Assuming the claimant does not have a listed impairment, the fourth inquiry is whether, despite the claimant's severe impairment, he has the residual functional capacity to perform his past work. Finally, if the claimant is unable to perform his past work, the [Commissioner] then determines whether there is other work which the claimant could perform."

Berry v. Schweiker, 675 F.2d 464, 467 (2d Cir. 1982); see also Rosa v. Callahan, 168 F.3d 72, 77 (2d Cir. 1999) (citations omitted). The claimant bears the burden of proof on the first four steps, while the Social Security Administration bears the burden on the last step. Id.

In reviewing a final decision by the Commissioner under 42 U.S.C. § 405, the Court does not determine de novo whether a plaintiff is disabled. See 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g), 1383(c)(3); Wagner v. Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., 906 F.2d 856, 860 (2d Cir. 1990). Rather, the Court must examine the Administrative Record to ascertain whether the correct legal standards were applied, and whether the decision is supported by substantial evidence. See Shaw v. Chater, 221 F.3d 126, 131 (2d Cir. 2000); Schaal v. Apfel, 134 F.3d 496, 500-01 (2d Cir. 1998). "Substantial evidence" is evidence that amounts to "more than a mere scintilla, " and it has been defined as "such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971).

If supported by substantial evidence, the Commissioner's finding must be sustained "even where substantial evidence may support the plaintiff's position and despite that the court's independent analysis of the evidence may differ from the [Commissioner's]." Rosado v. Sullivan, 805 F.Supp. 147, 153 (S.D.N.Y. 1992). In other words, this Court must afford the Commissioner's determination considerable deference, and may not substitute "its own judgment for that of the [Commissioner], even if it might justifiably have reached a different result upon a de novo review." Valente v. Sec'y of Health and Human Servs., 733 F.2d 1037, 1041 (2d Cir. 1984).

2. Credibility determination

"The ALJ has discretion to assess the credibility of a claimant's testimony regarding disabling pain and to arrive at an independent judgment, in light of medical findings and other evidence, regarding the true extent of the pain alleged by the claimant." Marcus v. Califano, 615 F.2d 23, 27 (2d Cir. 1979). The regulations set out a ...

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