United States District Court, N.D. New York
OFFICE OF MARK A. SCHNEIDER, MARK A. SCHNEIDER, ESQ., Plattsburgh, NY, Counsel for Plaintiff.
U.S. SOCIAL SECURITY ADMIN. KRISTIN D. COHN, 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 Wendy Nelson ("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. 14, 15.) For the reasons set forth below, Plaintiff's motion is granted in part and denied in part and Defendant's motion is granted in part and denied in part.
I. RELEVANT BACKGROUND
A. Factual Background
Plaintiff was born on August 23, 1965. (T. 285). She received a GED diploma. (T. 99.) Plaintiff worked as certified nurse's aide ("CNA") and home health aide. (T. 365.) Generally, Plaintiff's alleged disability consists of a myriad of impairments including prior heart attacks, mini strokes, eye problems, pinched nerves, pinched blood vessels, mass on right ankle, degenerative disc disease ("DDD"), form of Parkinson's, restless leg syndrome, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder ("PTSD"), obsessive compulsive disease ("OCD"), and severe gastric problems. (T. 133.) Plaintiff's alleged disability onset date is February 1, 2004. (T. 285.)
B. Procedural History
This case has a long procedural history. On May 23, 2008, Plaintiff filed a Title XVI application for social security insurance ("SSI"). Plaintiff's application was initially denied, after which she timely requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge ("the ALJ"). On March 17, 2010 Plaintiff appeared before ALJ Arthur Patane. (T. 33-39.) The hearing was post ponded so that Plaintiff could have her attorney present. On July 16, 2010 Plaintiff appeared, with her attorney, before ALJ Patane. (T. 40-64.) On November 5, 2010, ALJ Patane issued a written decision finding Plaintiff not disabled under the Social Security Act. (T. 120-133.) On May 7, 2012, the Appeals Council granted Plaintiff's request for review. (T. 134-137.) On October 12, 2012 Plaintiff again appeared before ALJ Patane. (T. 65-94.) On December 10, 2012 ALJ Patane issued a written decision finding Plaintiff not disabled under the Social Security Act. (T. 138-156.) On May 11, 2013 the Appeals Council granted Plaintiff's request for review. (T. 157-161.) On September 12, 2013 Plaintiff appeared before ALJ Thomas Grabeel. (T. 95-118.) On October 22, 2013 ALJ Grabeel issued a written decision finding Plaintiff not disabled under the Social Security Act. (T. 8-32.) On July 24, 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 five findings of fact and conclusions of law. First, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since her application date. (T. 13.) Second, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had the severe impairments of major depressive disorder, somatoform disorder, anxiety, PTSD, obsessive compulsive traits, history of incontinence, DDD, and obesity. ( Id. ) Third, the ALJ found Plaintiff's impairments did not meet or medically equal one of the listed impairments located in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix. 1. (T. 16.) The ALJ considered Listing §§ 12.04, 12.05, 12.06, and 12.07. ( Id. ) Fourth, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had the residual functional capacity ("RFC") to perform medium work; however, she was able to "make ordinary work adaptations and interact appropriately with others, but require[d] access to a bathroom and [was] limited to understanding, remembering, and carrying out simple or detailed rather than complex tasks." (T. 17.) Fifth, and finally, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff could perform her past relevant work as a home health aide. (T. 22.)
II. THE PARTIES' BRIEFINGS ON PLAINTIFF'S MOTION
A. Plaintiff's Arguments
Plaintiff makes six separate arguments in support of her motion for judgment on the pleadings. First, Plaintiff argues she meets Listing § 12.07. (Dkt. No. 14 at 31-35 [Pl.'s Mem. of Law].) Second, Plaintiff argues she meets Listing § 12.04. ( Id. at 35-36.) Third, Plaintiff argues the ALJ failed to fully consider her pain and obesity in combination with her other impairments. ( Id. at 38-41.) Fourth, Plaintiff argues the ALJ erred in his credibility analysis. ( Id. at 41-45.) Fifth, Plaintiff argues the ALJ erred by giving "too much weight" to Dr. Hartman. ( Id. at 45-49.) Sixth, and lastly, Plaintiff argues the ALJ erred by not conducting a medical improvement analysis. (T. 49-50.)
B. Defendant's Arguments
In response, Defendant makes seven arguments. First, Defendant argues Plaintiff's somatoform disorder did not meet Listing § 12.07. (Dkt. No. 15 at 23-25 [Def.'s Mem. of Law].) Second, Defendant argues Plaintiff's impairments do not meet Listing § 12.04. ( Id. at 25-26.) Third, Defendant argues Plaintiff's impairments do not meet Listing § 12.06. ( Id. at 27-28.) Fourth, Defendant argues the ALJ properly considered the combined effects of Plaintiff's impairments. ( Id. at 28-29.) Fifth, Defendant argues the ALJ correctly found Plaintiff's subjective complaints not entirely credible. ( Id. at 29-31.) Sixth, Defendant argues the ALJ properly evaluated the medical opinions in the record. ( Id. at 31-32.) Seventh, and lastly, Defendant argues Plaintiff's prior termination of SSI benefits did not require a medical improvement analysis in the present case.
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), 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 ...