United States District Court, W.D. New York
DECISION and ORDER
MICHAEL A. TELESCA, District Judge.
Petrika Wade, ("Plaintiff"), who is represented by counsel, brings this action pursuant to the Social Security Act ("the Act"), seeking review of the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security ("the Commissioner") denying her application for Supplemental Security Income ("SSI"). This Court has jurisdiction over the matter pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1383(c)(3). Presently before the Court are the parties' motions for judgment on the pleadings pursuant to Rule 12(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Dkt. ##10, 11.
Plaintiff protectively filed an application for SSI June 12, 2009, alleging disability beginning April 13, 2008 due to human immunodeficiency virus ("HIV"), rheumatoid arthritis, multiple joint pain, chronic interstitial cystitis, endometriosis, depression, anxiety, and schizophrenia. T. 136-38, 155. Her initial application was denied, and a video hearing followed before Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") Stanley Chin on March 1, 2011. T. 9-28, 68-69. Plaintiff, who appeared with counsel, testified at the hearing, as did vocational expert Estelle Davis. T. 9-28, 123-25.
In applying the familiar five-step sequential analysis, as contained in the administrative regulations promulgated by the Social Security Administration ("SSA"), see 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 416.920; Lynch v. Astrue, No. 07-CV-249, 2008 WL 3413899, at *2 (W.D.N.Y. Aug. 8, 2008) (detailing the five steps), the ALJ found: (1) Plaintiff did not engage in substantial gainful activity since June 12, 2009; (2) she had the severe impairments of HIV, rheumatoid arthritis, depression, anxiety, and schizophrenia; (3) his impairments did not meet or equal the Listings set forth at 20 C.F.R. 404, Subpt. P, Appx. 1, and that she retained the residual functional capacity ("RFC") to perform medium work while avoiding exposure to cold, heat, wetness, humidity, and excessive noise, and limited to simple routine and repetitive tasks performed in a work environment free of fast-paced production requirements, involving only simple work-related decisions and routine work changes, and occasional interaction with the public; (4) Plaintiff could not perform any past relevant work; and (5) there was other work that existed in significant numbers in the national economy that Plaintiff could perform. T. 41-47.
The ALJ's determination that Plaintiff was not disabled under the Act was issued on March 16, 2011, and became the final decision of the Commissioner when the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review on September 25, 2012. T. 1-3. This action followed. Dkt.#1.
The Commissioner now moves for judgment on the pleadings asserting that the ALJ's decision was supported by substantial evidence and was based upon the application of correct legal standards. Comm'r Mem. (Dkt.#10-1) 22-29. Plaintiff has filed a cross-motion alleging that the ALJ's residual functional capacity analysis was flawed, the credibility assessment was not supported by substantial evidence, and the vocational expert testimony could not provide substantial evidence to support the ALJ's finding of no disability. Pl. Mem. (Dkt. #11-1) 8-18.
I. Scope of Review
A federal court should set aside an ALJ decision to deny disability benefits only where it is based on legal error or is not supported by substantial evidence. Balsamo v. Chater, 142 F.3d 75, 79 (2d Cir. 1998). "Substantial evidence means such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Green-Younger v. Barnhart, 335 F.3d 99, 106 (2d Cir. 2003) (internal quotation marks omitted).
II. Relevant Medical Evidence
A. Treating Sources
Plaintiff received medical treatment at Evergreen Health Services ("Evergreen") from October, 2006 through February, 2011. T. 222-300, 515-62, 673-714.
Initially she presented with HIV, insomnia, and reported a history of schizophrenia and moderate asthma. T. 222-23. Medications were Albuterol, Flovent, Valtrex, Prednisone, and Meloxicam. T. 224. Plaintiff was assessed with HIV, insomnia, and schizophrenia in remission. T. 224-25. At that time Plaintiff's CD4 cell count was 729 and viral load was 2970. T. 243.
Plaintiff began outpatient mental health treatment at Horizon Corporation ("Horizon") in 2008. T. 300-32. In July, 2008, she reported using marijuana, powder cocaine, and alcohol in the past 3 months. T. 439. She had recently been placed in jail, prompting the involvement of Child Protective Services. Id.
Plaintiff reported continued insomnia and increased anxiety with racing thoughts in October, 2008. T. 286, 296. Plaintiff was assessed with HIV and insomnia, and was prescribed Ambien. T. 289. During this time her CD4 was 484 and viral load was 853 without antiretroviral therapy ("ARV"). T. 286.
A psychiatric assessment from Horizon dated November 11, 2008, indicated diagnoses of psychotic disorder, NOS; schizophrenia by history; marijuana dependance; cocaine and alcohol abuse; HIV positive; rheumatoid arthritis; asthma; seasonal allergies; and endometriosis. T. 306. Id. Plaintiff was prescribed Abilify and Benadryl. Id. She refused antipsychotic medications, Zyprexa and Risperdal, because of concerns regarding side effects and overdose. Id. The attending doctor noted that Plaintiff "was not taking [Zyprexa] as prescribed so it is unclear whether the side effects that she was experiencing on it were from the Zyprexa or her lengthy history of chemical dependancy." T. 305.
A Horizon Mental Health Comprehensive Assessment from April, 2009, indicated that Plaintiff reported paranoia, she was isolating, had increased sleep and appetite, and was depressed because her children were placed in foster care. T. 392. She also reported past visual hallucinations and hearing voices. Id. Plaintiff was diagnosed with schizophrenia by history; psychotic disorder NOS; and cannabis dependancy, alcohol abuse, and cocaine abuse. Id.
In a Medical Examination for Employability Assessment dated June 2, 2009, Dr. Kristen Ahrens opined that Plaintiff would be moderately limited in understanding and remembering instructions, carrying out instructions, maintaining attention and concentration, making simple decisions, and functioning in a work setting at a consistent pace. T. 358. Plaintiff would be very limited in interacting appropriately with others and maintaining socially appropriate behavior. Id. She had no limitations in physical functioning or in her ability to maintain standards of personal hygiene and grooming. Id.
In July, 2009, Plaintiff reported depression following a family court appearance during which she relinquished rights to her children. T. 407. She had no intent to harm herself or others. Id. In the following weeks, she appeared nervous and depressed, and reported a recent panic attack. T. 403, 406.
In February, 2010, Plaintiff's CD4 count was 496 and viral load was 629. T. 679. Psychologically, she was negative for anxiety, depression, and sleep disturbance; and her affect, demeanor, and thought functions were normal. T. 676-77. She reported that she previously had good pain relief from ...