United States District Court, W.D. New York
JOYCE L. SNYDER, Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.
DECISION AND ORDER
HONORABLE MICHAEL A. TELESCA UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
Joyce L. Snyder (“plaintiff”) brings this action
pursuant to Title II of the Social Security Act (“The
Act”), seeking review of the final decision of the
Commissioner of Social Security (“defendant” or
“the Commissioner”) denying her applications for
disability insurance benefits (“DIB”) and
supplemental security income (“SSI”).
before the Court are the parties' competing motions for
judgment on the pleadings pursuant to Rule 12(c) of the
Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. For the reasons set forth
below, plaintiff's motion is denied and defendant's
motion is granted.
November 30, 2012, plaintiff concurrently filed applications
for DIB and SSI, alleging disability as of February 15, 2012.
Administrative Transcript (“T.”) 166-178.
Following the denial of those applications, a hearing was
held at plaintiff's request on August 6, 2014, before
administrative law judge ("ALJ") F. Patrick
Flanagan, at which testimony was given by plaintiff and
vocational expert (“VE”) Linda N. Vause. T.
39-83. The ALJ issued a decision dated December 24, 2014, in
which he determined that plaintiff was not disabled as
defined in the Act. T. 9-27.
applying the required 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, 2008 WL 3413899, at *2 (W.D.N.Y.
2008) (detailing the five steps)), the ALJ made the following
findings, among others: (1) plaintiff met the insured status
requirements of the Act through March 31, 2012; (2) plaintiff
had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since
February 15, 2012; (3) plaintiff's history of mitral
valve prolapse, history of possible transient ischemic
attack, low back pain, carpal tunnel syndrome,
hyperlipidemia, depressive disorder, and anxiety disorder
were severe impairments; (4) plaintiff's impairments did
not meet or medically equal one of the listed impairments set
forth in 20 C.F.R. § 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1; (5)
plaintiff had the residual functional capacity
(“RFC”) to “perform less than the full
range of light work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1576(b) and
416.967(b)” with the following limitations: lift and
carry up to 20 pounds occasionally and 10 pounds frequently;
sit for six hours in an eight-hour workday; stand/walk for
six hours in an eight-hour workday; reach, handle, and finger
frequently with both hands; understand, remember, and carry
out simple and complex instructions; carry out simple and
complex tasks if there are no more than occasional changes in
routine; maintain a regular schedule and accept instructions
from supervisors, but would do best with work not requiring
more than occasional interaction with supervisors, coworkers,
or the public; and low-stress work, defined as that requiring
no negotiation, conflict resolution, or more than occasional
decision-making; (6) plaintiff was unable to perform any past
relevant work; and (7) considering plaintiff's age,
education, work experience, and RFC, there are jobs that
exist in significant numbers in the national economy that
plaintiff could perform.
ALJ's decision became the final determination of the
Commission on February 24, 2016, when the Appeals Council
denied plaintiff's request for review. T. 1-3. Plaintiff
subsequently filed the instant action.
General Legal Principles
U.S.C. § 405(g) grants jurisdiction to district courts
to hear claims based on the denial of Social Security
benefits. Section 405(g) provides that the District Court
“shall have the power to enter, upon the pleadings and
transcript of the record, a judgment affirming, modifying, or
reversing the decision of the Commissioner of Social
Security, with or without remanding the cause for a
rehearing.” 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) (2007). This
section directs that when considering such a claim, the Court
must accept the findings of fact made by the Commissioner,
provided that such findings are supported by
“substantial evidence” in the record. 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) (quotation omitted).
determining whether the Commissioner's findings are
supported by substantial evidence, the Court's task is
“‘to examine the entire record, including
contradictory evidence and evidence from which conflicting
inferences can be drawn.'” Brown v. Apfel,
174 F.3d 59, 62 (2d Cir. 1999), quoting Mongeur v.
Heckler, 722 F.2d 1033, 1038 (2d Cir. 1983). Section
405(g) limits the scope of the Court's review to two
inquiries: whether the Commissioner's findings were
supported by substantial evidence in the record as a whole
and whether the Commissioner's conclusions were based
upon the correct legal standard. See Green-Younger v.
Barnhart, 335 F.3d 99, 105-106 (2d Cir.2003).
Relevant medical evidence.
sole argument in this action is that the ALJ's
determination that she was limited to low-stress work and
occasional interaction with supervisors, co-workers, and the
general public was based on his own lay opinion and not
supported by the record. Plaintiff has raised no issues
related to the physical limitations set forth in the RFC. As
a result, medical evidence related to those physical
limitations is not summarized here.
record reveals that on January 17, 2013, plaintiff underwent
a consultative psychiatric examination with Dr. Kavitha
Finnity, Ph.D. T. 367-370. Dr. Finnity noted current
medications of diazepam, pantoprazole, aspirin, pravastatin,
oxycodone, ibuprofen, velafaxine, and cyclobenzaprine. T.
367. Plaintiff reported frequent waking, loss of appetite,
depressive symptoms (including dysphoric mood, crying, loss
of energy, and social withdrawal), excessive anxiety,
worrying, restlessness, and cognitive deficits of short-term
memory loss and difficulty with concentration, word finding,
and organization. Id. On examination, plaintiff
demonstrated appropriate eye contact, normal posture and
motor behavior, fluent speech intelligibility, adequate
expressive and receptive language, coherent and goal directed
thought processes, depressed affect, neutral mood, clear
sensorium, intact attention and concentration, intact recent
and remote memory skills, average cognitive functioning, and
fair insight and judgment. T. 368-69. Dr. Finnity opined that
plaintiff could follow and understand directions and perform
simple tasks, maintain a schedule, learn new tasks and
perform complex tasks with supervision, and make appropriate
decisions. T. 369. Dr. Finnity further opined that plaintiff
had difficult with attention ...