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Parks v. Colvin

United States District Court, W.D. New York

January 21, 2017

MARGARET A. PARKS, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, ACTING COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.

          DECISION AND ORDER

          HON. FRANK P GERACI, JR Chief Judge

         Margaret A. Parks (“Parks” or “Plaintiff”) brings this action pursuant to the Social Security Act (“the Act”) seeking review of the final decision of the Acting Commissioner of Social Security (“the Commissioner”) that denied her application for Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”) under Title XVI of the Act. ECF No. 1. This Court has jurisdiction over this action under 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g), 1383(c)(3).

         Both parties have moved for judgment on the pleadings pursuant to Rule 12(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. ECF Nos. 12, 15. For the reasons that follow, this Court finds that the Commissioner's decision is not in accordance with the applicable legal standards. Accordingly, Plaintiff's motion is GRANTED, the Commissioner's motion is DENIED, and this matter is REMANDED to the Commissioner for further administrative proceedings.

         BACKGROUND

         On April 6, 2011, Parks protectively applied for SSI with the Social Security Administration (“the SSA”). Tr.[1] 207-12. She alleged that she had been disabled since December 31, 2009, due to back injuries and post-traumatic stress disorder. Tr. 286. After her application was denied at the initial administrative level, a hearing was held before Administrative Law Judge Brian Kane (“the ALJ”) on May 31, 2012, in which the ALJ considered Parks's application de novo. Tr. 67-118. Parks appeared at the hearing with her attorney and testified. Id. Julie A. Andrews, a vocational expert (“VE”), also appeared at the hearing and testified. Tr. 103-16. On September 18, 2012, the ALJ issued a decision finding that Parks was not disabled within the meaning of the Act. Tr. 130-38. On August 1, 2013, the Appeals Council vacated the hearing decision and remanded the case to the ALJ with specific instructions. Tr. 144-46.

         On December 6, 2013, Parks appeared with her attorney and testified at a second hearing before the ALJ. Tr. 36-66. VE Andrews also appeared and testified. Tr. 55-66. On February 6, 2014, the ALJ issued a decision finding that Parks was not disabled within the meaning of the Act. Tr. 9-23. On June 23, 2015, that decision became the Commissioner's final decision when the Appeals Council denied Parks's request for review. Tr. 1-5. Thereafter, Parks filed this action seeking review of the Commissioner's final decision. ECF No. 1.

         LEGAL STANDARD

         I. District Court Review

         “In reviewing a final decision of the SSA, this Court is limited to determining whether the SSA's conclusions were supported by substantial evidence in the record and were based on a correct legal standard.” Talavera v. Astrue, 697 F.3d 145, 151 (2d Cir. 2012) (internal quotation marks omitted); see also 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). The Act holds that a decision by the Commissioner is “conclusive” if it is supported by substantial evidence. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). “Substantial evidence means more than a mere scintilla. It means such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.” Moran v. Astrue, 569 F.3d 108, 112 (2d Cir. 2009) (internal quotation marks omitted). It is not this Court's function to “determine de novo whether [the claimant] is disabled.” Schaal v. Apfel, 134 F.3d 496, 501 (2d Cir. 1998) (internal quotation marks omitted); see also Wagner v. Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., 906 F.2d 856, 860 (2d Cir. 1990) (holding that review of the Secretary's decision is not de novo and that the Secretary's findings are conclusive if supported by substantial evidence).

         II. Disability Determination

         An ALJ must follow a five-step sequential evaluation to determine whether a claimant is disabled within the meaning of the Act. See Bowen v. City of New York, 476 U.S. 467, 470-71 (1986). At step one, the ALJ must determine whether the claimant is engaged in substantial gainful work activity. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(b). If so, the claimant is not disabled. If not, the ALJ proceeds to step two and determines whether the claimant has an impairment, or combination of impairments, that is “severe” within the meaning of the Act, meaning that it imposes significant restrictions on the claimant's ability to perform basic work activities. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(c). If the claimant does not have a severe impairment or combination of impairments, the analysis concludes with a finding of “not disabled.” If the claimant does, the ALJ continues to step three.

         At step three, the ALJ examines whether a claimant's impairment meets or medically equals the criteria of a listed impairment in Appendix 1 of Subpart P of Regulation No. 4 (the “Listings”). 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(d). If the impairment meets or medically equals the criteria of a Listing and meets the durational requirement (20 C.F.R. § 404.1509), the claimant is disabled. If not, the ALJ determines the claimant's residual functional capacity (“RFC”), which is the ability to perform physical or mental work activities on a sustained basis, notwithstanding limitations for the collective impairments. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(e)-(f).

         The ALJ then proceeds to step four and determines whether the claimant's RFC permits him or her to perform the requirements of his or her past relevant work. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(f).

         If the claimant can perform such requirements, then he or she is not disabled. If he or she cannot, the analysis proceeds to the fifth and final step, wherein the burden shifts to the Commissioner to show that the claimant is not disabled. To do so, the Commissioner must present evidence to demonstrate that the claimant “retains a residual functional capacity to perform alternative substantial gainful work which exists in the national economy” in light of his or her age, education, and ...


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