United States District Court, N.D. New York
HOWARD D. OLINSKY, ESQ., OLINSKY LAW GROUP, Syracuse, NY, Counsel for Plaintiff.
PETER JEWETT, ESQ., U.S. SOCIAL SECURITY ADMIN. OFFICE OF REG'L GEN. COUNSEL - REGION II, New York, NY, Counsel for Defendant.
DECISION and ORDER
GLENN T. SUDDABY, District Judge.
Currently before the Court, in this Social Security action filed by Donna Ellen Schultz ("Plaintiff") against the Commissioner of Social Security ("Defendant" or "the Commissioner") pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and 1383(c)(3), are the parties' crossmotions for judgment on the pleadings. (Dkt. Nos. 12, 13.) For the reasons set forth below, Defendant's motion is granted and Plaintiff's motion is denied.
I. RELEVANT BACKGROUND
A. Factual Background
Plaintiff was born on December 23, 1951. She completed a high school level of education. She worked full time as an administrative assistant, collection's clerk and bus driver. Generally, her alleged disability consists of sciatica, low back problems and sleep apnea. Her alleged disability onset date is May 13, 2010, and her date last insured is March 31, 2014.
B. Procedural History
On July 27, 2011, Plaintiff applied for Social Security Disability Insurance Benefits ("SSD"). Her application was initially denied, after which she timely requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge ("the ALJ"). On October 31, 2012, she appeared before the ALJ, Carl E. Stephan. (T. 46-69.) On November 19, 2012 the ALJ issued a written decision finding Plaintiff not disabled under the Social Security Act. (T. 21-35.) On December 19, 2012, the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review, rendering the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner. (T. 1-6.) Thereafter, Plaintiff timely sought judicial review in this Court.
C. The ALJ's Decision
Generally, in his decision, the ALJ made the following five findings of fact and conclusions of law. (T. 21-35.) First, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since her alleged onset date. (T. 23.) Second, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had the severe impairments of bilateral knee degenerative joint disease and obesity. ( Id. ) The ALJ determined that Plaintiff's medically determinable impairments of a back disorder, gastroesophageal reflux, hearing loss, edema, restless leg syndrome, pre-diabetes, sleep apnea, and anxiety/depression were non-severe impairments. (T. 26.) Third, the ALJ found that Plaintiff did not have an impairment that meets or medically equals one of the listed impairments located in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix. 1. (T. 27.) The ALJ specifically considered listing 1.00, referable to musculoskeletal disorders. ( Id. ) Fourth, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had the residual functional capacity ("RFC") to "perform the full range of sedentary work as defined in 20 CFR § 404.1567(a)." ( Id. ) Fifth, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had past relevant work as an administrative assistant or clerical work and is capable of performing such work. (T. 30.)
II. THE PARTIES' BRIEFINGS ON PLAINTIFF'S MOTION
A. Plaintiff's Arguments
Plaintiff makes four separate arguments in support of her motion for judgment on the pleadings. First, Plaintiff argues that the ALJ erred in failing to develop the record, because (a) the ALJ failed to request additional records from Jay L. Rugoff, D.C. and (b) the ALJ failed to re-contact consultative examiner Joseph Prezio, M.D. (Dkt. No. 12 at 9-12 [Pl.'s Mem. of Law].) Second, Plaintiff argues that the ALJ's RFC determination is unsupported by substantial evidence. ( Id. at 12-16.) Third, Plaintiff argues that the ALJ's credibility determination is not supported by substantial evidence. ( Id. at 16-19.) Fourth, and lastly, Plaintiff argues that the ALJ's Step Four finding is unsupported by substantial evidence. ( Id. at 18-20.)
B. Defendant's Arguments
In response, Defendant makes essentially four arguments. First, Defendant argues that the ALJ properly developed the record. (Dkt. No. 13 at 4-5 [Def.'s Mem. of Law].) Second, Defendant argues that the ALJ was not required to recontact Dr. Prezio. ( Id. at 5-6.) Third, Defendant argues that the ALJ properly determined Plaintiff's RFC. ( Id. at 6-9.) Fourth, and finally, the Defendant argues that Plaintiff was capable of performing her past relevant work. ( Id. at 9-10.)
III. RELEVANT LEGAL STANDARD
A. Standard of Review
A court reviewing a denial of disability benefits may not determine de novo whether an individual is disabled. See 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and 1383(c)(3); Wagner v. Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., 906 F.2d 856, 860 (2d Cir. 1990). Rather, the Commissioner's determination will be reversed only if the correct legal standards were not applied, or the decision was not supported by substantial evidence. See Johnson v. Bowen, 817 F.2d 983, 986 (2d Cir. 1987) ("Where there is a reasonable basis for doubt whether the ALJ applied correct legal principles, application of the substantial evidence standard to uphold a finding of no disability creates an unacceptable risk that a claimant will be deprived of the right to have her disability determination made according to the correct legal principles."); Grey v. Heckler, 721 F.2d 41, 46 (2d Cir. 1983); Marcus v. Califano, 615 F.2d 23, 27 (2d Cir. 1979).
"Substantial evidence" is evidence that amounts to "more than a mere scintilla, " and has been defined as "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, 1427 (1971). Where evidence is deemed susceptible to more than one rational interpretation, the Commissioner's conclusion must be upheld. See Rutherford v. Schweiker, 685 F.2d 60, 62 (2d Cir. 1982).
"To determine on appeal whether the ALJ's findings are supported by substantial evidence, a reviewing court considers the whole record, examining evidence from both sides, because an analysis of the substantiality of the evidence must also include that which detracts ...