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Lewis v. Colvin

United States District Court, N.D. New York

November 25, 2014

NIKKI LEWIS, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner, Social Security Administration, Defendant.[1]

DECISION & ORDER

WILLIAM G. YOUNG, District Judge.[2]

I. INTRODUCTION

Plaintiff Nikki Lewis ("Lewis") brings this action against Carolyn W. Colvin, the Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (the "Commissioner" or the "Agency"), seeking the reversal of the Commissioner's determination that Lewis is not entitled to disability insurance benefits and supplemental security income pursuant to Titles II and XVI of the Social Security Act (the "Act"). Compl. ΒΆ 1, ECF No. 1. For the reasons set forth below, the Court REMANDS this case for further proceedings.

A. Procedural History

On May 24, 2010, Lewis filed a Title II application for disability insurance benefits, and a Title XVI application for supplemental security income. Administrative R. ("Admin. R.") 16, ECF No. 9. The Agency denied Lewis's applications on August 11, 2010, and Lewis filed a written request for a hearing several weeks later. Id . That hearing, which Lewis attended, was held on June 2, 2011. Following the hearing, Administrative Law Judge Thomas Tielens ("hearing officer") denied her applications on June 22, 2011. Id. at 16, 24. Lewis appealed to the Agency's Appeals Council, which denied her claim on August 9, 2012. Id. at 1, 6.

Lewis timely appealed to the district court on August 23, 2012. Compl. After the Commissioner produced the administrative record, Lewis filed her brief on April 4, 2013. Pl.'s Br. Pursuant Gen. Order No. 18 ("Pl.'s Br."), ECF No. 13. The Commissioner opposed on May 20, 2013. Def.'s Br. Pursuant Gen. Order No. 18 ("Def.'s Br."), ECF No. 14.

B. Factual History

The bulk of the factual background at issue in this case is not relevant to this opinion. For the sake of concision, and in order to protect the privacy of the parties as much as possible, this Court summarizes only those facts necessary to understand the legal issues involved.

Lewis, who was 22 years old at the date of the 2011 hearing, attended school through eleventh grade, though she did not finish high school. Admin. R. 33. During her schooling, she was subject to an individualized education plan ("IEP"). Id. at 134-41. She was also administered a WISC-IV IQ test, where she received a full scale score of 73, and sub-scores ranging from 67 (for perceptual reasoning) to 91 (for verbal comprehension). Id. at 136. She also received some type of counseling during her schooling, though the administrative record is not precisely clear about the type of program or how frequently it was offered. See id. at 144. Lewis said that after leaving school, she worked as a "privately hired housekeeper, " who "would decide what jobs to take and what [her] rate of pay would be for each job, depending on the duties for that particular home." Id. at 145. At the hearing, Lewis reported suffering from depression, stress, anxiety, and mood swings. Id. at 41-42, 44.

II. LEGAL STANDARDS

A. Standard of Review

As this Court recently summarized:

A district court reviewing a decision of the Commissioner to deny social security disability benefits must make two inquiries. The court must first determine whether the Commissioner applied the correct legal standards to an application for benefits and then must decide whether the Commissioner's findings of fact are supported by substantial evidence.

Walsh v. Colvin, No. 12-cv-00933 (WGY), 2014 WL 1239117, at *6 (N.D.N.Y. Mar. 25, 2014) (citing Moran v. Astrue, 569 F.3d 108, 112 (2d Cir. 2009)). Substantial evidence, in turn, is a permissive standard, requiring only "such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Id . (internal citation and quotation marks omitted); see also Brault v. Soc. Sec. Admin., Comm'r, 683 F.3d 443, 448 (2d Cir. 2012) (observing that substantial evidence is "a very deferential standard of review - even more so than the clearly erroneous' standard").

The reviewing court must, however, be conscious of the fact that both the legal and factual inquiries must be satisfied: "where there is a reasonable basis for doubting whether the Commissioner applied the appropriate legal standards, even if the ultimate decision may be arguably supported by substantial evidence, the Commissioner's decision may not be affirmed." Walsh, 2014 WL 1239117, at *7 (quoting Martone v. Apfel, 70 F.Supp.2d 145, 148 ...


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