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Saunders v. Colvin

United States District Court, W.D. New York

February 27, 2015

CANDY SAUNDERS, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Defendant

Page 180

For Candy Saunders, Plaintiff: Peter A. Gorton, Lachman & Gorton, Endicott, NY.

For Carolyn W. Colvin, Defendant: Andreea Laura Lechleitner, Social Security Administration Office of General Counsel, LEAD ATTORNEY, New York, NY; Kathryn L. Smith, U.S. Attorney's Office, Rochester, NY.

Page 181

DECISION AND ORDER

DAVID G. LARIMER, United States District Judge.

Plaintiff appeals from a denial of disability benefits by the Commissioner of Social Security (" the Commissioner" ). The action is one brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) to review the Commissioner's final determination.

This appeal follows a lengthy cycle of prior decisions and remands. On January 25, 2008, plaintiff filed an application for Supplemental Security Income benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act, alleging an inability to work since January 1, 2001. (T. 12).[1] Her application was initially denied. Plaintiff requested a hearing, which was held on January 7, 2010 before Administrative Law Judge (" ALJ" ) F. Patrick Flanagan. ALJ Flanagan issued a decision on May 28, 2010, concluding that plaintiff was not disabled under the Social Security Act. Plaintiff appealed, and on March 2, 2012, the Appeals Council vacated the decision and remanded the matter for further proceedings. After a second hearing, ALJ Flanagan issued a second unfavorable decision on November 28, 2012. Plaintiff appealed, and on April 12, 2013, the Appeals

Page 182

Council vacated the second decision, directed the reassignment of the matter to a different ALJ, and remanded the case for further proceedings, including the obtainment of additional evidence concerning the plaintiff's physical and mental impairments, further consideration of treating source opinions, and consultation with a vocational expert. A third hearing was held via videoconference on August 1, 2013 before ALJ Robert E. Gale. On September 27, 2013, ALJ Gale issued a decision concluding that plaintiff was not disabled under the Social Security Act. (T. 12-26). That decision became the final decision of the Commissioner when the Appeals Council denied review on April 17, 2014. (T. 1-3).

The plaintiff has moved (Dkt. #10), and the Commissioner has cross moved (Dkt. #12) for judgment on the pleadings pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. Proc. 12(c). For the reasons set forth below, the Commissioner's decision is reversed, and the matter is remanded for the calculation and payment of benefits.

DISCUSSION

Determination of whether a claimant is disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act requires a five-step sequential evaluation. See Bowen v. City of New York, 476 U.S. 467, 470-71, 106 S.Ct. 2022, 90 L.Ed.2d 462 (1986). See 20 CFR § § 404.1509, 404.1520. If the ALJ concludes that the claimant is not engaged in substantial gainful employment and suffers from a severe impairment, he then examines whether the claimant's impairment meets or equals the criteria of those listed in Appendix 1 of Subpart P of Regulation No. 4. If the impairment does so, and has continued for the required duration, the claimant is disabled. If not, analysis proceeds and the ALJ determines the claimant's residual functional capacity (" RFC" ), which is the ability to perform physical or metal work activities on a sustained basis, notwithstanding limitations for the collective impairments. See 20 CFR § 404.1520(e), (f). If the claimant's RFC permits her to perform relevant jobs she has done in the past, she is not disabled. If not, analysis proceeds to the final step, and the burden shifts to the Commissioner to show that the claimant is not disabled, by presenting evidence demonstrating that the claimant " retains a residual functional capacity to perform alternative substantial gainful work which exists in the national economy" in light of her age, education, and work experience. See Rosa v. Callahan, 168 F.3d 72, 77 (2d Cir. 1999), quoting Bapp v. Bowen, 802 F.2d 601, 604 (2d Cir. 1986). See also 20 CFR § 404.1560(c).

The Commissioner's decision that a plaintiff is not disabled must be affirmed if it is supported by substantial evidence, and if the ALJ applied the correct legal standards. See 42 U.S.C. § 405(g); Machadio v. Apfel, 276 F.3d 103, 108 (2d Cir. 2002). 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, 91 S.Ct. 1420, 28 L.Ed.2d 842 (1971) (quoting Consolidated Edison Co. v. N.L.R.B., 305 U.S. 197, 229, 59 S.Ct. 206, 83 L.Ed. 126 (1938)). " The Court carefully considers the whole record, examining evidence from both sides 'because an analysis of the substantiality of the evidence must also include that which detracts from its weight.'" Tejada v. Apfel, 167 F.3d 770, 774 (2d Cir. 1998) quoting Quinones v. Chater, 1 ...


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