United States District Court, W.D. New York
For Felicia Yvette Nelson, Plaintiff: Timothy Hiller, LEAD ATTORNEY, Law Offices of Kenneth Hiller, Amherst, NY; Justin M. Goldstein, Law Offices of Kenneth Hiller, PPLC, Amherst, NY.
For Carolyn W. Colvin, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant: Sergei Aden, LEAD ATTORNEY, Social Security Administration, Office of General Counsel, New York, NY; Kathryn L. Smith, U.S. Attorney's Office, Rochester, NY.
DECISION AND ORDER
DAVID G. LARIMER, United States District Judge.
This is an action brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) to review the final determination of the Commissioner of Social Security (" the Commissioner" ) that plaintiff Felicia Nelson (" plaintiff" ) is not disabled under the Social Security Act (" the Act" ) and, therefore, is not entitled to Social Security Income benefits. The parties have both filed motions for judgment on the pleadings pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(c). (Dkts. #10, #12).
For the reasons discussed below, plaintiff's request for a remand is granted, the
Commissioner's motion is denied, and the case is remanded for further proceedings.
FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND
Plaintiff applied for Social Security Disability benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act on September 20, 2011, alleging disability as of September 12, 2011 due to, inter alia, cervical and lumbar disc disease, arthritis and asthma. (T. 169). At the time of her application, plaintiff was 41 years old, with a high school education and no past relevant work. (T. 29)
Plaintiff's application was initially denied. Plaintiff requested a hearing, which was held on March 4, 2013 before Administrative Law Judge (" ALJ" ) John P. Costello. (T. 21). The ALJ issued a decision on March 18, 2013, concluding that plaintiff was not disabled under the Social Security Act. (T. 21-30). That decision became the final decision of the Commissioner when the Appeals Council denied review on June 4, 2014. (T. 1-7). Plaintiff now appeals from that decision. The plaintiff has moved (Dkt. #10), and the Commissioner has cross moved (Dkt. #12) for judgment on the pleadings pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. Proc. 12(c).
For the reasons that follow, I find that the ALJ's decision failed to apply the correct legal standards, and is not supported by substantial evidence, but that the record does not contain persuasive proof of disability to the extent required to render further proceedings unnecessary. The matter is therefore remanded for further proceedings.
I. Standard for Determining Disability
Under the Social Security Act (" the Act" ), an individual is considered disabled when he is unable " to engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment which can be expected to result in death or which has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than 12 months..." 42 U.S.C. § § 423(d)(1)(A); 1382c(a)(3)(A). A physical or mental impairment (or combination of impairments) is disabling if it is of such severity that a claimant " is not only unable to do his previous work but cannot, considering his age, education, and work experience, engage in any other kind of substantial gainful work which exists in the national economy..." Id. at § § 423(d)(2)(A); 1382c(a)(3)(B).
To determine whether a claimant is disabled within the meaning of the Act, the ALJ applies a now-familiar five-step sequential evaluation. Bowen v. City of New York, 476 U.S. 467, 470-71, 106 S.Ct. 2022, 90 L.Ed.2d 462 (1986). At step one, the ALJ must determine whether the claimant is engaged in substantial gainful work activity. See 20 CFR § 404.1520(b). If so, the claimant is not disabled. If not, analysis proceeds to step two.
At step two, the ALJ must determine whether the claimant has an impairment, or combination of impairments, that is " severe," e.g., that imposes significant restrictions on the claimant's ability to perform basic work activities. 20 CFR § 404.1520(c). If not, the analysis concludes with a finding ...