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Webster v. Colvin

United States District Court, W.D. New York

February 22, 2017

CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.


          HON. MICHAEL A. TELESCA United States District Judge.


         Proceeding pro se, Debra Lynn Webster (“Plaintiff”) brings this action pursuant to Title II of the Social Security Act (“the Act”), seeking review of the final decision of the Acting Commissioner of Social Security (“Defendant” or “the Commissioner”), denying his application for Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”).


         Plaintiff filed for DIB on April 27, 2012, alleging disability beginning on April 1, 2007, due to depression, anxiety, high blood pressure, sleep problems, a degenerative knee condition, foot and ankle swelling, an umbilical hernia, panic attacks, and a thyroid condition. (T.109, 212).[1] After the claim was denied at the initial level (T.107-23), Plaintiff requested a hearing, which was held before administrative law judge William M. Manico (“the ALJ”) on July 15, 2014. Plaintiff appeared with counsel and testified, as did an impartial vocational expert (“the VE”). (T.57-100). On August 4, 2014, the ALJ issued an unfavorable decision. (T.28-53). The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review on September 10, 2015 (T.1-7), making the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner. Plaintiff, acting pro se, timely commenced this action.

         The Commissioner has moved for judgment on the pleadings pursuant to Rule 12(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure (“Rule 12(c)”). Plaintiff did not file a cross-motion; nor did Plaintiff file any opposition papers to the Commissioner's motion. For the reasons discussed below, the Commissioner's decision is affirmed.


         The ALJ followed the five-step sequential evaluation process, see 20 C.F.R. 404.1520(a), in adjudicating Plaintiff's DIB claim.

         At step one, the ALJ found that Plaintiff last met the insured status requirements of the Act on December 31, 2012 (date last insured), and did not engage in substantial gainful activity between the alleged onset date (April 1, 2007) and the date last insured.

         At step two, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff had the following “severe” impairments: obesity, degenerative joint disease of the knees, depression, anxiety, and borderline personality disorder. (T.33). The ALJ found that “claimant's post-traumatic stress disorder (“PTSD”) was not medically determinable [and thus not “severe”] because, “[a]lthough diagnosed by both consultative examiners, treatment notes offering a more significant longitudinal history of several years, from Dr. [Tulio] Ortega, her treating psychiatrist, and Paula Callahan, her counsel [sic], do not reflect such diagnosis.” (T.34). The ALJ “assign[ed] greater weight to Dr. Ortega and Mrs. [sic] Callahan and finds that claimant does not experience [PTSD]. Although questioned at great length about her conditions, claimant made no mention of [PTSD] or [PTSD] related symptoms.” (Id.). The ALJ found that Plaintiff's hypertension, hyperlipidimia, hypothyroidism, and diabetes were not “severe” because the “evidence does not reflect any vocational limitations arising from [these] conditions[, ]” her hypertension and hyperlipidimia were well controlled with medication, she was not prescribed or taking any medication for hypothyroidism, and there was only one diagnosis of diabetes in the record and no treatment for that condition. (T.34). The ALJ also found that Plaintiff's umbilical hernia was not severe since the treatment notes reflect no discomfort caused by the condition. (Id.).

         At step three, the ALJ found that through the date last insured, Plaintiff did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that met or medically equaled the severity of one of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 (20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(d), 404.1525 and 404.1526) (T.35). The ALJ gave particular consideration to Listings 1.02 (Major dysfunction of a joint(s) (due to any cause)); 12.04 (Affective disorders); 12.06 (Anxiety related disorders); and 12.08 (Personality disorders) and found that Plaintiff did not fulfill the criteria for these listings. The ALJ further noted that although “obesity” has been deleted from the Listing of Impairments, when obesity is found to be a medically determinable impairment, such as in Plaintiff's case, it must considered in fashioning an RFC. The ALJ stated that he considered the effects of Plaintiff's obesity in reducing her residual functional capacity (“RFC”) pursuant to Social Security Ruling (“SSR”) 02-0lp. (T.35).

         Before proceeding to step four, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff has the RFC to perform sedentary work as defined in 20 C.F.R. § 404.1567(a) with the following exceptions: she “may only walk continuously for approximately 5 minutes”; she “may occasionally climb ramps and stairs, balance, or stoop”; she “needs to have a hand rail when climbing ramps or stairs”; she is limited to stooping to approximately 90 degrees; she should avoid jobs that involve repetitive stooping; she “should be allowed to alternate sitting and standing consistently with the standing, walking, and sitting limitations of sedentary work”; she “may never kneel, crouch or crawl and should never climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds”; she “retains the mental [RFC] to perform unskilled work with simple instructions where interactions with others are routine, superficial, and related to the work performed”; her “[i]nteractions with others are limited to approximately one third of the work day”; and she “needs a regular work break approximately every 2 hours and should not do fast paced assembly work.” (T.37 (footnotes and citations to record omitted); see also T.40-47).

         At step four, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had past relevant work as an accounts payable clerk and senior bookkeeper, but that she is unable to return to that work because these are skilled occupations, and her RFC limits her to unskilled work. (T.47). The ALJ found that considering Plaintiff's age, education, work experience, and RFC, there are jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy that she can perform. Specifically, the ALJ relied on the VE's testimony that a person with Plaintiff's RFC and vocational profile could perform the requirements of representative occupations such as surveillance system monitor (Dictionary of Occupational Titles (“DOT”) 379.367-010) and assembler ...

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