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Graves ex rel. W.G. v. Colvin

United States District Court, N.D. New York

June 25, 2015

LANCE GRAVES, on behalf of W.G., a minor, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

MARY M. WITHINGTON, ESQ., MARY M. WITHINGTON, Counsel for Plaintiff, Legal Aid Society of Northeaster NY, Saratoga Springs, NY, of Counsel.

BENIL ABRAHAM, ESQ., U.S. SOCIAL SECURITY ADMIN., OFFICE OF REG'L GEN. COUNSEL-REGION II, Counsel for Defendant, New York, NY.

DECISION and ORDER

GLENN T. SUDDABY, District Judge.

Currently before the Court, in this Social Security action filed by Lance Graves on behalf of his minor son, W.G. ("Plaintiff") against the Commissioner of Social Security ("Defendant" or "the Commissioner") pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), are the parties' cross-motions for judgment on the pleadings. (Dkt. Nos. 11, 12.) 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 October 31, 2006. (T. 89) At the time of his hearing, he was a preschooler. (T. 30.) Plaintiff's alleged disability consists of eczema, speech delays, developmental delays and "leg problems." (T.121.)

B. Procedural History

On April 19, 2011, Plaintiff applied for Supplemental Security Income on W.G.'s behalf. (T. 96.) Plaintiff's application was initially denied, after which he timely requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge ("the ALJ"). On June 15, 2012, Plaintiff appeared before ALJ Robert Wright. (T. 44-62.) On June 25, 2012, ALJ Wright issued a written decision finding W.G. not disabled under the Social Security Act. (T. 24-43.) On February 1, 2014, 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 six findings of fact and conclusions of law. First, the ALJ found that W.G. was a "preschooler" at the time of filing and a "preschooler" at the time of the hearing pursuant to 20 C.F.R. § 416.926a(g)(2). (T. 30.) Second, the ALJ found that W.G. had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since the application date. ( Id. ) Third, the ALJ found that W.G. suffered from the severe impairments of borderline intellectual functioning, speech and language delays, and developmental delays pursuant to 20 C.F.R. § 416.924(c). ( Id. ) The ALJ determined that W.G.'s eczema and "leg problems" were not severe. ( Id. ) Fourth, the ALJ found W.G. did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals one of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix I ("the Listings"). (T. 30-31.) Fifth, the ALJ found W.G. did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that functionally equals an impairment set forth in the Listings. (T. 31-39.) Sixth, and finally, the ALJ concluded W.G. has not been disabled, as defined by the Social Security Act, since April 19, 2011, the date his application was filed. (T. 39.)

II. THE PARTIES' BRIEFINGS

A. Plaintiff's Arguments

Generally, in support of his motion for judgment on the pleadings, Plaintiff makes two arguments. First, Plaintiff argues the ALJ committed reversible error in failing to find Plaintiff had a marked impairment in the domains of acquiring and using language; attending and completing tasks; interacting and relating with others; moving and manipulating objects; and caring for himself. (Dkt. No. 11 at 14-18 [Pl.'s Mem. of Law].) Second, Plaintiff argues the decision of the ALJ is against substantial weight of the evidence and is incorrect as a matter of law. ( Id. at 18-22 [Pl.'s Mem. of Law].) Specifically, the Plaintiff argues the ALJ ignored evidence in the record and the ALJ failed to consider Plaintiff's testimony. ( Id. at 20, 21 [Pl.'s Mem. of Law].)

B. Defendant's Argument

Generally, in support of her cross-motion for judgment on the pleadings, Defendant makes one argument. Defendant argues the substantial evidence supports the ALJ's decision in each of the domain categories. (Dkt. No. 12 at 2-12 [Def.'s Mem. of Law].)

III. RELEVANT LEGAL STANDARD

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), 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 only be reversed if the correct legal standards were not applied, or it 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."); see 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 it 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 from its weight." Williams v. Bowen, 859 F.2d 255, 258 (2d Cir. 1988).

If supported by substantial evidence, the Commissioner's finding must be sustained "even where substantial evidence may support the plaintiff's position and despite that the court's independent analysis of the evidence may differ from the [Commissioner's]." Rosado v. Sullivan, 805 F.Supp. 147, 153 (S.D.N.Y. 1992). 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 ...


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