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Pepper v. Commissioner of Social Security

United States District Court, N.D. New York

June 17, 2015

ILENE RACHEL PEPPER, Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.

LAWRENCE D. HASSELER, ESQ., Conboy, McKay Law Firm, Carthage, NY, for the Plaintiff.

VERNON NORWOOD, Special Assistant U.S. Attorney, HON. RICHARD S. HARTUNIAN, United States Attorney, Syracuse, NY, Steven P. Conte, Regional Chief Counsel Social Security Administration Office of General Counsel, Region II New York, NY, for the Defendant.

MEMORANDUM-DECISION AND ORDER

GARY L. SHARPE, Chief District Judge.

I. Introduction

Plaintiff Ilene Rachel Pepper challenges the Commissioner of Social Security's denial of Disibility Insurance Benefits (DIB) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI), seeking judicial review under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). (Compl., Dkt. No. 1.) After reviewing the administrative record and carefully considering Pepper's arguments, the court affirms the Commissioner's decision and dismisses the complaint.

II. Background

On November 4, 2010 and November 16, 2010, respectively, Pepper filed applications for SSI and DIB under the Social Security Act ("the Act"), alleging disability since May 7, 2010. (Tr.[1] at 57, 64, 127-42.) After her application was denied, ( id. at 71-76), Pepper requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ), which was held on April 24, 2012, ( id. at 27-55, 80-81). On July 10, 2012, the ALJ issued an unfavorable decision denying the requested benefits, which became the Commissioner's final determination upon the Social Security Administration Appeals Council's denial of review. ( Id. at 1-25.)

Pepper commenced the present action by filing her complaint on August 14, 2013 wherein she sought review of the Commissioner's determination. ( See generally Compl.) The Commissioner filed an answer and a certified copy of the administrative transcript. (Dkt. Nos. 7, 8.) Each party, seeking judgment on the pleadings, filed a brief. (Dkt. Nos. 10, 11.)

III. Contentions

Pepper contends that the Commissioner's decision is tainted by legal error and is not supported by substantial evidence. (Dkt. No. 10 at 12-21.) Specifically, Pepper argues that the ALJ committed error in failing to: (1) find that her major depressive disorder (MDD), insomnia, and obesity are severe impairments; (2) properly weigh the opinion evidence; and (3) make a residual functional capacity (RFC) finding that is supported by substantial evidence.[2] ( Id. ) The Commissioner counters that the appropriate legal standards were used and the findings are supported by substantial evidence. (Dkt. No. 11 at 12-20.)

IV. Facts

The court adopts the parties' undisputed factual recitations. (Dkt. No. 10 at 2-10; Dkt. No. 11 at 2-9.)

V. Standard of Review

The standard for reviewing the Commissioner's final decision under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g)[3] is well established and will not be repeated here. For a full discussion of the standard and the five-step process by which the Commissioner evaluates whether a claimant is disabled under the Act, the court refers the parties to its previous decision in Christiana v. ...


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