United States District Court, W.D. New York
LAW OFFICES OF KENNETH HILLER (ELIZABETH ANN HAUNGS, ESQ., of Counsel) Amherst, New York, Attorneys for Plaintiff.
WILLIAM J. HOCHUL, JR., United States Attorney, Western District of New York (ELIZABETH ROTHSTEIN, AUSA, of Counsel) United States Attorney's Office, Buffalo, New York, Attorneys for Defendant.
JOHN T. CURTIN, District Judge.
This matter has been transferred to the undersigned for all further proceedings, by order of Chief United States District Judge William M. Skretny dated October 2, 2014. Item 12.
Plaintiff Andrea Brown initiated this action pursuant to the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), to review the final determination of the Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner") denying plaintiff's application for Supplemental Security Income ("SSI") benefits made on behalf of her minor child, C.M.B., and has moved for judgment on the pleadings pursuant to Rule 12(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Item 8. For the following reasons, plaintiff's motion is denied.
Plaintiff filed an application on January 5, 2011 (with a protective filing date of December 8, 2010), for SSI benefits on behalf of C.M.B., her eight-year-old son, alleging disability due to attention deficit hyperactive disorder (ADHD) and emotional disturbance (Tr. 72-77, 87, 91). Upon denial of the application at the initial level of agency review (Tr. 45-49), plaintiff filed a timely request for a hearing which was held on April 28, 2011, before Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") Grenville W. Harrop, Jr. (Tr. 24-40). Plaintiff and C.M.B. appeared and testified at the hearing, without legal representation.
In a decision dated July 25, 2012, ALJ Harrop found that C.M.B. was not disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act (Tr. 9-20). Following the sequential evaluation process for determining disability for children, as outlined in the Social Security regulations at 20 C.F.R. § 416.924, the ALJ determined that C.M.B.'s ADHD, while severe, did not meet, medically equal, or functionally equal the severity of any impairment listed at 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 (the "Listings"), necessary for a finding of eligibility for child's SSI benefits. Id.
Plaintiff filed a timely administrative appeal (Tr. 7), and on August 29, 2013, the ALJ's decision became the final determination of the Commissioner when the Appeals Council denied plaintiff's request for review (Tr. 1-6). Plaintiff then filed this action on October 25, 2013, seeking judicial review of the Commissioner's decision pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Item 1.
In support of her motion for judgment on the pleadings, plaintiff contends that the ALJ failed to consider C.M.B.'s mood disorders (conduct disorder and depressive disorder) as severe impairments at step two of the sequential evaluation, and failed to properly evaluate whether C.M.B.'s ADHD met, medically equaled, or functionally equaled Listing 112.11. See Items 8-1, 11. The Commissioner responds that the ALJ's determination is supported by substantial evidence and should be affirmed. See Item 10.
I. Scope of Judicial Review
The Social Security Act provides that, upon district court review of the Commissioners decision, "[t]he findings of the Commissioner... as to any fact, if supported by substantial evidence, shall be conclusive...." 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Substantial evidence is defined as evidence which "a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Consolidated Edison Co. v. NLRB, 305 U.S. 197, 229 (1938), quoted in Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971); see also Tejada v. Apfel, 167 F.3d 770, 773-74 (2d Cir. 1999). The substantial evidence test applies not only to findings on basic evidentiary facts, but also to inferences and conclusions drawn from the facts. Giannasca v. Astrue, 2011 WL 4445141, at *3 (S.D.N.Y. Sept. 26, 2011) (citing Rodriguez v. Califano, 431 F.Supp. 421, 423 (S.D.N.Y. 1977)).
Under these standards, the scope of judicial review of the Commissioner's decision is limited, and the reviewing court may not try the case de novo or substitute its findings for those of the Commissioner. Richardson, 402 U.S. at 401; see also Cage v. Comm'r of Soc. Servs., 692 F.3d 118, 122 (2d Cir. 2012), cert. denied, 133 S.Ct. 2881 (2013). The court's inquiry is "whether the record, read as a whole, yields such evidence as would allow a reasonable mind to accept the conclusions reached" by the Commissioner. Sample ...