United States District Court, N.D. New York
March 31, 2015
CAROLINE M. WILSON, Plaintiff,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.
CAROLINE M. WILSON, Rome, New York, Plaintiff pro se.
HEETANO SHAMSOONDAR, ESQ., Special Assistant United States Attorney, SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION, Office of Regional General Counsel, Region II, New York, New York, Attorneys for Defendant.
MAE A. D'AGOSTINO, District Judge.
Plaintiff Caroline Wilson brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) seeking judicial review of the Commissioner of Social Security's ("Commissioner") decision to deny her application for Disability Insurance Benefits ("DIB") under the Social Security Act. Before the Court are the parties' cross-motions for judgment on the pleadings. See Dkt. Nos. 16, 19. This matter was referred to United States Magistrate Judge Therèse Wiley Dancks for a Report and Recommendation pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b) and Local Rule 72.3(d), familiarity with which is assumed.
On January 4, 2011, Plaintiff filed an application for DIB, alleging a disability onset date of July 30, 2002. See Administrative Transcript ("T.") at 117. Plaintiff's application was initially denied on March 9, 2011. See id. at 66. Upon Plaintiff's request, a hearing was held on September 18, 2012 before Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") Edward I. Pitts. See id. at 31-65. On October 5, 2012, the ALJ issued a decision denying Plaintiff's claim for benefits, finding that Plaintiff was not disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act (the "Act"). Id. at 13-21. Plaintiff filed a request for review with the Appeals Council, which denied review by letter dated December 16, 2013, thereby making the ALJ's decision the final determination of the Commissioner. See id. at 4-9.
Plaintiff commenced this action on February 4, 2014, seeking judicial review of the Commissioner's unfavorable decision. See Dkt. No. 1. Plaintiff, who is proceeding pro se, generally alleges that her medical conditions render her disabled. See Dkt. No. 16. Defendant maintains that the ALJ applied the correct legal standards in determining that Plaintiff is not disabled and that his decision is supported by substantial evidence. See Dkt. No. 19. In a Report and Recommendation dated March 25, 2015, Magistrate Judge Dancks recommended that the Commissioner's decision be affirmed. Dkt. No. 20 at 2.
In reviewing the Commissioner's final decision, the Court must determine whether the Commissioner applied the correct legal standards and whether there is substantial evidence to support the decision. See Urtz v. Callahan, 965 F.Supp. 324, 326 (N.D.N.Y. 1997) (citing Johnson v. Bowen, 817 F.2d 983, 985 (2d Cir. 1987)). The Commissioner is ultimately responsible for determining a claimant's eligibility; however, an ALJ makes the actual disability determination. A court may not affirm an ALJ's decision if it reasonably doubts that the ALJ applied the proper legal standards, even if it appears that the ALJ's decision is supported by substantial evidence. See Johnson, 817 F.2d at 986. The ALJ must set forth the crucial factors justifying his findings with sufficient specificity to allow a court to determine whether substantial evidence supports the decision. See Ferraris v. Heckler, 728 F.2d 582, 587 (2d Cir. 1984).
In reviewing a report and recommendation, a district court "may accept, reject, or modify, in whole or in part, the findings or recommendations made by the magistrate judge." 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(C). When a party makes specific objections to a magistrate judge's report, the district court engages in de novo review of the issues raised in the objections. Id .; see also Farid v. Bouey, 554 F.Supp.2d 301, 307 (N.D.N.Y. 2008). When a party fails to make specific objections, the court reviews the magistrate judge's report for clear error. See id.; see also Gamble v. Barnhart, No. 02-CV-1126, 2004 WL 2725126, *1 (S.D.N.Y. Nov. 29, 2004).
In the present matter, Plaintiff alleged disability beginning July 30, 2002 and had acquired sufficient quarters of coverage to remain insured through June 30, 2004. See T. at 13. The Court finds that Magistrate Judge Dancks correctly determined that substantial evidence supported the ALJ's determination that Plaintiff's severe impairments during this period included migraine headaches and a cognitive impairment. See Dkt. No. 20 at 7-17. Although Plaintiff alleged additional severe impairments related to strokes, depression, obesity, abdominal pain, and upper extremity limitations, as Magistrate Judge Dancks thoroughly explained, Plaintiff failed to provide sufficient evidence showing that these alleged impairments were severe during the relevant time period. See id. at 14-17. Magistrate Judge Dancks also correctly determined that the ALJ's residual functional capacity ("RFC") determination was supported by substantial evidence, including treatment notes from Plaintiff's treating physicians during the alleged period of disability, diagnostic evidence, and Plaintiff's school records. See id. at 17-19. The Court also finds that Magistrate Judge Dancks correctly concluded that the ALJ properly evaluated Plaintiff's credibility and that his credibility determination was supported by substantial evidence. See id. at 19-24. Finally, Magistrate Judge Dancks correctly found that the ALJ did not err in relying on the vocational grids to determine that jobs existed in the national economy that Plaintiff could have performed or in his ultimate determination that Plaintiff was not disabled during the relevant time period. See id. at 24-27.
Therefore, having carefully reviewed the Report and Recommendation, the parties' submissions, and the applicable law, the Court finds that Magistrate Judge Dancks correctly determined that the Commissioner's decision should be affirmed.
Accordingly, the Court hereby
ORDERS that Magistrate Judge Dancks' March 25, 2015 Report and Recommendation is ADOPTED in its entirety for the reasons stated therein; and the Court further
ORDERS that Plaintiff's motion for judgment on the pleadings (Dkt. No. 16) is DENIED; and the Court further
ORDERS that Defendant's motion for judgment on the pleadings (Dkt. No. 19) is GRANTED; and the Court further
ORDERS that the Commissioner's decision denying disability benefits is AFFIRMED; and the Court further
ORDERS that the Clerk shall enter judgment and close this case; and the Court further
ORDERS that the Clerk of the Court shall serve a copy of this Order on all parties in accordance with the Local Rules.
IT IS SO ORDERED.