United States District Court, N.D. New York
OLINSKY LAW GROUP, HOWARD D. OLINSKY, ESQ., Syracuse, NY, Counsel for Plaintiff.
U.S. SOCIAL SECURITY ADMIN. FERGUS KAISER 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 Jacqueline Marie Goff ("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. 12, 16.) For the reasons set forth below, Plaintiff's motion is denied and Defendant's motion is granted.
I. RELEVANT BACKGROUND
A. Factual Background
Plaintiff was born on May 9, 1984. (T. 310.) She completed 8th grade. (T. 50-51.) She worked full time as housekeeper. (T. 316.) Generally, her alleged disability consists of allergies, asthma, bipolar disorder, carpal tunnel syndrome, methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus ("MRSA"), hearing loss in the right ear, right rotator cuff injury and back pain. (T. 315.) Her alleged disability onset date is July 25, 2008. (T. 310.) Her date last insured is September 30, 2012. (T. 303.)
B. Procedural History
On August 12, 2009, Plaintiff protectively filed a Title II application for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits; she also filed a Title XVI application for supplemental security income. (T. 310.) Her application was initially denied, after which she timely requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge ("the ALJ"). On August 3, 2010, she appeared before ALJ Tielens. (T. 72-113.) On September 22, 2010 ALJ Tielens issued a written decision finding Plaintiff not disabled under the Social Security Act. (T. 117-139.) On February 3, 2012, the Appeals Council ("AC") granted Plaintiff's request for review. (T. 140-145.) On November 1, 2012 Plaintiff appeared before ALJ Marie Greener. (T. 43-71.) On January 23, 2013 ALJ Greener issued a written decision finding Plaintiff not disabled under the Social Security Act. (T. 18-42.) On May 16, 2012 the AC denied Plaintiff's request for review, thus 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 her decision, the ALJ made the following five findings of fact and conclusions of law. (T. 23-35.) First, the ALJ found Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since her alleged onset date. (T. 23.) Second, the ALJ found Plaintiff had the severe impairments of right scapular strain, bipolar disorder, and borderline intellectual functioning. ( Id. ) The ALJ determined Plaintiff's medically determinable impairments of asthma, carpal tunnel syndrome, gastroesophageal reflux disease ("GERD"), De Quevain's tendinitis and pulmonary embolism were non-severe impairments. (T. 24.) 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. 25.) Fourth, the ALJ found Plaintiff had the residual functional capacity ("RFC") to "perform light work.... except with the following additional limitations; [Plaintiff] is able to make frequent but not constant use of the right upper extremity; and can only do low-stress work by which is meant routine daily tasks which do not change in pace or location on a daily basis, and which do not ordinarily require confrontation with others such as arguing with customers, or restraining or detaining individuals." (T. 26.) Fifth, the ALJ found Plaintiff had past relevant work as a housekeeper and was capable of performing such work. (T. 35.)
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 the ALJ's RFC determination is unsupported by substantial evidence; specifically, (1) the ALJ failed to reconcile the opinions of Kalyani Ganesh, M.D., Michael Boucher, Ph.D. and L. Blackwell, M.D. and (2) the ALJ misevaluated the opinion of Elaine Scherba-German, N.P. (Dkt. No. 12 at 10-16 [Pl.'s Mem. of Law].) Second, Plaintiff argues the ALJ failed to adequately explain the weight given to Richard Feldman, M.D.'s opinion and failed to comply with the AC remand order. ( Id. at 16-18.) Third, Plaintiff argues the ALJ's credibility finding is unsupported by substantial evidence. ( Id. at 18-20.) Fourth, and lastly, Plaintiff argues the ALJ's step four determination is unsupported by substantial evidence. ( Id. at 20-21.)
B. Defendant's Arguments
In response, Defendant makes essentially three arguments. First, Defendant argues the ALJ properly evaluated the medical opinion evidence. (Dkt. No. 16 at 6-13 [Def.'s Mem. of Law].) Second, Defendant argues the ALJ properly assessed Plaintiff's credibility. ( Id. at 13-16.) Third, and lastly, Defendant argues the ALJ's step four determination is supported by substantial evidence. ( Id. at 16-17.)
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 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 ...