United States District Court, N.D. New York
STEPHEN J. MASTAITIS, P.C., STEPHEN J. MASTAITIS, ESQ., Saratoga Springs, NY, Counsel for Plaintiff.
U.S. SOCIAL SECURITY ADMIN. KAREN T. CALLAHAN, ESQ., 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 Ayla Star McInerney ("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' cross-motions for judgment on the pleadings. (Dkt. Nos. 15, 19.) For the reasons set forth below, Plaintiff's motion is denied in and Defendant's motion is granted.
I. RELEVANT BACKGROUND
A. Factual Background
Plaintiff was born on June 16, 1991. (T. 108.) She completed high school and one year of college. (T. 155.) Generally, Plaintiff's alleged disability consists of mood disorder, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder ("ADHD") and borderline personality disorder. (T. 154.) Plaintiff previously worked as a retail associate. (T. 145.)
B. Procedural History
On August 22, 2011, Plaintiff applied for supplemental security income under Title XVI ("SSI"). (T. 58.) Plaintiff's application was initially denied, after which she timely requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge ("the ALJ"). On September 24, 2012, Plaintiff appeared before the ALJ, Robert Wright. (T. 28-57.) On October 16, 2012 ALJ Wright issued a written decision finding Plaintiff not disabled under the Social Security Act. (T. 9-27.) On November 13, 2012, Plaintiff requested an Appeal Council ("AC") review, which was denied on January 22, 2014. (T. 1-4.) 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. 12-24.) First, the ALJ found Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since August 22, 2011. (T. 14.) Second, the ALJ found Plaintiff had the severe impairments of mood disorder, ADHD, and borderline personality disorder. ( Id. ) The ALJ determined Plaintiff's physical impairments of ankle pain, wrist pain and obesity to be non-severe impairments. (T. 14-15.) Third, the ALJ found 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. 15-16.) The ALJ specifically considered Listing §§ 12.04 and 12.06. ( Id. ) Fourth, the ALJ found Plaintiff had the residual functional capacity ("RFC") to perform work at all exertional levels, with additional limitations. (T. 16.) Specifically, Plaintiff was limited to "unskilled work, such as requiring a specific vocational preparation of 1 or 2 per the Dictionary of Occupational Titles ("DOT"), which is simple and routine and limited to low stress, defined as having only occasional decision making, changes in work setting, and interaction with others." ( Id. ) Fifth, the ALJ determined Plaintiff had no past relevant work; however, there were jobs that existed in significant numbers in the national economy Plaintiff could perform. (T. 22-23.) Specifically, the ALJ called on the testimony of a vocational expert ("VE") who testified Plaintiff could perform work as a cleaner/housekeeper (DOT 323.687-014), kitchen helper/dishwasher (DOT 318.687-010), and electronic assembly worker (DOT 729.687-010). (T. 23.)
II. THE PARTIES' BRIEFINGS ON PLAINTIFF'S MOTION
A. Plaintiff's Arguments
Plaintiff makes two separate arguments in support of her motion for judgment on the pleadings. First, Plaintiff argues the ALJ erred in his determination Plaintiff was capable of sustained gainful employment; specifically, he failed to properly assess mental limitations imposed on Plaintiff by the medical opinions in the record and therefore the reliance on VE testimony was faulty. (Dkt. No. 19 at 11-13 [Pl.'s Mem. of Law].) Second, Plaintiff argues the AC failed to remand based on new and material evidence. ( Id. at 13-20.) Within her second argument Plaintiff argues the evidence submitted to the AC supports a finding that (a) the ALJ erred in his step two determination that Plaintiff's physical impairments were non-severe and (b) the ALJ erred in his credibility determination. ( Id. )
B. Defendant's Arguments
Defendant makes essentially three arguments. Defendant argues the ALJ's decision is supported by substantial evidence because (a) the ALJ appropriately assessed Plaintiff's credibility, (b) the VE evidence provided substantial evidence supporting the ALJ's step five decision, and (c) new evidence submitted to the AC does not provide a basis for remand. (Dkt. No. 15 at 7-21 [Def.'s Mem. of Law].)
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 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 ...