Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

Sappah v. Colvin

United States District Court, N.D. New York

March 30, 2017

VERONICA LYNN SAPPAH, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          OSTERHOUT DISABILITY LAW ATTORNEYS FOR PLAINTIFF, OLINSKY LAW GROUP ATTORNEYS FOR PLAINTIFF SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION, OFFICE OF GENERAL COUNSEL ATTORNEYS FOR DEFENDANT

          OF COUNSEL KARL E. OSTERHOUT, ESQ. PAUL B. EAGLIN, ESQ.

          MEMORANDUM-DECISION AND ORDER

          CHRISTIAN F. HUMMEL U.S. MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         Plaintiff Veronica Lynn Sappah (“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. 1, 10.

         I. Background

         On November 13, 2012, plaintiff 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 February 1, 2012. T.[1] 141-44. The application was denied on January 29, 2013. Id. at 67-76. Plaintiff requested a hearing before an administrative law judge (“ALJ”), which was held before ALJ Gregory M. Hamel on January 14, 2014. Id. at 29-66 (transcript of hearing). In a decision dated March 28, 2014, the ALJ held that plaintiff was not entitled to disability benefits. Id. at 9-28. Plaintiff filed a timely request for review with the Appeals Council, and on July 8, 2015, the request was denied, thus making the ALJ's findings the final decision of the Commissioner. Id. at 1-7. This action followed.

         II. Discussion

         A. Standard 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 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 marks omitted)).

         “In 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.

         B. Determination of Disability

         “Every 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).

         The 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 (“RFC”) 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).

         C. ALJ Hamel's Findings

         Plaintiff, represented by counsel, testified at the hearing held on January 14, 2014. T. 29-66. Using the five-step sequential evaluation, ALJ Hamel found that plaintiff (1) had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since February 1, 2012, the alleged onset date; (2) had the following severe medically-determinable impairments: degenerative disc disease of the lumbosacral and thoracic spine (lumbar spondylosis), pes planus[2] with right inversion ankle and tibial insufficiency, obesity, degenerative joint disease and impingement syndrome affecting the right shoulder, and degenerative changes of the right hip; (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 perform light work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b) but cannot climb ladders or similar devices or work in hazardous environments such as at heights or around dangerous machinery. The claimant is further limited to no more than occasional climbing stairs, balancing, stooping, kneeling, crouching, or crawling”; and, thus (5) was capable of performing her past relevant work as a hotel desk clerk and convenience store clerk. Id. at 14-24.

         D. Plaintiff's Contentions

         Plaintiff contends that the ALJ (1) erred in failing to properly apply the treating physician rule to the opinions of plaintiff's treating physicians: Dr. Michael McNulty, M.D. and Dr. Elizabeth Hutton Lykling, M.D.; and (2) erred in failing to find plaintiff's mental ...


Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.