United States District Court, W.D. New York
BERNHARDI & LUKASIK PLLC (SARAH A. FREDERICK, ESQ., of Counsel), West Seneca, New York, for Plaintiff.
WILLIAM J. HOCHUL,
JR., United States Attorney (PETER JEWETT, Special Assistant United States
Attorney, of Counsel), Buffalo, New York, 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 8).
Plaintiff Kathleen Dawn Patti initiated this action on November 15, 2013, pursuant to the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) ("the Act"), for judicial review of the final determination of the Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner") denying plaintiff's application for Social Security Disability Insurance ("SSDI") benefits under Title II of the Act. Both parties have moved for judgment on the pleadings pursuant to Rule 12(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure ( see Items 3, 5). For the following reasons, plaintiff's motion is GRANTED, and the Commissioner's motion is DENIED.
Plaintiff was born on March 12, 1959 (Tr. 162). She filed an application for SSDI benefits with a protective filing date of January 21, 2011, alleging disability due to musculoskeletal problems, including impairments of the spine, right shoulder, and right elbow, with an onset date of November 11, 2009 (Tr. 162, 177). The application was denied administratively on May 9, 2011 (Tr. 79-86). Plaintiff then requested a hearing, which was held on May 7, 2012, before Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") David S. Lewandowski (Tr. 17-49). Plaintiff appeared and testified at the hearing, and was represented by counsel. A vocational expert ("VE") also appeared and testified.
On May 18, 2012, the ALJ issued a decision finding that plaintiff was not disabled within the meaning of the Act (Tr. 63-71). Following the sequential evaluation process outlined in the Social Security Administration regulations ( see 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 416.920), the ALJ found that plaintiff's impairments (cervical disc disease, lumbar disc disease, status post right shoulder arthroscopic surgery, and status post right knee arthroscopic surgery) while "severe, " did not meet or medically equal any of the impairments listed at 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 (the "Listings") (Tr. 65-66). The ALJ discussed the evidence in the record, including reports from treating and consultative medical sources and plaintiff's hearing testimony and statements regarding her complaints of pain and limitations of functioning, and determined that plaintiff could not perform her past relevant work as a licensed practical nurse, but had the residual functional capacity ("RFC") to perform light work with several specified exertional limitations (Tr. 66-69). Relying on the VE's testimony indicating that an individual of plaintiff's age, education, work experience, and RFC would be able to perform the physical and mental demands of a significant number of jobs existing in the national and local economies, the ALJ determined that plaintiff has not been disabled within the meaning of the Act at any time since the alleged onset date (Tr. 70-71).
The ALJ's decision became the final decision of the Commissioner on September 24, 2013, when the Appeals Council denied plaintiff's request for review (Tr. 1-6), and this action followed.
In her motion for judgment on the pleadings, plaintiff contends that the Commissioner's determination should be reversed because (1) the ALJ erred in relying on the testimony of the VE; (2) the RFC determination was not based on substantial evidence; and (3) the ALJ failed to properly assess plaintiff's credibility. See Items 3-1, 7. The government contends that the Commissioner's determination should be affirmed because the ALJ's decision was made in accordance with the pertinent legal standards and is based on substantial evidence. See Items 5-1.
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). 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 ...