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Snyder v. Berryhill

United States District Court, W.D. New York

March 7, 2017

JOYCE L. SNYDER, Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, [1]Defendant.



         Plaintiff 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”).

         Presently 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.


         On 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.

         In 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.

         The 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.


         I. General Legal Principles

         42 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).

         When 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).

         A. Relevant medical evidence.

         Plaintiff's 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.

         The 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 ...

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