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Torres v. Commissioner of Social Security

United States District Court, N.D. New York

January 23, 2017

MARIA GEORGINA CRUZADO TORRES, Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.

          PETER M. MARGOLIUS, ESQ., for Plaintiff

          BENIL ABRAHAM, Special Asst. U.S. Attorney for Defendant

          MEMORANDUM DECISION and ORDER

          ANDREW T. BAXTER, U.S. Magistrate Judge

         This matter was referred to me, for all proceedings and entry of a final judgment, pursuant to the Social Security Pilot Program, N.D.N.Y. General Order No. 18, in accordance with the provisions of 28 U.S.C. § 636(c), Fed.R.Civ.P. 73, N.D.N.Y. Local Rule 73.1 and the consent of the parties. (Dkt. Nos. 4, 6).

         I. PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         Plaintiff protectively filed applications for Disability Insurance benefits (“DIB”) and Supplemental Social Security Income (“SSI”) benefits on March 6, 2015, alleging disability beginning January 1, 2015.[1] (Administrative Transcript (“T”) at 24, 144-53). The applications were denied initially on June 10, 2015. (T. 89-95). Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) Robert Wright held a hearing on October 23, 2015, at which plaintiff testified. (T. 41-50). The ALJ held a supplemental hearing on August 4, 2015, at which plaintiff and Vocational Expert (“VE”) Connie Standhart testified. (T. 51-66). On November 4, 2015, the ALJ found plaintiff was not disabled. (T. 18-40). The ALJ's decision became the Commissioner's final decision when the Appeals Council denied plaintiff's request for review on March 23, 2016. (T. 1-8).

         II. GENERALLY APPLICABLE LAW

         A. Disability Standard

         To be considered disabled, a plaintiff seeking disability insurance benefits or SSI disability benefits must establish that she 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 twelve months . . . .” 42 U.S.C. § 1382c(a)(3)(A). In addition, the plaintiff's

physical or mental impairment or impairments [must be] of such severity that he 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, regardless of whether such work exists in the immediate area in which he lives, or whether a specific job vacancy exists for him, or whether he would be hired if he applied for work.

42 U.S.C. § 1382c(a)(3)(B).

         The Commissioner uses a five-step process, set forth in 20 C.F.R. sections 404.1520 and 416.920, to evaluate disability insurance and SSI disability claims.

First, the [Commissioner] considers whether the claimant is currently engaged in substantial gainful activity. If he is not, the [Commissioner] next considers whether the claimant has a “severe impairment” which significantly limits his physical or mental ability to do basic work activities. If the claimant suffers such an impairment, the third inquiry is whether, based solely on medical evidence, the claimant has an impairment which meets or equals the criteria of an impairment listed in Appendix 1 of the regulations. If the claimant has such an impairment, the [Commissioner] will consider him disabled without considering vocational factors such as age, education, and work experience . . . . Assuming the claimant does not have a listed impairment, the fourth inquiry is whether, despite the claimant's severe impairment, he has the residual functional capacity to perform his past work. Finally, if the claimant is unable to perform his past work, the [Commissioner] then determines whether there is other work which the claimant can perform.

Berry v. Schweiker, 675 F.2d 464, 467 (2d Cir. 1982); see 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 416.920. The plaintiff has the burden of establishing disability at the first four steps. However, if the plaintiff establishes that her impairment prevents her from performing her past work, the burden then shifts to the Commissioner to prove the final step. Id.

         B. Scope of Review

          In reviewing a final decision of the Commissioner, a court must determine whether the correct legal standards were applied and whether substantial evidence supported the decision. Selian v. Astrue, 708 F.3d at 417; Brault v. Soc. Sec. Admin, Comm'r, 683 F.3d 443, 448 (2d Cir. 2012); 42 U.S.C. § 405(g)). Substantial evidence is “such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.” Talavera v. Astrue, 697 F.3d 145, 151 (2d Cir. 2012). It must be “more than a scintilla” of evidence scattered throughout the administrative record. Id. ...


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