United States District Court, N.D. New York
JOHN W. DEHAAN, ESQ., DEHANN BUSSE, LLP., Hauppauge, NY, Counsel for Plaintiff.
ELIZABETH ROTHSTEIN, ESQ., U.S. SOCIAL SECURITY ADMIN., 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 Patricia Ann Horning ("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' crossmotions for judgment on the pleadings. (Dkt. Nos. 12, 13.) 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 July 19, 1977. (T. 165.) She completed high school. (T. 194.) Generally, Plaintiff's alleged disability consists of depression, anxiety, back problems, neck problems, and knee injury. (T. 193.) Her alleged disability onset date is October 13, 2011. (T. 194.) She previously worked with the Department of Motor Vehicles as a clerk, and at a gas station as a cashier. (T. 195.)
B. Procedural History
On December 27, 2011, Plaintiff applied for Supplemental Security Income ("SSI") under Title XVI and Disability Insurance Benefits ("SSD") under Title II of the Social Security Act. (T. 165.) Plaintiff's application was initially denied, after which she timely requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge ("the ALJ"). On December 27, 2012, Plaintiff appeared before the ALJ, David J. Begley. (T. 41-70) On March 22, 2013, the ALJ issued a written decision finding Plaintiff not disabled under the Social Security Act (T. 25-36.) On June 4, 2014, the Appeals Council ("AC") denied Plaintiff's request for review, rendering the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner. (T. 1-7.) 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. 25-36.) First, the ALJ found Plaintiff met the insured status requirements through December 31, 2015 and had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since October 13, 2011. (T. 27.) Second, the ALJ found Plaintiff had the severe impairments of degenerative joint disease of the left knee, disorders of the cervical and lumbar spine, post-traumatic stress disorder ("PTSD"), major depressive disorder, and adjustment disorder with mixed anxiety and depression. ( 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. 28-29.) Fourth, the ALJ found Plaintiff had the residual functional capacity ("RFC") to perform "light work, " except:
she may occasionally push and pull with the left lower extremity and never climb ladders, ropes or scaffolds. She must avoid slippery and uneven surfaces, hazardous machinery, and unprotected heights. She [was] limited to simple, routine and repetitive tasks in a work environment free of fast paced production requirements and involving only simple work-related decisions, with few if any workplace changes. She [was] limited to only occasional interaction with coworkers and supervisors and only superficial interaction with the public.
Fifth, the ALJ determined Plaintiff was unable to perform her past relevant work; however, there were jobs that existed in significant numbers in the national economy Plaintiff could perform. (T. 34.)
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 improperly evaluated the medical evidence. (Dkt. No. 12 at 18-24 [Pl.'s Mem. of Law].) Second, Plaintiff argues the ALJ improperly evaluated Plaintiff's credibility. ( Id. at 25.)
B. Defendant's Arguments
In response, Defendant makes two arguments. Defendant argues the ALJ properly considered the evidence of record and his RFC finding was supported by substantial evidence. (Dkt. No. 13 at 5-17 [Def.'s Mem. of Law].) Second, Defendant argues the ALJ properly assessed Plaintiff's credibility. ( Id. at 17-20.)
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 ...