United States District Court, W.D. New York
DECISION and ORDER
MICHAEL A. TELESCA, District Judge.
Plaintiff Suzanne Murray ("Murray") brings this action pursuant to Titles II and XVI of the Social Security Act, (codified at 42 U.S.C. § 401 et. seq., and 42 U.S.C. § 1381 et seq., respectively) claiming that the Commissioner of Social Security improperly denied her application for disability benefits and/or supplemental security income. Specifically, Murray alleges that the decision of Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") John P. Costello denying plaintiff's application for benefits was erroneous because the ALJ failed to consider all of her impairments in determining her capacity to perform work; improperly determined that plaintiff was not credible; and failed to give appropriate weight to the opinion of plaintiff's treating physician, and the opinion of a consultative examiner.
The Commissioner moves for judgment on the pleadings on grounds that the ALJ's decision was correct, was supported by substantial evidence, and was made in accordance with applicable law. Murray opposes the defendant's motion, and moves for judgment on the pleadings in her favor. For the reasons set forth below, I grant the Commissioner's motion for judgment on the pleadings, and deny plaintiff's motion for judgment on the pleadings.
On January 21, 2011, plaintiff Suzanne Murray, a 49 year old former day care provider, applied for Social Security disability benefits and/or supplemental income security benefits claiming that she had become unable to work as of March 3, 2008 due to bulging discs, diabetes, left leg pain, and high blood pressure. Murray was denied benefits on April 13, 2011, and thereafter she requested an administrative hearing which was held on August 20, 2012 before ALJ Costello, at which hearing plaintiff was represented by a non-attorney advocate. At the hearing, plaintiff amended her disability onset date from March 3, 2008 to August 1, 2011.
On the basis of the hearing and the medical record, the ALJ found that although Murray suffered from a number of severe medical impairments including diabetes, degenerative disc disease in the lumbar region, a history of shoulder impingement and obesity, she did not have a disability as defined by 42 U.S.C. § 423(d) or 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 (listing specific impairments that constitute a disability under the Social Security Act), nor did she suffer from any condition or combination of conditions that were equivalent or more severe than any of the listed impairments that constitute a disability. Thereafter, Murray appealed the ALJ's decision to the Social Security Appeals Council, which denied plaintiff's appeal on November 7, 2013. After being granted an extension of time to appeal the decision to this Court, Murray filed the instant action on January 9, 2014.
I. Jurisdiction and Scope of Review
42 U.S.C. § 405(g) grants jurisdiction to district courts to hear claims based on the denial of Social Security benefits. Additionally, the section directs that when considering such a claim, the court must accept the findings of fact made by the Commissioner, provided that such findings are supported by substantial evidence in the record. Substantial evidence is defined as "such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Consolidated Edison Co. v NLRB, 305 U.S. 197, 229 (1938). Section 405(g) thus limits the court's scope of review to determining whether or not the Commissioner's findings were supported by substantial evidence contained in the administrative record. See, Mongeur v. Heckler, 722 F.2d 1033, 1038 (2d Cir. 1983) (finding that the reviewing court does not try a benefits case de novo). The court is also authorized to review the legal standards employed by the Commissioner in evaluating the plaintiff's claim.
The court must "scrutinize the record in its entirety to determine the reasonableness of the decision reached." Lynn v. Schweiker, 565 F.Supp. 265, 267 (S.D. Tex. 1983) (citation omitted). The Commissioner asserts that the ALJ's decision was reasonable and is supported by the evidence in the record, and moves for judgment on the pleadings pursuant to Rule 12(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Under Rule 12(c), judgment on the pleadings may granted where the material facts are undisputed and where judgment on the merits is possible merely by considering the contents of the pleadings. Sellers v. M.C. Floor Crafters, Inc., 842 F.2d 639 (2d Cir. 1988).
The Plaintiff also moves for judgment on the pleadings, contending that the ALJ failed to consider all of her medical impairments, including her alleged impairment of Complex Regional Pain Syndrome, which she claims is a serious impairment that, when considered along with her other impairments, renders her disabled. She further contends that the ALJ improperly failed to give controlling weight to the opinion of her treating primary care physician Dr. William Morehouse, and improperly afforded too much weight to the opinion of a consultative examiner, Dr. Melissa Brown. Finally, plaintiff alleges that the ALJ improperly determined that she was not fully credible with respect to her complaints of pain.
Because I find that the Commissioner's determination denying benefits is supported by substantial evidence, I grant the Commissioner's motion for judgment on the pleadings and deny ...