United States District Court, N.D. New York
OFFICE OF PETER M. HOBAICA, LLC, B. BROOKS BENSON, ESQ., Utica, NY, Counsel for Plaintiff.
U.S. SOCIAL SECURITY ADMIN. OFFICE OF REG'L GEN. COUNSEL - REGION II EMILY M. FISHMAN, ESQ., 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 Inaam Alsheikhmohammed ("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. 16, 17.) 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 February 19, 1966. (T. 120.) She completed high school. (T. 140.) Generally, Plaintiff's alleged disability consists of depression and dizziness. (T. 139.) Her alleged disability onset date is May 26, 2011. (T. 120.) She has no previous work experience. ( Id. )
B. Procedural History
On December 14, 2011, Plaintiff applied for Supplemental Security Income ("SSI") under Title XVI of the Social Security Act. (T. 120.) Plaintiff's application was initially denied, after which she timely requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge ("the ALJ"). On October 23, 2012, Plaintiff appeared before the ALJ, John P. Ramos. (T. 32-47.) On December 4, 2012 the ALJ issued a written decision finding Plaintiff not disabled under the Social Security Act (T. 9-27.) On February 28, 2014, the Appeals Council ("AC") denied Plaintiff's request for review, rendering the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner. (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. 9-27.) First, the ALJ found Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since the application date of December 14, 2011. (T. 14.) Second, the ALJ found Plaintiff had the severe impairments of depression, posttraumatic stress disorder ("PTSD"), and history of peripheral vertigo. ( Id. ) 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. 15-17.) Fourth, the ALJ found Plaintiff had the residual functional capacity ("RFC") to perform "light work, " except:
she should avoid climbing ladders or scaffolds, and she should not work or balance at unprotected heights or with dangerous machinery. [Plaintiff] retain[ed] the ability to understand and follow simple instructions and directions; perform simple tasks with supervision and independently; maintain attention/concentrations for simple tasks; regularly attend to a routine and maintain a schedule; relate to and interact with others to the extent necessary to carry out simple tasks; and handle reasonable levels of simple, work-related stress, in that she [could] make occasional simple decisions directly related to the completion of her tasks in a stable, unchanging work environment.
Fifth, the ALJ determined there were jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy Plaintiff could perform. (T. 20.)
II. THE PARTIES' BRIEFINGS ON PLAINTIFF'S MOTION
A. Plaintiff's Arguments
Plaintiff makes nine separate arguments in support of her motion for judgment on the pleadings. First, Plaintiff argues she meets Listings §§ 12.04 and 12.06. (Dkt. No. 16 at 10-13 [Pl.'s Mem. of Law].) Second, Plaintiff argues the ALJ erred in weighing the opinion evidence in the record. ( Id. at 13-17.) Third, Plaintiff argues the ALJ erred in failing to consider the medical source statement provided by Tatyana Misyulya, M.D. ( Id. at 17-18.) Fourth, Plaintiff argues the ALJ erred in failing to find Plaintiff has severe impairments of the neck and lower back, and obesity. ( Id. at 18-20.) Fifth, the Plaintiff argues the ALJ erred in relying on Global Assessment of Functioning ("GAF") scores in his RFC finding. ( Id. at 20-21.) Sixth, the Plaintiff argues the ALJ erred in finding Plaintiff "illiterate and unable to communicate in English" but retained the ability to perform light work without seeking the opinion of a vocational expert ("VE"). ( Id. at 21-22.) Seventh, the Plaintiff argues the ALJ erred in finding Plaintiff had the RFC for light work involving simple instructions, simple tasks, and simple stress without seeking the opinion of a VE. ( Id. at 22-23.) Eighth, Plaintiff argues the ALJ erred in failing to set forth specific required findings supporting his opinion Plaintiff could perform light work. ( Id. at 23-24.) Ninth, and lastly, Plaintiff argues the ALJ erred in failing to set forth required findings to substantiate his rejection of Plaintiff's testimony as to pain and limitations as not credible. ( Id. at 24-25.)
B. Defendant's Arguments
In response, Defendant makes essentially seven arguments. First, Defendant argues the ALJ properly considered the opinion evidence regarding Plaintiff's mental impairments. (Dkt. No. 17 at 5-17 [Def.'s Mem. of Law].) Second, Defendant argues the AC properly considered Dr. Misyulya's physical RFC assessment. ( Id. at 17-19.) Third, Defendant argues the ALJ properly considered all of Plaintiff's impairments. ( Id. at 19-21.) Fourth, Defendant argues the ALJ properly considered Plaintiff's illiteracy and inability to communicate in English. ( Id. at 21-22.) Fifth, the Defendant argues the ALJ was not required to seek the opinion of a VE. ( Id. at 22-23.) Sixth, the Defendant argues remand is not warranted for a function-by-function analysis. ( Id. at 23.) Seventh, and lastly, Defendant argues the ALJ properly evaluated Plaintiff's credibility. ( Id. at 23.)
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 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 ...