United States District Court, N.D. New York
Lachman, Gorton Law Firm Social Security Administration,
Office of General Counsel Attorneys for Defendant
A. GORTON, ESQ. ANDREEA L. LECHLEITNER, ESQ. Special
Assistant U.S. Attorney
MEMORANDUM-DECISION AND ORDER
Christian F. Hummel U.S. Magistrate Judge
Brenda Dee Crouse (“Plaintiff”) brings this
action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) seeking review of
a decision by the Commissioner of Social Security
(“Commissioner”) denying her application for
benefits under the Social Security Act (“Act”).
Plaintiff moves for a finding of disability, or, in the
alternative, for the matter to be remanded for further
proceedings, and the Commissioner cross-moves for a judgment
on the pleadings. Dkt. Nos. 10, 11.
February 1, 2013, plaintiff protectively filed an application
for disability insurance benefits pursuant to the Social
Security Act, 42 U.S.C. § 401 et seq., claiming
an alleged onset date of July 31, 2010. T. 139-45. The
application was denied on April 3, 2013. Id. at
67-73. Plaintiff requested a hearing before an administrative
law judge (“ALJ”), which was held before ALJ
Marie Greener on August 7, 2014. Id. at 82-84, 38-66
(transcript of the hearing). In a decision dated November 26,
2014, the ALJ held that plaintiff was not entitled to
disability benefits. Id. at 20-33. Plaintiff filed a
timely request for review with the Appeals Council, and on
February 2, 2016, the request was denied, thus making the
ALJ's findings the final decision of the Commissioner.
Id. at 1-7. This action followed.
Standard of Review
reviewing a final decision of the Commissioner, a court must
determine whether the correct legal standards were applied
and whether substantial evidence supports the decision.
Berry v. Schweiker, 675 F.2d 464, 467 (2d Cir.
1982). Substantial evidence is “‘more than a mere
scintilla, '” meaning that in the record one can
find “‘such relevant evidence as a reasonable
mind might accept as adequate to support a
conclusion.'” Halloran v. Barnhart, 362
F.3d 28, 31 (2d Cir. 2004) (quoting Richardson v.
Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971) (internal quotation
addition, an ALJ must set forth the crucial factors
justifying his findings with sufficient specificity to allow
a court to determine whether substantial evidence supports
the decision.” Barringer v. Comm'r of Soc.
Sec., 358 F.Supp.2d 67, 72 (N.D.N.Y. 2005) (citing
Ferraris v. Heckler, 728 F.2d 582, 587 (2d Cir.
1984)). However, a court cannot substitute its interpretation
of the administrative record for that of the Commissioner if
the record contains substantial support for the ALJ's
decision. Yancey v. Apfel, 145 F.3d 106, 111 (2d
Cir. 1998). If the Commissioner's finding is supported by
substantial evidence, it is conclusive. 42 U.S.C. §
405(g); see Halloran, 362 F.3d at 31.
Determination of Disability
individual who is under a disability. . . shall be entitled
to a disability. . . benefit . . . .” 42 U.S.C. §
423(a)(1). Disability is defined as the “inability to
engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any
medically determinable physical or mental impairment . . .
which has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous
period of not less than 12 months.” Id. §
423(d)(1)(A). A medically-determinable impairment is an
affliction that is so severe that it renders an individual
unable to continue with his or her previous work or any other
employment that may be available to him or her based upon
age, education, and work experience. Id. §
423(d)(2)(A). Such an impairment must be supported by
“medically acceptable clinical and laboratory
diagnostic techniques.” Id. § 423(d)(3).
Additionally, the severity of the impairment is “based
[upon] objective medical facts, diagnoses or medical opinions
inferable from [the] facts, subjective complaints of pain or
disability, and educational background, age, and work
experience.” Ventura v. Barnhart, No. 04 Civ.
9018(NRB), 2006 WL 399458, at *3 (S.D.N.Y. Feb. 21, 2006)
(citing Mongeur v. Heckler, 722 F.2d 1033, 1037 (2d
Cir. 1983)) (additional citation omitted).
Second Circuit employs a five-step analysis, based on 20
C.F.R. § 404.1520, to determine whether an individual is
entitled to disability benefits:
First, the [Commissioner] considers whether the claimant is
currently engaged in substantial gainful activity. If he [or
she] is not, the [Commissioner] next considers whether the
claimant has a “severe impairment” which
significantly limits his [or her] 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 is
listed in Appendix 1 of the regulations. If the claimant has
such an impairment, the [Commissioner] will consider him [or
her] disabled without considering vocational factors such as
age, education, and work experience; the [Commissioner]
presumes that a claimant who is afflicted with a
“listed” impairment is unable to perform
substantial gainful activity. Assuming the claimant does not
have a listed impairment, the fourth inquiry is whether,
despite the claimant's severe impairment, he [or she] has
the residual functional capacity to perform his [or her] past
work. Finally, if the claimant is unable to perform his [or
her] past work, the [Commissioner] then determines whether
there is other work which the claimant could perform.
Berry, 675 F.2d at 467. The plaintiff bears the
initial burden of proof to establish each of the first four
steps. DeChirico v. Callahan, 134 F.3d 1177, 1179-80
(2d Cir. 1998) (citing Berry, 675 F.2d at 467). If
the inquiry progresses to the fifth step, the burden shifts
to the Commissioner to prove that the plaintiff is still able
to engage in gainful employment somewhere. Id. at
1180 (citing Berry, 675 F.2d at 467).
ALJ Greener's Findings
represented by counsel, testified at the hearing held on
August 7, 2014. T. 38-66. Using the five-step sequential
evaluation, ALJ Greener found that plaintiff (1) had not
engaged in substantial gainful activity since July 31, 2010,
the alleged onset date, through December 31, 2010, the date
last insured; (2) had the following severe
medically-determinable impairments: asthma, allergies, and
mild degenerative disc disease of the lumbar spine; (3) did
not have an impairment, alone or in combination, sufficient
to meet the listed impairments in Appendix 1, Subpart P of
Social Security Regulation Part 404; (4) maintained
“the residual functional capacity to lift/carry 20
pounds occasionally and 10 pounds frequently, stand for 6
hours out of an 8 hour workday, walk for 6 hours out of an 8
hour workday, and sit for 6 hours out of an 8 hour workday in
an indoor, climate-controlled work environment”; and,
thus; (5) given her age, education, work experience, and RFC,
was capable of engaging in employment which exists in
significant numbers in the national economy through the date
last insured. Id. at 23-29.
contends that the ALJ (1) failed to assess plaintiff's
myofascial pain, mixed connective tissue disease, fatigue,
fibromyalgia, cognitive dysfunction, chronic sinus pain,
chronic vulvodynia, fibromyalgia, arthritis, and autoimmune
disorder as severe impairments; (2) erred in assessing
plaintiff's RFC on the basis of bare medical findings,
and rejecting all of the medical opinions on the record; and
(3) failed to properly assess plaintiff's pain in
determining the RFC. See Dkt. No. 10.
Analysis of Plaintiff's Arguments
The ALJ Properly Applied the ...