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Trimm v. Colvin

United States District Court, N.D. New York

March 26, 2015

BRANDY TRIMM, Plaintiff,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

OFFICE OF PETER W. PETER W. ANTONOWICZ, ESQ. ANTONOWICZ, ESQ., Rome, New York, Attorneys for Plaintiff.

SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION, JOSHUA L. KERSHNER, ESQ., 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 August 12, 2013, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and 1383(c)(3), seeking review of a decision of the Commissioner of Social Security denying Plaintiff's applications for Disability Insurance Benefits ("DIB") and Supplemental Security Income ("SSI"). See Dkt. No. 1.


Plaintiff's date of birth is April 17, 1979, and she was twenty-three years old at the time of the alleged onset of disability, September 10, 2002. See Dkt. No. 9, Administrative Transcript ("T."), at 293-94, 297-300. Plaintiff's education included the completion of eleventh grade, see id. at 50, and training as a certified nursing assistant ("CNA"). See id. at 93. She has not ever obtained a general equivalency diploma. See id. at 93. Beginning in 2000, Plaintiff was employed by Rome Memorial Hospital as a CNA and unit clerk in the nursing home. See id. at 360. On April 20, 2002, Plaintiff felt a popping sensation with pain when she squatted down to lift a resident's leg into bed. See id. at 386. Plaintiff was treated by her primary care physician, Dr. Pisaniello, who sent Plaintiff for physical therapy, but the therapy did not provide relief.[1] See id. Plaintiff was out of work for over nine weeks due to this injury, but she returned to her nursing home employment, which continued through September 10, 2002. See id. at 386, 430. On that day, while she was assisting a resident into bed, she experienced a sharp pain in her low back and left hip. See id. at 387. The administrative record indicates that Plaintiff sought out treatment as early as September 13, 2002 and was diagnosed with lumbosacral strain with radiculopathy. See id. at 424-30.

Plaintiff filed a workers' compensation claim related to this injury, and the claim was settled in 2006. See id. at 76. After Plaintiff was injured on the job as a CNA, she did not ever return to that type of work, but she did engage in part-time work. See id. at 310-11. Plaintiff worked as a bartender and for a company named Advanced Wireless Solutions in 2003, as a bartender and as a cashier for Stewarts Shops in 2004, and as a bartender one weekend in 2006.[2] See id. at 98, 310-11.

On February 1, 2008 and May 5, 2008, Plaintiff protectively filed applications for DIB and SSI claiming a period of disability that started on September 10, 2002. See id. at 293-94, 297-300, 345. These applications were both initially denied in notices dated July 15, 2008 and July 17, 2008. Id. at 126-41.[3] Plaintiff filed a written request for a hearing on August 14, 2008, and the case was assigned to Administrative Law Judge Scott C. Firestone. See id. at 146-47. A video hearing was held on April 18, 2011 ( id. at 48-86), and Administrative Law Judge Firestone issued a decision dated May 17, 2011, finding that Plaintiff was not disabled. See id. at 105-17. Plaintiff requested review, and the Appeals Council remanded the claim back to the ALJ for further action. See id. at 122-24, 217, 231-32. On remand, the ALJ was directed to further consider whether Plaintiff has a severe mental impairment because severe impairments of bipolar and depressive disorders were not consistent with an assessment that Plaintiff had "none to mild' limitations in her activities of daily living; mild difficulties in social functioning; mild difficulties in concentration, persistence, or pace; and no episodes of decompensation." See id. at 123.

On remand, the claim was assigned to Administrative Law Judge Elizabeth W. Koennecke ("ALJ"), and a second hearing was held on June 19, 2012. See id. at 86-102. The ALJ issued a decision on August 14, 2012 finding Plaintiff was not disabled and denying Plaintiff's applications for DIB and SSI. See id. at 20-39. Request for review by the Appeals Council was timely filed, and, on July 11, 2013, the request was denied, rendering the ALJ's decision the Commissioner's final decision. See id. at 1-6.

The ALJ found the following: (1) Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity after September 10, 2002; (2) Plaintiff's bipolar disorder, degenerative disc disease of the lumbar spine, and opiate dependence were severe impairments; (3) Plaintiff impairments, alone or in combination, did not meet or medically equal a listed impairment under 12.04 (Affective Disorders) or 12.09 (Substance Addiction Disorders) of 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpt. P, App. 1; (4) Plaintiff had the residual functional capacity ("RFC") to perform a full range of light work with the ability to frequently understand, carry out, and remember simple instructions, frequently respond appropriately to supervision, co-workers, and usual work situations, and frequently deal with changes in a routine work setting; (5) Plaintiff was capable of performing past relevant work as a cashier as that job is usually performed; and (6), in the alternative, there are other jobs existing in the national economy that she is also able to perform. See id. at 20-39.

Plaintiff commenced this action for judicial review of the denial of her claim by the filing of a complaint on August 12, 2013. See Dkt. No. 1. Both parties have moved for judgment on the pleadings. See Dkt. Nos. 13, 15. Having review the administrative transcript, the Court orders that the Commissioner's decision is affirmed.


A. Standard of Review

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). The Court must examine the administrative transcript to determine whether the correct legal standards were applied and whether the decision is supported by substantial evidence. See Lamay v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 562 F.3d 503, 507 (2d Cir. 2009); Schaal v. Apfel, 134 F.3d 496, 500-01 (2d Cir. 1998). "A court may not affirm an ALJ's decision if it reasonably doubts whether the proper legal standards were applied, even if it appears to be supported by substantial evidence." Barringer v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 358 F.Supp.2d 67, 72 (N.D.N.Y. 2005) (citing Johnson v. Bowen, 817 F.2d 983, 986 (2d Cir. 1987)). "Substantial evidence" is evidence that amounts to "more than a mere scintilla, " and it has been defined to be "such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971) (citations and quotations omitted).

If supported by substantial evidence, the Commissioner's factual determinations are conclusive, and it is not permitted for the courts to substitute their analysis of the evidence. See Rutherford v. Schweiker, 685 F.2d 60, 62 (2d Cir. 1982). 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).

B. Analysis

1. Five-step analysis

For purposes of both DIB and SSI, a person is disabled when she is unable "to engage in 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. §§ ...

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